If the past is any indication, I am going to drink way too much this Thanksgiving. During a long day of cooking, eating, and hanging out with relatives, it's easy to lose track of what glass of wine you're on. Every year I tell myself I'll be more responsible, but this year I'm going to make it happen for real by arming myself with a variety of delicious nonalcoholic options, perfect for pairing with a long, heavy meal.
And I don't mean plain old soda or iced tea, either. I mean homemade mulled apple cider, sumac-infused lemonade, and mocktails that incorporate the same kinds of bitter, tart, and herbal notes you get in good alcoholic drinks.
If you're also looking to cut back on the booze come Turkey Day, or if you (or some of your Thanksgiving guests) don't drink alcohol at all, read on for 11 of our favorite nonalcoholic Thanksgiving drink recipes, including a homemade fig and balsamic soda and a seasonal pumpkin shrub that's great for mixing with ginger beer.
Hot Nonalcoholic Drinks
Spiced Mulled Cider
How to Make Mulled Apple Cider
Before I was old enough to drink, I started pretty much every Thanksgiving dinner with a mug of mulled cider. My family generally made it with store-bought "mulling spices," and maybe a few cinnamon sticks if we were feeling fancy. This recipe goes a step further, flavoring high-quality local cider with toasted whole cinnamon, clove, cardamom, coriander, and anise. It's delicious without any alcohol at all, but adding just a spoonful of brandy, if you like, can help to bring out the cider's fruitiness.
Barbajada (Milanese Hot Chocolate–Coffee Drink)
If you aren't sensitive to a late-in-the-day hit of caffeine, try this Italian coffee/hot chocolate hybrid after Thanksgiving dinner is done. It's just as simple and tasty as the description implies—mix up your hot chocolate using your favorite cocoa powder, combine it with coffee, then whisk the drink until it's good and frothy and serve with whipped cream.
Champurrado (Mexican Hot Chocolate and Corn Drink)
Atole—a hot Mexican drink made with masa harina, or corn flour—is one of my favorite cold-weather treats. We have recipes for versions made with peanuts and orange zest, but if I'm looking for a caffeine-free alternative to after-dinner coffee, I'm going with this thick and mildly sweet chocolate variation, called champurrado. Just a small amount of dark chocolate, combined with dark brown sugar, will supply all the chocolate flavor you need.
Cold Nonalcoholic Drinks
Mulled Cider Shrub
For a refreshing alternative to hot cider on Thanksgiving, this recipe combines mulled cider with apple cider vinegar to make an instant shrub. We love vinegar-based drinks on Thanksgiving—the acidity cuts through the rich food wonderfully—but if the idea of vinegar in a drink feels like a stretch to you, this is a good, easy entry point. As the shrub cooks, the harsher side of the vinegar is mellowed out significantly, leaving a milder, sweeter flavor.
For another easy seasonal shrub, start by steeping sweet roasted pumpkin in vinegar with turbinado sugar, ginger, and cinnamon. (You'll want to get going on this one the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, because the squash needs to sit overnight.) The shrub can then be mixed with plain seltzer or (my preference) spicy ginger beer.
Fig and Balsamic Soda
This sophisticated sweet-and-tangy soda is made with balsamic vinegar, seltzer, and a fig syrup made with dried and oven-roasted figs. Roasting the figs deepens their flavor, meaning you can use even figs that are out of season or just slightly past their prime and still get good results.
In another bright and refreshing vinegar-centric mocktail—we promise, using vinegar is a great way to offset sweetness and lend depth to nonalcoholic drinks!—we infuse rice wine vinegar with cucumbers and mix it with fresh Granny Smith apple juice, lime juice, and muddled shiso and mint. As with any cocktail that incorporates fresh herbs, muddle gently so that the herbs don't take on an unpleasant bitterness.
The Americano, a classic cocktail made with vermouth and Campari, isn't too boozy on its own, but this two-ingredient mocktail variation is even lighter. Pomegranate juice provides astringency and acidity similar to what you'll taste in Campari, and the Angostura bitters lend herbaceousness and, yes, bitterness. Though used in very small doses, bitters do contain alcohol—they won't get you drunk, but those who abstain from drinking completely will want to avoid this one.
Sparkling Sumac Lemonade
When I'm eating a big meal, I prefer my drinks to be light and effervescent, and this sparkling lemonade fits the bill perfectly. This isn't just any lemonade, though—sumac syrup lends it a gorgeous reddish color and a complex tartness that somehow makes it extra thirst-quenching.
Rose Hip Cordial
Rose hips are probably more familiar to the Brits reading this than to our American audience, but even if you've never used them before, you should give this colorful cordial a try. It's more fruity than floral, with a hint of savoriness, and it's totally delicious. You can use the cordial in a variety of ways, including as a base for an alcoholic beverage, but mixing it with sparkling water makes for a nicely simple mocktail.
Orange, Rosewater, and Mint Sparkler
If you're big into mimosas, but want to pace yourself so you aren't too tipsy by dinnertime, give this sparkling orange juice drink a try. The recipe is pretty simple—start with freshly squeezed orange juice and mix it with muddled mint leaves, a few drops of rose water, and seltzer. A very small amount of rose water is all you need, so we recommend pouring from a spoon instead of the bottle, which will give you greater control.