What’s a bartender to do when she’s creating a cocktail, but can’t use alcohol? Turns out, quite a lot.
Kelly Kuhn – bartender at Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill and partner in the forthcoming Nick & Nora Cocktails – faces this challenge when tasked with providing beverage pairings for events with local environmental education nonprofit MEarth.
Because MEarth sits on school property, state law prohibits serving any alcohol, but that hasn’t hampered Kuhn’s creativity. At a recent brunch, she crafted clever drinks like the Sunburn Spritz with cherry and aloe juices and the Wakey Mary granita with tomato and coffee.
“When it comes to mocktails, I do the same thing I do with a cocktail: I want it to be interesting,” explains Kuhn.
Kuhn isn’t alone in crafting creative concoctions without alcohol. There’s a growing movement nationwide for more mocktails and bartenders are increasingly offering options without booze.
Many attribute the demand for non-alcoholic beverages to a market that’s grown more health-conscious. “People have plenty of reasons not to drink,” Kuhn observes. “And I think people are becoming more accepting of somebody in the group not drinking.”
There does still seem to be a stigma for the word “mocktail.” “‘Mocktail’ has a connotation of a virgin daiquiri, a bunch of blended sugar. But it doesn’t have to be,” says Kuhn. She notes marketing for mocktails now opts for descriptions like “non-alcoholic,” “zero-proof” and “spirit-free” cocktails instead. And describing mocktails as “cocktails” is probably most accurate since they leverage the same complex considerations for taste and technique.
Pacific Grove’s jeninni kitchen + wine bar was an early adopter of non-alcoholic cocktails, although owner Thamin Saleh admits he wasn’t certain they would be accepted.
“To offer something that’s zero-alcohol felt natural,” he explains. “We don’t have a full bar. We stock a lot of unfamiliar vermouths and aperitifs, and invite customers to try something new. It was the same with our zero-alcohol cocktails,” says Saleh. “I was pleasantly surprised to see how popular they became. It’s a way for everyone at the table – including people who aren’t drinking or they’re underage – to feel included.”
Zero-proof options at jeninni use Seedlip, the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit. Seedlip’s three spirits are inspired by classic cocktail flavor profiles. “They’ve got big flavors and add another dimension,” explains Saleh. At jeninni, look for Seedlip’s Garden 108 in the botanical jin + tonic and the savory tabbouleh, and Spice 94 in the tart cherry + spice.
Bartender Francis Verrall also features Seedlip in a pair of cocktails on his mocktail menu at Mezzaluna. The standout is a zero-alcohol riff on the famed Aperol spritz: Feeling Spritzy with Seedlip Spice 94, Baladin ginger (a gingerless bitter orange soda) and orange.
Seventh & Dolores Steakhouse’s sprawling white marble bar evokes boozy Mad Men vibes, but General Manager Joe Valencia and Bar Manager Carlos Colimodio didn’t want dry diners to sit out the fun. “I’d been wanting to create an experience for the population that’s either too young to drink alcohol, doesn’t drink alcohol or is pregnant,” explains Valencia.
“One night we had a large table with two young girls who were jealous that they couldn’t have the smoked old fashioned. I went behind the bar and made them one without alcohol – they loved it,” recalls Valencia. The non-alcoholic interpretation substituted a splash of Coca-Cola for bourbon, but otherwise arrived with the same elegant presentation: smoked with almondwood under a glass cloche and unveiled tableside.
“At that point I went to Carlos and we created a whole list, and the result has been great,” Valencia says. Look for mocktails inspired by the house cocktails, but made without alcohol.
When Seventh & Dolores hosted a mixology competition earlier this year, Cultura’s Josh Perry won with a tiebreaker cocktail that wowed the judges before the big reveal it contained no alcohol. That cocktail – the Tiebreaker – is now on the menu at Cultura alongside a mocktail by bartender Jevana Borquin crafted with cold-brew coffee as part of the bar’s effort to cultivate a larger selection of non-alcoholic options.
Monterey’s original mixology hotspot, Montrio Bistro, skips the spirits with a limited list of non-alcoholic options too, including the Gordon Gecko with refreshing passion fruit, coconut water, lime and ginger.
Many restaurants and bars can make mocktails upon request. For Kuhn, this shouldn’t scare bartenders, but inspire more creativity, “With alcohol you’re building around the spirit, but with mocktails, you’re more free to do anything.”