New ideas are making non-alcoholic spirits bright.
PHOTOS BY RAOUL ORTEGA
Sit down for a drink at a bar or a nice dinner out and you’re likely to see a surprising number of mocktails or nonalcoholic beverages on the bar menu. Mocktails, or mixed drinks without alcohol, have become more relevant in recent years due to changing views on drinking and the resurgence of the pre-Prohibition art of mixology taking place currently within the bar industry. Why should alcohol drinkers have all the fun?
Gone are the days of nondrinkers going to the bar and being forced to choose between soda and water. Guests no longer have to hang their heads in shame to order virgin daiquiris or Shirley Temples (the most famous mocktail). Today’s mocktails go beyond the simple squirt of soda water into juice.
“These days, there are a lot more people who aren’t drinking. People may not drink due to health issues, allergies, religious beliefs, sobriety, or being the designated driver,” says Steve Nichols, bar manager at Sacramento’s Bacon & Butter. Nichols’ mocktails may start with juice and soda water, but they also include other ingredients such as fruit, herbs, and spices.
Over at Revival at The Sawyer hotel, Matthew Betts, lead bartender, begins with a question.
“I always ask what they like. Do they like sweet, citrus, or a bit of spice?” Betts says.
Both Nichols and Betts press their own juices from local, seasonal produce. They also play with traditional shrubs to add a bit of acidity. The creation of shrubs is a centuries-old way to use and preserve produce before it spoils. Produce is mixed with sugar and vinegar and allowed to sit anywhere from a few hours to a couple of weeks. During that time, the mixture ferments as the sugars are converted by beneficial bacteria into acetic acid. Shrubs give a bit of tang to cocktails and mocktails.
“I don’t like the term ‘mocktail,’” says Trevor Easter, operations manager of the Irish Hospitality Group, which owns de Vere’s Irish Pub in Sacramento. “It implies a sugary drink to me when there are plenty of nonsugary, nonalcoholic alternatives now available.”
Easter has used another centuries-old ingredient — verjus. The word verjus derives from the French term vert jus, or green juice. Verjus is produced from unripe grapes or other sour fruits. Unlike with shrubs, no fermentation takes place. The verjus provides a naturally sour tang or acid component for sauces, stews, dressings, and, in Easter’s case, beverages.
To keep up with the growth of the nondrinking population, new alcohol-free mixers also are coming on the scene. Tired of the abundance of sugary mocktails, entrepreneurs now are starting to distill spirits with the alcohol removed to create more sophisticated, alcohol-free drinks. Betts had one such new spirit on hand, Seedlip Garden 108, which has an herbal gin flavor without alcohol or sugar. Seedlip comes in two other flavors, Spice 94, with hints of allspice and cardamom, and Grove 42, a citrus-flavored distillate. Elsewhere, distilleries are creating other brands of nonalcoholic versions of gin, whiskey, and rum. Major alcohol producers such as Pernod Ricard as well as a growing number of wine and beer makers are taking note and creating their own alcohol-free beverages to participate in this growing market.
Mocktails often cost several dollars less than traditional cocktails, since they don’t include the alcohol component (though those containing the new distilled spirits usually will stay close to full cocktail price).
“It can be a true test of a bartender’s skills,” Betts says, “when they can successfully create a complex, nonalcoholic drink.”
So put your bartender to the test.
Revival at The Sawyer
500 J St., Sacramento
Bacon & Butter
5913 Broadway, Sacramento
de Vere’s Irish Pub
1521 L St., Sacramento