Spirit-free cocktails have most definitely hit the mainstream. Mocktails made the top 10 of Yelp’s 2023 Food Trends. The crowd-sourced local business reviews platform reports that searches for mocktails were up 59%.
The 2023 Bacardi Cocktail Trends Report found that 57% of global consumers were planning to follow Dry January this past year, with 40% expecting to drink more nonalcoholic and low-ABV drinks throughout 2023. And up to 23% of Millennial and legal Gen Z consumers are becoming “blenders,” or those switching between no-/low- and full-strength cocktails on the same occasion.
What does this mean for nonalcoholic cocktails?
Consumers now expect them to be made with flavor in the same vein as full-proof drinks. Overly sweet, boring or tasteless mocktails will no longer cut it. (Calling them mocktails is frowned upon by many in the industry, due to the negative connotations, but it remains a quick and easy way to identify these beverages on menus.)
Mocktails: Products and processes
The good news for bartenders is that there’s no shortage of quality nonalcoholic products, and more seem to launch every week. It’s easier to find them, too.
For instance, The Free Spirits Co., a nonalcoholic spirits brand offering bourbon, gin, tequila and Italian aperitivo alternatives, in April announced a retail partnership with Walmart. All Free Spirits expressions can now be found in more than 600 Walmart stores across a dozen states and nationwide at Walmart.com.
Caleño tropical non-alcoholic spirits, a leading brand in the U.K., earlier this year launched in the U.S. after gaining a listing with renowned dry drinks retailer Boisson.
ISH, a Copenhagen, Denmark-based producer of nonalcoholic wines, spirits and cocktails, became available here last fall, online and distributed in all 50 states through ZeroProof.
Optimist Drinks, a collection of Los Angeles-inspired distilled botanical spirits made without alcohol, hit the market in early 2021. And Zero Proof, a Black- and LGBTQ+-owned business launched in January 2022, includes zero-proof gin, bourbon and tequila.
A number of established spirit brands have launched no-proof versions. For instance, Martini & Rossi in early 2022 unveiled two new non-alcoholic aperitivos — Floreale and Vibrante.
Beverage professionals are also interested in sharing their expertise in crafting nonalcoholic drinks. The inaugural No/Low Tour — a celebration of nonalcoholic and low-ABV drinks at cocktail events this year — kicked off at Seattle Cocktail Week this past March.
Split into two components — educational seminars and bar pop ups that challenge the expectations of no-/low-ABV cocktails — the No/Low tour is the brainchild of nonprofit Focus on Health and Mover & Shaker, a virtual content creator for hospitality. The No/Low Tour was scheduled stop at five more cocktail events in 2023: Bar Convent Brooklyn; Aspen Food & Wine; Tales of the Cocktail; Portland Cocktail Week; and Black Restaurant Week.
Proceeds from the No/Low Tour will benefit Another Round Another Rally, a nonprofit financial and educational resource for the hospitality industry. Brand sponsors for the tour include, Ritual, Fever Tree, Lustau, All The Bitter, Pathfinder, Luxardo, Campari and Aplos.
From fine-dining establishments and craft cocktail bars to chain restaurants and hotels, savvy operators have recently launched or improved their nonalcoholic offerings. Here are just a few.
The San Francisco Proper hotel has a unique and inventive zero-proof cocktail menu, available year-round at its signature restaurant Villon. The menu, designed by Bon Vivant Hospitality’s Josh Harris, divides up a 49-drink cocktail list into seven menus with seven cocktails each; 7×7 is a reference to San Francisco’s square mileage. One section, “7 X The Wagon,” is devoted to no-proof cocktails.
When reopening Villon post-pandemic in 2022, Harris was “excited at the opportunity to add a new section of zero-proof cocktails to the menu without marginalizing non-drinkers, making the overall experience more inclusive.”
His goal with the program is to position these drinks as nonalcoholic counterparts while keeping flavor and experience in mind.
To keep the quality high and experience consistent across the board, Harris uses a variety of high-end, zero-proof spirits, including Seedlip, Amass and Figlia Aperitivo. The 7 X The Wagon drinks are priced at $18, the same as the spirited cocktails. Menu highlights include the Radio Flyer Wagon, made with Figlia Aperitivo, grapefruit, cold-brew coffee, lime and tonic; Wagon Vault (Seedlip Garden 108, Martini & Rossi Floreale, castelvetrano olives and brine); Paddy Wagon (For Bitter For Worse Smoke No. 56, Ghia aperitif and lime); and Coasting Wagon (Martni & Rossi Vibrante, Leitz “Eins Zwei Zero” sparkling riesling and Fever Tree tonic).
