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Drinking without booze?

It can be done, and it can be seriously delicious

SMOOTH AND JUICY: Just imagine how good you'd feel if you spent more time at the juice bar than a regular bar. Photography by Patrick Snapp

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In a personal quest begun in 2008 to better myself and increase the health of my mind, body and spirit, I quit drinking alcohol. It seemed orange juice and Sprite, bottled water or pineapple juice with tonic were to be my only options when out on the town. I quickly tired of these. Wanting something different, I devised a checklist for my ideal drink: lightly sweet, not syrupy and cloying, yet not lifeless and bland like flavored seltzers, nor artificially colored like diet sodas or sport drinks. Though I haven't found the one beverage that satisfies all my wants, I have narrowed it down to roughly four categories: smoothies and shakes, sparkling juices, carbonated sodas, and teas.

Smoothies and shakes seem to be misunderstood. I blame Jamba Juice. Not all are made with heavy cream, ice cream or full-fat yogurt. Though thicker, smoothies can be light and refreshing using simple crushed ice, honey and juice as sweeteners, and a lot of fruit. Shakes are less focused on the fruit or vegetable ingredients and more on the dairy or soy base.  Juice bar Smooth and Juicy in downtown Tacoma makes a killer green machine smoothie with banana, pineapple juice, avocado, rice milk, and matcha.

Sparkling juices are a summer favorite. Sangria is showing up on cocktail menus. At home, the Spanish drink is an easy way to finish an open bottle of wine, whatever fruit you have on hand, club soda and a pour of liquor (rum or vodka) from the cupboard. Serve immediately or let sit overnight. Freezing pieces of melon, berries or grapes eliminates the need for ice cubes later. My non-booze option? Gently stir in white grape, papaya and mango juices to sparkling apple for a non-gria.  Masa serves burbuja champagne sangria with muddled cherries, and Matador offers traditional white and red sangria - both in Tacoma.

Carbonated drinks are fun; the bubbles tickle my nose and make me feel like a kid. The high calories, fake color and high fructose corn syrup? Not so much. Seattle's all natural Dry Sodas come in adult, health-friendly flavors for a mature palate; there's no funny business in rhubarb, lemongrass, kumquat, lavender, cucumber, vanilla bean, and juniper berry. These sodas are found at Marzano on Garfield Street in Parkland. Plain club soda or mineral water can be added to just about anything to make it fizzy. Schweppes has an orange-mango mineral water/fruit juice that is excellent combined with chilled peach black tea. Fizzy Lizzy, R.W. Knudson and Meiers are also good. Try a cranberry Grown-up Soda (GuS) at the SideBar Bistro on Tacoma Avenue.

Teas have an inner calming effect for me even when they are meant to invigorate. Herbal teas, such as those sold at Mad Hat Tea, Hawthorne Tea Room and The Den Tea Shop, have grown in popularity not only due to their taste but in part for the therapeutic applications and versatile usage. At home brew hot, let chill, add to club soda or fizzy mineral waters or seltzer with a splash of fruit-infused simple syrup (make your own - pure raw cane sugar or agave syrup is preferred) and you've just created a stellar natural pick-me-up. Have a cup of hot chamomile tea with coconut milk and agave.

For the DIY alt bev maker, bagged pineapple chunks, berries, sliced peaches that have been flash frozen, canned pears, mandarin oranges, and apricots mixed in a food processor or blender are a bright base for slushies if fresh stuff is not available. While in your personal gastro-lab, try experimenting with ingredients and remember the two rules: less is always best, and fresh is always better. Try fresh basil, cilantro, sage, spearmint, sliced ginger and hot peppers, use the zest of orange, lemon or lime. Ground cinnamon, clove and nutmeg are not just for Christmas cookies, though use sparingly - they're very potent. Not that brave or creative? Go see Chris Langston at the 1022 Lounge on Hilltop Tacoma, where mixers such as dandelion/ burdock root beer and saffron/cardamom bitters are made in-house. Langston offers a drink called The Garden of Forking Paths, now a local favorite, made of tequila, mint, lime, cilantro, and a serrano pepper.  Many cocktails can be made sans alcohol.

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