Nothing to Mock
Modern non-alcoholic cocktails are a serious proposition. By Fred Siggins
When I first started bartending about 15 years ago, non-alcoholic cocktails, universally referred to as “mocktails” at the time, were a source of derision for most professional drink-slingers. Why waste precious energy mixing up a cocktail that made less money and wouldn’t even help you get drunk? But I always loved making them.
Mocktails allowed me to share my craft and its associated culture with designated drivers, kids out for special birthday dinners, pregnant women who didn’t want to feel left out of the fun and anyone doing the hard work of being on the wagon in a society obsessed with intoxication. To me, it felt like noble work, because bartending is about more than getting people pissed; it’s about being a good host, no matter the needs of the person at the bar.
Thankfully, the culture has changed dramatically in recent years, and despite a spike in pandemic-related alcohol consumption, there are more and more Australians now choosing not to drink for a night, a month or a lifetime. And where adult-oriented non-alcoholic drinks were once limited to a couple of flavourless zero-per-cent commercial beers, there’s now a profusion of non-alcoholic wines, craft beers and even spirit substitutes on the market.
Bartenders, too, have changed their tune on the once mocked mocktail, as most decent bars now offer at least one non-alcoholic cocktail on their menus and pride themselves on doing them well. At Melbourne’s high-concept Bouvardia, the team aims to challenge the perception that non-alcoholic and low-ABV cocktails are just some juice mixed with cordials.
“We want to make sure that whether it has alcohol or not, every drink we offer is developed with the same thoughtfulness and inventiveness,” explains operations manager Zii Diggles. “Offering these non-alcoholic cocktails provides an inclusive space where everyone can indulge.”
Bouvardia’s list features “Honey, I Burnt the Yoghurt”, a non-alcoholic cocktail that’s one of the tastiest drinks on offer. Made with caramelised yoghurt, salted honeydew melon and Packham pear juice, its flavour is reminiscent of Yakult, yoghurt lassi, condensed milk and chai tea but more complex, light and subtle than any of the above, with a creamy sweetness masterfully balanced with lactic acidity.
At Sydney’s award-winning Maybe Sammy, a whole section of the menu is dedicated to non-alcoholic cocktails, despite the venue’s decidedly classic and booze-driven approach to drinking. Co-owner Stefano Catino says that having non-alcoholic options is part of making his bar as inclusive as possible. “Having a non-alc section on the list is really important to us because we don’t want people who aren’t drinking to feel awkward,” he explains. “I love non-alcoholic cocktails myself, especially when people put 100 per cent of their creativity into it.”
When there’s not so much time for creativity, non-alcoholic spirit alternatives offer a simple solution for sober sipping. Lyre’s, for example, produces a range of zero-ABV “spirits” including everything from gins and rums to bourbon and tequila-style drinks. Cara Devine manages busy Melbourne rooftop bar Bomba and also hosts the popular YouTube channel “Behind the Bar”. She often makes use of Lyre’s products to make simple drinks for her teetotalling patrons and fans. “Lyre’s Italian Spritz has some bitterness and body to it like Aperol or Campari, so it works really well with StrangeLove Salted Grapefruit soda,” says Devine. “With some fresh fruit for garnish in the middle of summer it’s just as good as anything alcoholic.”
In today’s drinking culture, cocktails are more than just an alcohol delivery system with a silly name. They are about escapism, fantasy, frivolity, storytelling and socialising, stunning bars and special occasions. For drinkers being kind to their livers and brains by reducing or eliminating booze, all these beautiful aspects of cocktail culture should still be on the table.
This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our seventh edition, Page 100 of Winning Magazine with the headline: “Nothing to Mock”. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.