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.
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:
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?
- 1 1/4 ounces beet juice
- 1 ounce honey syrup
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- 3/4 ounce ginger beer (Posana likes Fentimans brand)
- Tonic water
- Orange peel, for garnish
How to do you feel about the nonalcoholic offerings at your favorite restaurants? Tell us your thoughts below.