Gone are the days when people who want to skip the booze are relegated to sparkling water with a twist of lime, or a mixture of fruit juices. As demand escalates for adult beverages that don’t leave you with a hangover, local mixologists are getting creative, crafting grown-up drinks that feel more like a celebration than a punishment.
“I want people who consume less or no alcohol to feel like the decision to not drink—or to drink less—is easy and fun,” says Bernadette James, mixologist at fine dining restaurant Stages at One Washington and its sister lounge, The Living Room, both in Dover, New Hampshire.
James is definitely making it easy and fun to opt out of booze—for each of the bespoke cocktails on the list at The Living Room, she offers an equally appealing nonalcoholic option. Some are even mirror images, as in the case of a recent menu that featured the zero-proof Mocha Flip, a mix of espresso, cacao nibs, coconut cream, almond, egg, and angostura bitters. Take out the bitters and add vodka, and you have the Mudslide Flip, on the full-proof side of the menu.
James says that about a third of guests these days request at least one zero-proof beverage—maybe even more—and she’s excited by the challenge. “It makes me happy to offer a healthy alternative, and even happier to see people order and enjoy these drinks.”
At Grove restaurant at Briar Barn Inn in Rowley, restaurant manager Dayna DeCristofaro has seen a similar uptick, with several guests choosing from the non-alcoholic side of the menu consistently every night. So much so that they are looking to increase their offerings in the new year.
“We thought this growing group of ‘spirit-free’ diners deserved choices that were beautiful and delicious, just like the rest of our cocktail list,” says DeCristofaro. Grove launched its new N/A (short for nonalcoholic) drink list by working with what many consider the OG of the zero-proof movement, Seedlip, to craft drinks like the Cos-NO-politian. “It looks like a Cosmopolitan and tastes great without the bite of the alcohol,” DeCristofaro says.
Kelly Shaughnessy, barkeep at The Blue Ox in Lynn, has been crafting mocktails for moms-to-be for years, but has seen demand grow well past those who are drinking for two. “I believe the interest originally began with two audiences: those practicing sobriety and pregnant gals,” she says. “Now it has expanded to health and wellness, and having the experience of cocktails without the headache.”
Shaughnessy says that monthly trends, like Sober October and Dry January, have been pushing the N/A realm to get creative, but she eschews commercially available zero-proof spirits for tropical fruit and herb-forward scratch-made options. “My favorite N/A drinks are made with seasonally appropriate and fresh ingredients, both in the recipe and garnish. Fruit garnish is fun and tasty.”
Tea is a go-to ingredient for James, who notes that crafting cocktails that are well-balanced without alcohol can be tricky, since the spirit lends both liquid and a taste profile. “Adding tea to any drink increases the volume and flavor, but without adding any sugar or acid,” she says, noting that if you keep fresh-brewed tea, simple syrup and fresh-squeezed citrus on hand, it’s pretty easy to whip up a satisfying mocktail at home. “My favorite zero-proof drinks to make myself are ones that I’ve prepped beforehand and can throw together when I’m tired and wanting a quick and refreshing drink,” she says. “With those ingredients on hand, it takes only a few minutes to pour them over ice. I love a simple salt rim on my glass as well—a drink can be enhanced with salt in the same way food can.”
A salt rim is just one trick James is employing in her latest N/A challenge: She is delving deeply into pairing zero-proof beverages with food, including a series to pair with Stages at One Washington’s storied—and constantly evolving—eight-to-10-course tasting menu.
“It’s been a really fun challenge for me, particularly because it’s easy for a zero-proof drink to become too sweet, and a sweet drink is not something that pairs well with food,” James says, noting that a simple mocktail that pairs well with most dishes would be a zero-proof margarita with little or no sweetener, with parsley (or mint, or basil, or cilantro) and salt—or salt and pepper on the rim.
Mixologists agree that the new trend is all in service of supporting people’s choices with joy. “Consuming less or no alcohol is a huge factor in elevating both physical and mental health, and I think that’s part of the reason why interest in zero-proof drinks is increasing exponentially,” James says. “I hope that one day the majority of bars will carry [zero-proof spirits] next to the alcohol, and a customer can call for Seedlip Grove 42 in their margarita in the same way they can call for Patron.”
Compliments of Bernadette James, Stages at One Washington and The Living Room
2 ounces fresh squeezed grapefruit juice (store-bought works if grapefruit juice is the only ingredient)
2-3 ounces brewed jasmine tea or black tea*
2 cucumber slices
2-inch piece of celery stalk
1 ounce vanilla simple syrup**
1. In a shaker tin or a pint glass, lightly muddle or smash the cucumber slices and celery with a muddler or a wooden spoon.
2. Add grapefruit juice, tea, and ice. Stir until the outside of the tin or glass is cold.
3. Double-strain into your prepared glass.
4. Add vanilla simple syrup and taste. Add more until it is the sweetness you prefer.
5. Add ice and enjoy.
*Brew tea strong (double the tea used for 8 ounces) and cool at room temperature before chilling in the refrigerator. Warm tea placed in the refrigerator will become cloudy.
**To make 8 ounces of vanilla simple syrup, mix 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup hot water, stir to dissolve. This can also be done on the stove until sugar dissolves. Add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract or 1/4 of a vanilla bean. Chill in refrigerator.
***To make strawberry salt, smash a handful of dehydrated strawberries lightly with a rolling pin into very small pieces. Mix with salt to taste. Dip the rim of your glass into vanilla simple syrup and then into the strawberry salt.
Compliments of Grove at Briar Barn Inn
2 ounces Seedlip 94
Splash Lemon juice
Simple syrup to taste
1. Add all ingredients to a glass. This can be made on the rocks or straight up.