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Beyond mocktails: How to craft a solid zero-proof beverage list

A thoughtful spirit-free drink selection has many upsides, but it’s time to put the term mocktail to bed, says Advice Guy.
mocktails
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Advice Guy

Question:

We offer a wide variety of soft drinks, but when I go out, I see other restaurants are doing more with “zero-proof cocktails.” How do I develop a mocktail list that is interesting and not just virgin variations of the old standbys?
— Restaurant Owner

Answer:

More guests are looking to have the positive experiences of a cocktail: enjoying a bartender’s craft, trying unique flavor combinations and creative food and beverage pairings, or experiencing the culture of having something tasty and beautiful to sip at the bar. But without the alcohol.

Old-school “mocktails” like Shirley Temples or virgin daiquiris are being supplanted by thoughtfully developed zero-proof or spirit-free cocktail lists, appealing not only to guests who don’t drink alcohol, but to those who would like to drink less, for any number of reasons.

Montia Garcia, director of marketing for The Perfect Puree of Napa Valley, says, “Bartenders are taking the concept of zero-proof to a new level. They’re crafting more sophisticated spirit-free offerings with quality ingredients and complex flavors to offer something beyond sodas, flavored lemonades and iced teas to menus.”

I think having a good zero-proof cocktail list is a welcome shift in our industry with multiple benefits:

  • Inclusivity. A solid zero-proof selection sends the message that you value all your guests, not just the ones who rack up a big drink tab.
  • Margins. A craft spirit-free cocktail can sell for two or three times the price of a soda.
  • Risk. Drunk guests are not good guests and raise liability issues for restaurants during and after their time with you.

Given those benefits, my advice is to put as much effort into your spirit-free bar program as you do your spirited one. My related advice is to put the term “mocktail” to bed. Your goal should not be to make “fake” alcohol-free versions of your cocktail menu, but rather to create tasty offerings that stand on their own. Some may be so good that you will capture an order from a cocktail drinker.

Johnny Caldwell, cocktail consultant from Cocktail Bandits in Charleston, S.C., agrees.

She says, “Oftentimes, we make cocktails to cover up the taste of the featured spirit. We’ve all had that guest that doesn’t like the smell of gin or the high proof in certain whiskies. Removing the liquor from cocktail creation gives the mixologist the opportunity to build flavor without having to consider the impact of alcohol. Don’t look at crafting mocktails as restrictive. View them as a blank canvas to experiment with new ingredients and even explore creating your own syrups and tinctures to add a personal touch to your zero-proof cocktail.”

Find some spirit-free cocktail recipes to get started here.

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