Some people never drink; some people just aren't drinking this month (or nine?); some may have had too much to drink the night before – but whatever the reason or the timing, many find themselves in a festive or fine-dining environment without a proper beverage with which to toast the moment.
A fancy tasting menu at a fine restaurant isn't quite as nice when paired with just water. Hanging out at a party or a bar sucking down Coke after Coke gets old, too. And no grown-up wants a Shirley Temple. Calling a ginger ale with a dash of cranberry juice a "mocktail" is pushing it, particularly when you have to pay real-cocktail prices. And finally, bartenders – a group who knows better than any other the perils of excessive drinking – are doing something about it.
Across the country, bars are serving alcohol-free drinks that offer the complexity of a cocktail – the balance of tart or bitter with sweet or herbal – but at zero proof, using fresh cold-pressed juices, herbs and bespoke syrup blends. So what do you call these beverages? Can't we just call them drinks?
"Well, no, that doesn't quite convey the complexity of the drinks we're talking about," says food and beverage journalist Julia Bainbridge. "A drink could reference a cold-pressed apple juice or a lapsang souchong tea or, hell, a glass of water. I tend to use 'non-alcoholic cocktails' when I'm at a bar. No one likes the word mocktail, but we need something to signify that this is more than just a Coke or a cranberry-seltzer," she says. "Not only does the word 'mocktail' make me cringe, but also, there's the negative connotation that comes with 'mock.'"
While taking some time off drinking, Bainbridge says, she noticed that "things have gotten a lot more sophisticated in the N/A beverage world." She's writing a book on the topic, to be published by Ten Speed Press, and traveling the country to sample various bartenders' zero-proof elixirs.
In Orlando, we haven't found a bespoke N/A cocktail menu yet, but enough bars carry local Smiling Goat Shrubs that it's relatively easy to order a shrub and seltzer. Until then, you might see us bellying up to the bar with an Angostura and soda, maybe even with a Luxardo cherry garnish ... but don't call us Shirley. —JBY