Sobriety isn’t just for designated drivers, and non-imbibers no longer have to settle for seltzer and lime. Alcohol-free drinks are having a moment as they gain street cred for their money-making, crowd-pleasing potential.
The demand has spawned booze-free bars, complex mixologist-curated options, food and drink pairings and a beverage option for high-end prix fixe dinners once reserved only for wine.
Overall interest in healthier options have contributed to their growth, but the impetus more likely lies in flavor. Non-alcoholic cocktails today are anything but dull or sweet. Full of depth and balanced with contrasting and complementary flavors, they’re as thoughtfully made as their boozy opposites.
While some in foodservice still eye-roll at the sober-curious movement, many operators see the potential in charging far more than a few dollars for a Shirley Temple. Spirit-free drinks often surpass double-digits, justified by the ingredients and preparation, from fresh-squeezed fruits and vegetables to complex but attention-grabbing garnishes. Consider:
What: gathering places to socialize without alcohol
Where: Listen Bar and Getaway in New York City; Sans Bar in Austin, Texas
Why: Chris Marshall launched his first monthly popup, the Sans Bar, in 2017 as a response to the people he treated as a counselor. “People really struggled to find a sense of belonging, a community and friends like the ones they had when they were drinking,” he says. “They got sick of being punished for making a healthy choice.”
Example: The Longhorn mimics an alcoholic drink with its complex flavors, lime-salt rim and jalapeño garnish.
Where else: Sourtooth, a non-alcoholic Japanese speakeasy in Los Angeles
Why: Umami Burger Founder Adam Fleisher and partners spotted an opportunity that fell in line with their hospitality philosophy.
Example: Forest Spirits can easily square up with boozy counterparts thanks to spirit-like but alcohol-free Seedlip Grove 42 and spice 94/scarborough bitters combined with lime, hibiscus potion and elderberry cola syrup, $10.
SPIKING THE ORDINARY
What: offering more than sodas and juices topped with soda water
Where: Fire’s Edge Steakhouse, a part of the Sky Dancer Hotel and Casino in Belcourt, North Dakota
Why: families and younger diners
Example: The Alice combines orange and pineapple juice poured over crushed ice into a sugar-rimmed glass, then topped off with a splash of cream and orange slice garnish. Just a little fancy can go a long way.
CONNECTING THE DOTS
What: extending the seasonal farm-to-table ethos from food and booze
Where: Auburn, Los Angeles
Why: Linking all the elements, from the simple yet complex food and engaged service to the streamlined decor, creates a strong brand.
Example: The vibrant red hue of The Shrub and its description conjures sweetness, but the flavor has a pleasing tart but complex edge. The unexpected flavors result in wanting more sips as if to reconcile the difference.
What: prix fixe menu pairings
Where: Oriole, Chicago, where diners can choose a $95 non-alcoholic pairing to accompany the multi-course $215 menu. Tasting Counter, Boston, which offers a nine-course tasting menu paired with one’s choice of wine, beer, sake or non-alcoholic beverages at the same $250 price that includes tax and tip.
Why: Creative outlet for staff that extends the tasting experience without alcohol. Also filled a white space.
Example: Tasting Counter’s Sichuan Peppercorn Ginger Beer begins with freshly juiced ginger and a tea made of Sichuan peppercorns, lemon juice and simple syrup. It’s paired with many dishes, such as thinly sliced raw mackerel and purple daikon, full-bodied but delicate, just like the drink.
Ways to a Solid Zero-Proof Drink
The formula actually doesn’t vary much from alcoholic drinks – balance is everything. The ideal beverage combines acidity, sweetness and bitterness to complement its base. The sweetness and aesthetically-pleasing pour of grenadine makes it a popular base, but now that farm-to-table has become standard, bars have far more choices for creating alcohol-free craft drinks.
- Non-alcoholic spirits, such as Seedlip, Ceders, Stryyk and Herbie Virgin
- Make-your-own herbal mixtures by infusing simple syrup with herbs such as rosemary, lavender or mint
- Crushed ice for a solid base for layering
- Large cube ice for more intricate recipes, as the longer melt time preserves the drink’s integrity
- Collin’s spears ice for aesthetics
- Housemade vinegars for acidity
- Fresh-squeezed vegetable juices
- Botanicals, such as roses and hibiscus
- Housemade bitters
- Garnishes for aesthetics, but also to create memorable moments