Evaluating the non-alcohol side of home-brew

Once upon a time it was thought that non-alcoholic historical beverages were not as ambitious brewing entries as their fermented counterparts. As additional research continues to emerge in this arena, we are learning that not only is this not true but the depth and versality of such drinks are near endless. Non-alcoholic beverages include those that are fermented items that have an alcohol content lower than .05% ( such as natural sodas, small beers, and root beers), shrubs, teas, coffees, and syrups.

Adding to the complexity of their creations, there are a whole slew of challenges that non-fermenting brewers must conquer such as shelf life and preservation. These elements and how the brewer overcome them should not be discounted.

Currently in the Middle Kingdom, non-alcoholic beverages fit into the Specialty Beverages Category with the hope that one day there are enough interest to dictate their own category. As with all beverage/brewing items they must fulfill some generic requirements including:

  • Listing herbs and spices with their Latin botanical names.
  • Complying with the Prohibited and Restricted Herbs List.
  • Copy of the recipe used including quantities and methods used.
  • Supplying materials to assist the judge to better evaluate the beverage (appropriate glasses, white tablecloth, candles, a palate cleanser such as lemon slices or unsalted crackers, water, and bottle with openers).

When judging a non-alcoholic brew I always recommend first reading the documentation to make sure the brewer has included:

  • WHO would have drunk the beverage
  • WHAT time frame does this beverage come from
  • WHEN would they be drinking the beverage ( holidays, time of the day, with meals, ext.)
  • HOW would they drink the item ( mixed, straight, in what type of glass).

Then I look to see if they have

  • Sources ( primary, secondary, ext)
  • Listed methods
  • Reasons WHY they chose the methods they chose.

When it comes to methods in brewing, there is a distinct decision between deciding to use sanitary practices and period elements. If the brewer has chosen more modern methods such as modern sanitation agents and cooking procedures, do they list or discuss their knowledge of the historical equivalents? If so, and they can easily justify their choices (and knowledge of medieval equivalent), then they should not be docked points in the method category UNLESS their choice would change the final product. Always remember the end goal of everything we do in the medieval brewing recreation world is to produce beverages that look, feel, or taste authentic to the intended time period or culture AND create items that people want to drink.

After you look at the methods and materials section, you can start to look at the overall scope and ambition of the project. To score this section, look at if they used pre-prepared or processed ingredients ( lower points) as compared to raw ingredients ( higher points). How many times they tried out various recipes or taste tested the items in the process ( the more variations they tried, the higher the points), as well as how many steps the recipe calls for, ext.

Once through the documentation it is time to be rewarded by trying the beverage.  Always start by looking at the beverage in the bottle. Hold it up to the light ( this is why the entrant has to supply a candle), can you see sediment in the bottle when it should be clear? Or is it perfectly clear when sediment should be present? Is the color of the item true to what it should be? If your not familiar with the attributes and qualities you should be looking for, ask the brewer or look in the documentation.

Pour the brew into a glass and once again hold it up to the light to check the clarity and the color. Smell the beverage. Does it smell like you think it should? For example, if it is a blueberry shrub it should have elements of a vinegar and blueberry smell. Does the beverage have off smells that should not be there? Next taste the beverage by taking a small sip and letting it sit on your tongue before you swallow. How is the body for the type of beverage? For example a syrup will have a fuller body than a shrub or tea. What are the general flavors and sugar balance like? Remember to judge to the TYPE of beverage the brewer was creating and not to your own palette. After you have taken a sample drink, check out the presentation. Is it appropriate to the drink being offered? If the item is in a bottle this would include making sure the bottle was properly filled and stored with appropriate labeling. If the drink is setup in a presentation method such as a pitcher, is the presentation appropriate to the type of drink and culture where it would have been available? Does the presentation transport you back to the appropriate culture? After you look at all the previous skill areas, go back and evaluate your palate. Was there any unpleasant lingering tastes or aftertaste?

Sit back and enjoy the beverage while you judge Ingenuity and the Judges Observations. Ingenuity is where you look at the entire project. Did they find creative and resourceful ways to create a period beverage? Was the entire process from research, interpretation, vision, and final project successful? In judge’s observation is where you share your own private and personal preferences. What did you like? What would you like to see again? What would you like to see next time?

Just as in judging traditional beverages, always make sure to judge to what the entrant was trying to achieve. I prefer my non-alcoholic beverages more syrup like and less vinegary, however I would never dock a shrub or sekanjabin for being too acidic.

When you look at the non-alcoholic beverage as a whole, including documentation, experimentation, process, and final beverage it  easily demonstrates just how complex these beverages can be.


I am a huge Nerd and an even larger Star Trek Fan. I grew up watching Next Generation and Deep Space Nine with my family, and now that I am an adult I love the Star Trek reboot movies and watching reruns of all the series on Neflix. Yes, I do own a Bajoran earring, have a majority of the Hallmark Star Trek Ornaments, and even have a Next Generation vintage Com Badge from the 90s.

