In an age where just about any cocktail can go clear, it was only a matter of time before the N/A drink joined the clarified ranks. In 2018, Matthew Garcia led the bar prep team for Death & Co. Denver. Although he stayed only until 2020, his legacy includes developing the groundbreaking Liar’s Gambit, a delicately spiced clarified milk punch that showcases nonalcoholic distillate Seedlip in place of a traditional spirit.
“We knew that being in a hotel, we’d have different clientele than New York and we needed some low- and no-ABV drinks,” recalls Tyson Buhler, national beverage director for the Death & Co. franchise. “The Denver team was very creative from the jump when it came to nonalcoholic drinks. They were looking for different techniques to make nonalcoholic drinks more interesting.”
As in a traditional milk punch, dairy gives the drink unctuous texture, and the clarification process yields a nearly clear liquid that resembles water, or possibly a Martini, although its citrus and spice character quickly reveal that it belongs in a class of its own. “It almost looks like a glass of water, then the aroma pops out of the glass,” says Buhler, noting that it drinks more like an Old-Fashioned.
Though they’ve only used it in one recipe, it’s a technique with promise for other creative nonalcoholic drinks, as it brings to the table what spirits typically do: texture. And there’s plenty of room for experimentation as the range of booze-free distillates rapidly expands. “It’s a nice blank slate,” says Buhler, who notes that it’s easy to play around with different citrus or syrups for alternate flavor profiles. “Alcohol is not necessary to the process: The dairy, and citrus coagulating the dairy, make it what it is.”
Looking ahead, Buhler even sees potential for removing traditional dairy from the nonalcoholic milk punch equation. “I’d be curious to see how this works with other types of milk—oat, almond,” he says. As for garnish, Buhler prefers to let the clarity of the cocktail speak for itself. “Guests love the mind game that comes with the drink.”