Imagine a Future Where Mocktails Are Taken Seriously

May 23, 2016

It’s been three months since I had a drink. It’s not exactly a Hello, my name is Julia... situation, but it’s not exactly not that. Either way: It’s been three months since I had a drink.

Posana's Beet Tonic Spritzer Photo by Martha Pollay

When we say “Do you want to meet for drinks?” we mean “Do you want to meet for a cocktail, a beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of booze?” But let's remind ourselves that a drink is a liquid that can be swallowed as refreshment or nourishment. Under that umbrella fall coffees and teas, waters and sodas, juices, and, yes, beer, wine, and spirits. So why, then, do drink sections on menus treat non-drinkers—the ones who don't consume alcohol, anyway—as second-class citizens? Drink menus tend to read:

More Wine
Craft Beer

Photo by James Ransom

That’s beginning to change. Whether it’s due to the rise of the mindfulness movement, complete with sober happy hours, or to the waning taboo around talking about addiction issues, consumers are demanding more thoughtful boozeless beverages. A bottled drink—even if it’s Sanbitter soda imported from Italy—just doesn’t cut it anymore.

“We’re creative, so why not bring that energy to our non-alcoholic beverages?” says Peter Pollay, chef and co-owner of Posana restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina. Fresh, local ingredients have always been at the heart and soul of Posana—Pollay has been making his own syrups and sodas since he opened the new iteration of the restaurant three years ago (before that, it was a more casual café)—and now that his craft cocktail program has hit its stride, he's turning his focus to the craft otherdrinks. There are currently three of those on the menu—the Beet Tonic Spritzer (beet, lemon, ginger, simple syrup, mint), the Kefir Fizz (egg white, lemon, cream, kefir soda, simple syrup), and the teetotaler’s Mint Julep (mint, simple syrup, soda)—and he plans to add more to even the playing field with the booze section of the drinks menu.

“We have a lot of customers who come in very late or were on a brewery tour all day—they don’t want any more alcohol but they want something creative and refreshing,” says Pollay. “And we do have a lot of pregnant diners who ask for cocktails without the alcohol. They’re going out for a nice dinner at night—why not experience the full thing?”

If you're clinking glasses at Atera, it could be Champine—something akin to Champagne, just minus the alcohol.

New York City’s Atera offers non-alcoholic drink pairings—take celery and apple juices shaken with egg white, for example—as does Agern, Noma co-founder Claus Meyer’s new restaurant in Grand Central Terminal. You might find a shrub at the latter made with rhubarb, white vinegar, and angelica, or wild celery. Nashville’s The Catbird Seat, which counts the editors at Bon Appétit and Vogue among its fans, follows suit. These are all cool, prominent restaurants: In other words, not ones with particular health bents.

“Someone told me that they enjoyed my non-alcoholic beverage pairings more than my alcoholic ones,” says The Catbird Seat's former beverage director Matt Tocco of the rare teas and kombuchas he used to send out alongside two-day dried tomato with shaved ham, or pork with matsutake and apple in chicken broth. “I've practiced meditation for years, and I like to take time off from drinking alcohol here and there," says Tocco. He now offers three mocktails at Pinewood Social, also in Nashville: one that’s made of lemon, orange, blackberry, cinnamon and soda water; the next with orgeat, pineapple, lime, and mint; and the last with ginger, lime, and tonic. Three is good—and better than most—but compared to the seventeen cocktails and three coffee-based alcoholic beverages on the menu, I still can't help feeling shortchanged.

"I joke all the time about opening a bar with just tea and mocktails,” he says.

Maybe it doesn’t need to be a joke?

How to do you feel about the nonalcoholic offerings at your favorite restaurants? Tell us your thoughts below.


Anna D. May 24, 2016
I started making switchel last summer. Super refreshing and lots of possibilities.
Claudia F. May 30, 2016
I also love switchel!
M May 24, 2016
Best thing I've seen at a bar in ages: A friend who doesn't drink was able to give his taste preferences and have a drink made for his tastes, rather than the standard mock. With a good bartender, it's possible. It needs to catch on now. (As does craft sodas/etc.) Drinks should serve all.
meganvt01 May 24, 2016
This was great - I just wish we had another name for beautiful non-alcoholic cocktails other than "mocktails" - makes them seem second class like they are trying to stand in for their alcoholic counterparts - but really they are great on their own!
Andrea T. June 11, 2016
Thank you! mocktails sound juvenile.
Casey S. May 23, 2016
I liked this article a lot- but it was off-putting to read an ethnic slur, even with an alternative spelling. http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/12/30/242429836/why-being-gypped-hurts-the-roma-more-than-it-hurts-you
Stootz May 23, 2016
I came here to say the same thing. There's no reason an article like this needs a slur like that.
henandchicks May 23, 2016
I also scrolled down to mention this, the author hopefully didn't know she was being offensive (full disclosure, I didn't know what this word even referred to until I was in college in 1990)
Author Comment
Julia B. May 24, 2016
I did not. Thanks for the alerts.
Kenzi W. May 24, 2016
Thanks all; we are updating the piece to reflect.
Negative N. March 21, 2017
Oh, please...
hardlikearmour May 23, 2016
Oven and Shaker in Portland serves a few good alcohol free (or close to it since they all use bitters) cocktails. They're kind enough to print the recipes on the menu, too:<br /><br /> Fallen Yellowjacket<br />1/2 oz freshly pressed lemon juice + 1/2 oz house blended clover honey syrup + 1 dash Regan’s No. 6 Orange Bitters + 6 oz seltzer water<br /><br /> Grapefruit Maple Deluxe<br />2 oz freshly pressed grapefruit juice + 1/2 oz house blended grade A maple<br />syrup + 1 dash Angostura Bitters + 1 dash Regan's No. 6 Orange Bitters + 6 oz seltzer water<br /><br /> Ginger Ale "ala minute"<br />1/2 oz freshly pressed lime juice + 3/4 oz house made spicy ginger syrup + 1/4 oz simple syrup + 1 dash Angostura Bitters + 6 oz seltzer water<br />
BrooklynBridget May 25, 2016
Love these! Thank you.
BerryBaby May 23, 2016
It's been a long time since I had alcohol (stopped because I just really don't like it) and have been making all kinds of mocktails. Love lemonade with lavender syrup, olive juice with seltzer water and lots of ice, Rose water with club soda and just plain soda water with lemon or lime squeezed in. The big thing out here are infused vinegar drinks. I do enjoy apple cider vinegar and club soda (I don't think that really is the same as the infused), but that's as far as I have ventured. Those are on my list of mocktails that I'd love to try.
thirschfeld May 23, 2016
I started making mocktails after the New Year and I am glad to see this because I was looking for more ideas!