So when I needed to mix up a liquor with a Space theme I turned to my tried and true Star Trek.

Now granted there are tons of Star Trek cookbooks and drinking guides out there; however, I wanted to really due homage to one of my favorite series so I figured I would create my own liquor.

When it comes to Star Trek themed drinks, there really are a plethora of drinks that come out of the replicators and everyone who ever watched NG knows that Captain Picard loves his earl grey tea.

I decided to see if I could do proper homage to the Klingon Raktajino. The way the crew of Deep Space nine drinks down Raktajino you would assume it was just a really strong coffee or chicory based blend, but is actually a blend of coffee and a Klingon liqueur called ra’tajRaktajino is normally served steamed or iced and has even been described as “like drinking an oil slick” but without the tangy aftertaste.

After I decided I wanted to make my own Raktajino I went searching for any reference I could about it, and also went researching the dietary customs of the Klingons…. Needless to say I don’t think I will be eating at any Klingon restaurants anytime soon.

There were a few elements I know I wanted to include in my Raktajino liquor. I wanted it strong alcohol wise, a very strong coffee flavor, salty/smoke elements, non-bitter, not-cloying or sweet, and STRONG.

I started with the coffee. When incorporating coffee into any beverage you will want to use the best coffee possible. If you use cheap coffee you will get a cheap light flavor, and coffee that has a burnt or over-processed flavor will make your drinks taste burnt. If you use instant coffee your brew will be done quicker but will taste just as bad as instant coffee.

Since I wanted to create the best coffee liquor I could, I started with the best coffee there is- Rising Star CoffeeRising Star Coffee is a Cleveland based coffee roasters whose coffee is so fresh and non-bitter it is the only coffee I can drink without cream and sugar.

I used a cold press process using vodka. That’s right, I cold pressed using straight vodka- how’s that for strong?  I left the rough ground coffee beans (1lb per 1.75 ml of vodka) sit for 3 days to extract as much of the coffee oils and flavors as possible. While that was sitting I took 1 cup of dark molasses and thinned it with 1 cup vodka and 1 tsp of smoked salt.

This is where the previous Star Trek research came in handy- a majority of Klingon food comes from the equivalent of a salt based environment- Racht, krada legs, octopus, etc.; so I knew this was an element I really wanted to add into the beverage.

People have been adding in salt to beverages since the Greeks (if not before) in order to highlight the other flavors. Salt also opens up the molecules of the ingredients in a brew allowing them to blend more thoroughly.  Most importantly, it is  known to counteract the after taste of more bitter items- and the last thing we want is a bitter coffee liquor.

After letting sit for 3 days I strained the grounds from the vodka and then using a bit of fresh vodka pressed out as much essential oils as I could in my French press. I mixed in the vodka molasses mixture and added in an additional ¼ cup buckwheat honey. Let this mixture sit for another 24 hours in order for any remaining spare sediment to sink to the bottom and rack like you would any beer or mead.

What I ended up with was a very STRONG coffee liquor with just enough sweetness to cut the burn from the vodka but not enough to make it sweetened. The smoked salt adds just a slight amount of tang on your tongue and everything combined gives you a drink to put hair on your chest, wake you, and ready to do battle.

Besides looking incredibly geeky displayed on your bar, this is a liquor that would be amazing added to cold coconut milk or cream, over ice cream or even added to a hot cup of water with cinnamon and sugar added to it.I have also thrown a splash in my morning shakes when I ran out of coffee flavoring and added a shot to a milk stout for an extra kick of coffee flavoring.

Drink a Hot Toddy

Have a sinus infection- Drink a Hot Toddy.

Have a cold- Drink a Hot Toddy.

Have strep throat- Drink a Hot Toddy.

Basically, I believe Hot Toddies are the cure for everything that does not involve extreme stomach issues.

So when a friend said they had a sore throat they could not get rid of, I recommended she drink a hot toddy. I was floored when I found out she did not have the makings for my favorite remedy drink!

To me, hot toddies are as quintessential in the house as toilet paper. In fact, I have been known to run out of toilet paper before running out of whiskey, honey, and lemons. See, in essence that is all a hot toddy is – an alcoholic mixture with honey, lemon and hot tea.

So how come this simple magical mixture is so amazing? Well, it is probably because in addition to being rather tasty, it actually works to help cure most of what ails you.

Let’s start with whiskey, which is a surprisingly effective antiseptic. Whiskey comes in about 40% alcohol and though not as effective as say, rubbing alcohol when it comes to killing bacteria, it still seems to pack a punch on most of the little buggies that are trying to make you sick. So when you start to get sick or have a sore throat, make sure you have some whiskey to help clean out your throat.  In addition to the disinfectant qualities, drinking alcohol helps us relax the sore muscles from coughing and general body ache and pains. As a little icing on the alcoholic cake, a Carnegie Mellon study showed that moderate drinkers had increased resistance to viral infections.

