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Happy Hour: So You Have a Citrus Allergy … Now What?

Is it something in the water? A handful of you have recently emailed me, all with a similar plight:

So, I’m not a big drinker, but my friends are. And I want to start making fancy drinks with my friends, but the big issue is that one of them is allergic to citrus. I KNOW. As someone who also has food allergies (that don’t usually pertain to drinking, thank g-d), I totally feel her pain on trying to navigate special requests and generally feeling left out on varying kinds of deliciousness. So what are some great cocktails that don’t involve lemons or oranges or limes (this includes sodas, which contain citric acid), and that don’t feel like a weirdo cop-out?

I want to give your friend a hug! Citrus is often key to balancing out even really basic cocktails, so I can imagine her frustration when a rogue lemon rind threatens to give her explosive diarrhea (is that what happens? can you ask for me?).

Okay, so for all of you who emailed about having a citrus allergy or a friend with a citrus allergy, here’s what I’ve got for you.

•    Make friends with whiskey. Sorry, person who emailed and said “I can’t keep drinking whiskey forever.” You can! As long you don’t drink yours with a side of lemon, go nuts. Neat, on the rocks, with a splash of water, and in some fancier concoctions. Think mint juleps and Old Fashioneds (sans the citrus rind, of course). But there’s more for you than just whiskey.

•    Wait, before we go on: be careful with vermouth. Plenty of ’em (including mainstays like Martini and Rossi) include citrus infusions and citrus peels, and plenty are secretive about their 50-something ingredient lists, so I wouldn’t chance it. But at least you’ve got…

•    Port! Poooort. In fact, forget the vermouth in a Manhattan give it a twist with port instead: combine 2 ounces of rye with 1 ounce of tawny port (Sandeman is my favorite by far), stir with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass.

•    And stay away from gin. Goodbye, martinis! That pains me to say, because I love gin in a pretty serious way, but ingredients like lemon peel and orange peel are often the key to balance in a gin.

•    Brandy! This drink, called the Coffee Cocktail, comes from Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide and has no coffee in it, surprisingly: Pour 1 ounce of brandy, an egg, 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar, and 2 ounces of ruby port into a shaker, shake and strain. Garnish with a little nutmeg.

•    Stop whining and start wine-ing. Wine cocktails were a pre-Prohibition favorite, and they’re making a comeback with tasty recipes like the Cardinal, which is a fancy way to say “add an ounce of creme de cassis to your glass of red wine.” Add it to white wine and you have a Kir. That was easy.

•    Or make a sangria with non-citrus fruits like peaches, watermelon, or cherries. There’s no one in this world who doesn’t instantly feel about 20 times happier when they walk into a room and see a big punch bowl or pitcher full of sangria. Best of all, you can use cheap wine and you can make it on the fly — try throwing in a shot or two of brandy along with a bottle of Spanish red, and adding plain seltzer before serving (not ginger ale, which often contains lemon or lime — “natural flavoring” on the ingredients list). You can also kick it up a notch by adding sparkling wine instead of seltzer.

•    Time for dessert: a few ounces of Champagne and a few splashes of brandy, over vanilla ice cream? Oh yes. Recipes like this often call for a citrus-based liqueur, but something tells me you won’t miss it.

I’m sure more of you out there are allergic to citrus and like to drink, so please make yourselves known in the comments if you have more tips and recipes, or if any advice I gave is actually deadly.

Previously: Bargain Bubbly.

Diana Vilibert is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her New Year’s resolution is to play with more kittens.


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