Sorry Charlie’s, a seafood spot in Savannah, GA, in January introduced new nonalcoholic cocktails at The Bamboo Room, the restaurant’s second-floor Tiki bar. These include the Not an Old Fashioned, with Kentucky 74 “bourbon,” Earl Gray tea, cinnamon syrup and a spray of an orange rind, and the Coconut Water Daiquiri, with fresh coconut water, lime juice and simple syrup.
The Desmond restaurant in the Kimpton Alma San Diego hotel for Dry January offered a specially curated menu of craft mocktails featuring Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits. They included the Sunrise Spritz (Lyre’s Italian orange and Fever Tree soda); the Rose Cooler (Lyre’s gin, lemon, mint syrup, rosewater and Fever Tree soda); and an Espresso Martini (Lyre’s coffee, espresso and oatmilk).
At The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club in East Nashville, bar lead Laura Unterberg commits just as much thought and creative integrity into her nonalcoholic beverages as she does any other drink on the menu. Some of Unterberg’s more notable mocktails include Batteries Not Included, made with The Pathfinder Amaro, Untitled Art Chocolate Milk Stout, Elegy cold-brew foam, and chocolate biscuit; Cool In Nippon, with yuzu, orange blossom, hops and seltzer; and Spirit-Free Tini’ Time, with Pentire Adrift, Lyre’s aperitif dry, celery vinegar, rosemary oil, sea salt and an assortment of garnishes.
L’Avenue at Saks, a Parisian-themed restaurant in Saks Fifth Avenue’s New York flagship store, offers a few mocktails as well. One is the Spanish Steps, made with unsweetened coconut cream, a house-made apple cordial that has a tart green apple bite, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and soda water. It’s built in a wine glass and has a large fluffy head that is meant to emulate the look of the famous spot in Rome.
At Bar Bastion, a cocktail bar in New York that opened this past March, no-proof cocktails include Blood Type, made with Seedlip 42 Grove, blood orange syrup, basil lemon and tonic, and Over-Cuked with lime, cucumber, mint, pineapple and ginger beer.
Mix Restaurant and Lounge in the Hilton Anaheim offered a selection of nonalcoholic cocktails on its spring menu. The Don’t Call Me Shirley mixes fresh lemon and lime juice, Rose’s Grenadine and club soda, and the Peach Squeeze combines Monin peach syrup, orange and lemon juice and club soda. And Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, which operates 56 locations across 20 states, offered two mocktails on its spring menu: The Raspberry No-Jito (raspberry purée, Alex’s Fresh Lemonade, lime, mint leaves) and Charred Orange Agua Fresca (seared fresh orange, fresh lime juice and chilled water).
Some on-premise operators are going beyond just offering zero-proof drinks and creating food parings for them. For instance, Formento’s restaurant in Chicago features the bright and light flavors of Italy, which pair well with its zero-proof cocktail options such as the Starry Night, made with Seedlip Garden, lavender syrup, Earl Grey, fresh lemon and rosemary.
Counter, a tasting menu restaurant in Charlotte, NC, doesn’t have a cocktail program; rather; it emphasizes its wine and nonalcoholic pairings instead. Chef/owner Sam Hart loves the creative freedom that nonalcoholic pairings offer, allowing him to play around with concoctions, making something sweeter or more citrusy, to come up with the best pairing possible for each dish.
A recent menu theme, Street Food, was a tribute to six cities around the world and sharing the best tasting food Hart and his team have experienced in each. Counter sommelier Michael Myers researched what popular drinks were for each city and either tried to make his own version or stayed true to the classic as he could.
Street Food drink highlights include chicha morada (Lima); Champagne oolong tea (Singapore); sweet and sour plum (Chengdu); and orange anise syrup and soda (Barcelona). A Chicago-themed mocktail celebrated the flavors of Malort, the city’s famously bitter spirit.
A Growing Segment
Drink trends may come and go, but high-quality, inspired spirit-free beverages are here to stay. Demand will likely continue to increase as well. Between August 2021 and August 2022, total dollar sales of nonalcoholic drinks in the U.S. stood at $395 million, according to NielsenIQ, showing a year-on-year growth of 20.6%.
Customers that don’t drink alcohol for whatever reason still want a fun, festive and delicious drink, and they’re willing to pay for it. Smart operators that take the steps to launch or improve their zero-free drinks programs will benefit in both guest loyalty and increased profitability.