Take your whiskey and add in the honey. Just like whiskey, honey is also incredibly antiseptic, especially if you get natural local honey (hint: skip the commercial honey and go for local natural honey- it tastes better and is much better for you). Honey will also coat and soothe a sore throat better than any cough drop you can find.

As you now have the antiseptic healing properties down, let’s take care of some of the other symptoms. This is where you want to add in either hot water or hot tea. Inhaling the steam of any hot beverage can soothe nasal passages and temporarily relieve congestion. Hot beverages will also promote mucus secretions in the nose and mouth, which is one of  our bodies’ first line of defence against bacteria and viruses.

Finally, you want to add in some Vitamin C in the form of lemon juice and zest. Scientific studies have shown that lemon can cut cold symptoms short by usually at least a day. Besides the lemon juice, I like to put the zest from the lemon in my hot toddies as well, in order to get as much lemon oil into the drink as possible. The essential oils in the lemon zest help open up the nose and unblock your ears.

Independently, all of these ingredients are great cold fighters, but when you add them together you can really put your coughs and sneezes to bed.

If you are not like me and do not always have a handy supply of whiskey, lemon juice, and honey on hand, then you can always make a hot toddy liquor to keep on hand for the cold & flu season.

For my hot toddy liquors I use — 2 lemons, 2 cups whiskey (or bourbon or your favorite alcohol of 40% or higher) and ¾ cups honey. I mix the lemon zest from the lemons in with the lemon juice and add in the ¾ cup honey and bring to boil. Once it is cool enough to touch, add in the whiskey. You will want to let it sit for about 2 weeks to extract as much of the essential oils out of the lemon zest. Strain the liquor through a coffee filter and keep in a cool dark place. I recommend adding in 1-2 tbsps of the liquor into a cup of tea before bed when sick… or when you just want some.

It is incredibly important to stay fully hydrated when you are sick, so I recommend drinking at least glass of water or orange juice for every hot toddy you drink.

Limon Mandarinochello

I always say that every brewer and cordial maker has their signature lemon liquor. Mine is a spiced lemonchello with a spiced Rum base.

Therefore, it was not surprising when last week, my mom contacted me for lemonchello advice.

What you may not know, is that my mom moved to Costa Rica after retiring from one too many years of being a High School teacher in Northern Nevada. My mom likes wine even more than I do, can go tequila shot for shot with me, and takes her martinis dry with gin.

Costa Rica has great weather, fabulous beaches, and amazing surfing (did I mention my mom married a surf instructor?). But do you know what Costa Rica does NOT have? An alcohol surplus.

As much as my mom is enjoying the local flaura, fauna, and waves, she is really missing her cabernet from the California foothills.

See, as awesome as Costa Rica is, they don’t have a surplus of  Two-Buck Chuck or cheap alcohol. What they do have instead, is a local distilled beverage called Guaro.

Guara is a Latin American distilled alcohol made from sugar cane juices. It typically ranges from 30-40% alcohol (so just shy of Rum and Vodka) and is slightly sweeter than our distilled alcohols.

I have neither Guara nor limon mandarino in order to figure out how to advise my parents how to make their liquor, but my lemonchello (whose base also comes from RUM, a distilled sugar can base) is amazing; so I figured what the heck.So basically my mom tells me that my step dad really wanted to make lemonchello from Guara and this lemon/lime fruit combo called limon mandarino that grows on their property.

Basically they are going to need to get enough of their limon mandarino thingies to get 1/2 cup juice. Before they squeeze the limon mandarino, they will want to zest them.

When zesting (and juicing), always make sure to get none of the pith (that’s the white yucky stuff between the outer area you zest and the meaty area you juice), as it will give your liquor a bitter flavor.

Bring 2 cups water to a boil and stir in 3 cups of sugar, as well as the zest. This needs to come to simmer to become a citrusy simple syrup. This needs to simmer long enough to reduce a bit and completely dissolve the sugar. Don’t boil and don’t simmer too long or it will turn into a hard candy. A low simmer for about 15 minutes should be good. Remove the zested simple syrup from heat and let cool just long enough until you can touch it without scorching yourself. Weirdly this is the hardest part- too hot and you will burn off all the alcohol (ALCOHOL ABUSE), and too cold and the simple syrup will stick to the pan. Basically, if it is still warm and you can stick your finger in without burning it, you are good to go.

Finally, add in the half cup of juice and stir thoroughly before adding the 3 cups of Guara. This then needs to sits in a cool (as cool as Costa Rica gets) dark place for about 2-4 weeks.  Don’t refrigerate the cordial (that will crystalize the sugars in the simple syrup), but keep it out of direct sunlight and away from heat while it ages. Strain through linen/Muslin/cotton fabric (or worse case scenario a coffee filter) to get rid of all of the zesty bits (or any pulp bits or seeds that get in from the juice).  Bottle in anything you have and keep out of direct sunlight while you enjoy it.

Hypothetically speaking, this liquor can be used just like a lemon or limechello: meaning it can be drunk straight, added to anything sparkly, spice up a little ice tea, or added to a tasty pound cake, since my mom is also a fabulous baker. :-)