Lose the booze and enjoy mocktail hour instead
After weeks of holiday gluttony, many folks who typically spend their nights tossing back a few cocktails attempt to resume a healthier routine. The trend of pledging a “Sober January” or “Dry January” — when people who partied hard from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve vow to remain alcohol-free for 31 days — is a common trend for those feeling sluggish after a few-too-many holiday parties. But for bartenders, catering to guests who aren’t drinking alcohol isn’t just a month-long challenge; it’s a year-long mission.
Young Won is the bar manager of Rialto at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, where she’s created a portion of the cocktail menu titled “Senza Spirito,” dedicated to non-alcoholic libations. While there are those that don’t see the point of a liquor-less cocktail, Won says it’s not as atypical as one might think.
“We see an increasing number of people — whether for health or personal reasons — looking for non-alcoholic drinks,” said Won. “I want to be sure they have a variety of exciting and seasonal options that they know are carefully chosen.”
Without the diversity of liquors to experiment with, Won explores alternative complements. Her personal favorite of the Senza Spirito, the Amalfi Coast, is a combination of jasmine tea, lime and grapefruit bitters.
“I just love tea with food,” says Won. “The tannins in tea develop a complexity in flavor experience when paired with food. For example, it can deepen roasted flavors, or it can cut through sumptuous fats and can lighten the whole experience.”
Todd Maul, Bar Director at Clio, says that while many of his patrons who order non-alcoholic drinks are looking to cut back on calories, he deals with a vast array of people also looking to cut back on — or totally keep off of — the sauce.
“There’s no real pigeonhole, but it’s nice to have options for people who choose not to drink or decide they’ve had enough and want to drive home safely,” says Maul, who started experimenting with mocktails when his wife was pregnant. “My favorite is the Celine #5, a non-alcoholic Pimm’s and Lemon. I love it because I came up with that drink when both Chef Ken Oringer’s wife and my wife were pregnant, so it has a warm place in my heart.”
At popular South Boston spot Local 149, bar manager Matt Whitney is known for incorporating local and seasonal ingredients into his drinks, just as the restaurant does with their food.
“Simply put, it gives people variety,” says Whitney, whose creations range from using local blueberries at their peak in a house-made blueberry shrub to making pomegranate grenadine from scratch, rather than the pre-made bottled type. “Pregnant and sober people — and children — can now also enjoy a well-crafted beverage that isn’t simply a soda or juice.”
For celebratory occasions when champagne corks typically fly, bartenders hope to create equally festive libations without the alcohol content. This is particularly common in college hubs like Boston and Philadelphia, where bartenders are faced with the challenge of pleasing patrons who have yet to cross into legal drinking territory.
Mark Aquilino, bar manager of Davio’s, says beverages like their popular non-alcoholic Sgroppino, a combination of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider and apple sorbet with a mint leaf garnish, prove to be popular with both the younger crowd and those who are just looking to avoid booze.
“We have a lot of college students and/or guests who request them for various reasons,” says Aquilino. “We want to make sure we accommodate everyone.”
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