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Perhaps you have had this experience: “It’s the New Year,” you say to yourself, “time to stop doing everything I enjoy.”
This is the footprint January has in the culture. If your social media feed is anything like mine, every third advertisement is for Dry January (“you drink too much!”) or for a gym or workout plan (“you’re too fat!”) or for some kind of miscellaneous wellness program (“you’re not optimizing your keto cold-plunge yoga!”). January is where we front load our self-betterment. Change your life. All or nothing.
The NA Piña Colada (a.k.a. Piña Nolada, a.k.a. the Piña Co-nada) is here to say “calm down,” here to mitigate these absolutist urges. To suggest that it’s enough to achieve your goals one at a time, and that perhaps the reason it can be so hard to stick with it is that you’re trying to do everything at once. I am not claiming that this will change your life—I have no wellness subscription to sell you, after all—but I am saying that a well-made NA Piña Colada will take the sting out of a Dry January, and really January in general.
The problem with non-alcoholic cocktails as a category is that they tend to be a little thin. Alcohol has a signature bite on the palate, and absent that, NA cocktails tend to taste just like prettied up fruit juice. One way around this is bitterness, which bites in a similar way to alcohol. Another is carbonation, which has an echo of that as well. But a much more crowd-pleasing way is through richness, even decadence, and this is where the Piña Colada comes in.
The Piña Colada is our most transporting cocktail. It could be sleeting outside, but if you have a Piña Colada, you’re reclining on a beach until the straw makes its sad slurpy sounds at the bottom of the ice. The rum has a role in this, of course, but it’s not the magic; the magic is the combination of coconut cream, pineapple, and lime. When else are you having pineapple juice, let alone coconut? These flavors are their own special occasion, and it’s their combination that ferries you off to tropical climes.
If you’re doing a Dry January, or for any other reason choosing to not drink alcohol this month, this year, this evening, or even just this round, the NA Piña Colada is here for you. Its variations are myriad, and all are delicious. It’s the most convincing use of an NA spirit I’ve experienced to date, but you don’t even need that—it’s good with NA Aperitivo. It’s good with grapefruit, mango, or watermelon juice instead of rum. It’s good when shaken with a makrut lime leaf. It’s good with coffee. It’s just delicious, through and through, and if you find yourself in an alcohol-free spell, it’s precisely the type of treat that can take the edge off, and help you achieve your goal.
Yes, it has more calories than water with cayenne pepper in it, but is that really the point? Take care of yourself, even while you abstain. It’s a new wellness plan, and it’s called “attempting to enjoy your life.”
NA Piña Colada a.k.a. Piña No-lada a.k.a. Piña Co-nada
- 1.5 oz. non-alcoholic rum
- 1.5 oz. creme of coconut
- 0.5–1 oz. lime juice (to taste)
- 2 oz. pineapple juice
If using pebble ice: Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with a handful of pebble ice, and “whip” to mix everything together. Dump contents into a festive glass and pack in as much more ice as will fit.
If using a blender: Add liquid ingredients and about six to eight oz. ice to a blender, and blend on high for about 10 seconds. Empty into a festive glass.
In both cases, garnish with pineapple leaves, an orange slice, and a little colorful umbrella, if you’ve got it.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
Non-Alcoholic Rum, or its Substitutes: My favorite version of this I’ve had is the Lyres Dark Cane Spirit, which was so tasty I honestly couldn’t tell that it was non-alcoholic. There are other NA rums out there which I haven’t tried in this application, so they may be great, but your mileage may vary. You could also use an NA “bourbon” like Kentucky 74—I wouldn’t use a real bourbon in a real Piña Colada, but the NA versions just taste like oak, tannins, and vanilla, which is what I want out of it anyway.
If you don’t want to use an NA spirit, this cocktail is still very much worth your time. As mentioned, you can shake with a makrut lime leaf, which is phenomenal and lends a southeast Asian topspin to the drink. Same with adding a lemongrass paste. If you don’t use a NA spirit though, you’ll need a touch more sweetness to balance—in that case, I’d up the lime to one oz. and add one oz. of a simple syrup, ginger syrup, or some other complementary syrup
Pineapple Juice: With juice, fresh is always best… to a point. This is slightly complicated with pineapple juice, because pineapples can vary in sweetness and acidity. I once did a side-by-side experiment with the entire staff of a restaurant—the exact same cocktail, just one with canned Dole pineapple juice, and one with fresh. The results were split: Exactly half the staff preferred cans, the other half preferred fresh. What’s more, the cans tasted more “pineapple-y” for lack of a better word. All of which is to say that I believe in fresh juice in general, but if that’s inconvenient, feel free to get cans of Dole and not look back.
Creme of Coconut: We have the identical advice and caveats for this as for a classic Piña Colada, which is this: The original Cream of Coconut is Coco Lopez, the canned, artificial looking goo with about seven too many ingredients and a label it looks like they haven’t changed since the ’40s. Every mixological impulse one has says to not use this stuff, and yet—try it side by side with a coconut syrup made from unsweetened organic coconut milk and organic evaporated cane sugar, and Coco Lopez wins every time. There’s a persistence to the flavor that’s difficult to beat.
What to do? Well, you could just use Coco Lopez, which makes a great drink. Darcy O’Neil does the DIY version with some coconut powder, which he says intensifies the coconut flavor. Bars where I’ve worked have added simple syrup and sweetened condensed milk (2:2:1 Coco Lopez to Simple to Milk) which is pretty damn good. I hear great things about scraping and blending coconut meat from an actual coconut, though it isn’t really feasible for most people. In my trials, what came out on top was a trick I picked up from the Death & Co guys in the truly excellent Cocktail Codex, which is to mix four parts Coco Lopez to one part unsweetened coconut cream. It’s got that trademark sunscreen tropical intensity of the Coco Lopez, tempered with the natural midtones from real coconut. Fantastic.