Hold the Hootch

A Growing Mocktail Lineup Makes Dry January Tastier

By Karen Gardner | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 01.05.20 – Dining, Food & Drink

Adult beverages were once synonymous with beer, wine or spirits. But today’s mocktail is a non-alcoholic adult beverage that can also be tasty—sometimes savory, sometimes sweet, sometimes a little of both. And with so many people taking the “Dry January” pledge, they are the perfect fit for the season.

The new mocktail trend means more choices. There was a time when those who preferred to skip or limit their libations had little to settle for except for club soda or tonic water. Now, choices go beyond soft drinks or the pink-toned Shirley Temple. This syrupy-sweet mix of grenadine and ginger ale, topped with a maraschino cherry, may have been the original mocktail, but today’s versions add in more adult flavors, sans the alcoholic kick.

Driving this trend are many millennials and Generation Zers, often lured by bartenders and distillers who offer fancy non-alcoholic drinks that require as much creativity and complexity as any well-crafted cocktail. But they’re not just for young adults. These drinks appeal to people of all ages.

It makes sense because people are drinking less. The World Health Organization reports that the number of people drinking alcohol has dropped by 5 percent since 2000. Beverage makers have responded. Two newer drink lines are DRY, a line of non-alcoholic beverages, and Seedlip Distilled Non-Alcoholic Spirits. Seedlip beverages are now offered in some metropolitan cocktail bars, where they can be combined with mixers to make a sophisticated non-alcoholic drink. Even the beer industry is introducing a new generation of non-alcoholic beverages.

In Frederick, a good mixed drink with no alcohol is becoming easier to find. Local bartenders are drinking the mocktail Kool-Aid as they cater to those who like to limit their libations.

D.J. Rispoli, bar manager at Firestone’s Culinary Tavern, says he doesn’t have a set mocktail menu, but he likes putting his skills to work to craft a good a non-alcoholic drink as much as he likes to create an alcoholic mixed drink. Rispoli gets requests, and he’s eager to put his mixology skills to work in crafting appealing non-alcoholic drinks that patrons can sip alongside their cocktail-sipping companions. “We like to make it look nice,” he says.

Camden Hunter, general manager at Café Nola, also hasn’t yet created a menu dedicated to mocktails, but he enjoys creating drinks for guests who want an enjoyable beverage without alcohol’s effects. “We want you to still have a good time without feeling like you have to have an alcoholic drink,” he says. Breakfasts and lunches are the most common time the restaurant gets mocktail orders, for those who’d rather have a Tequila Sunrise without the tequila, for example.

ZERO-PROOF

Tenth Ward Distilling Company has a Zero-Proof menu that’s designed to satisfy the taste buds of anyone craving a smooth, imaginative mixed drink. Mark Vierthaler, head distiller, wants everyone to feel at home at Tenth Ward, not just those who choose to imbibe an alcoholic beverage. So along with the Hemp Cat and the Lady Fritchie is the Matchtail, which is like the Hemp Cat without the jenever spirit, and the Rock Lobster, which is a non-alcoholic version of Tenth Ward’s House Amaro.

“We want to encourage everyone who comes into our place to enjoy a drink, to feel like you’re part of a group,” Vierthaler says. “They’re based around the flavor profiles of our spirits. We have a variety of different options of mixers without spirits.”

His goal is to create drinks that are as tasty as those with alcohol. But these drinks are more than non-alcoholic versions of cocktails, Vierthaler says. They’re meant to have a taste and texture all their own.

The Rock Lobster, for example, is a bit like Campari, an Italian spirit that combines bitter herbs, aromatic plants and fruit and infuses them into a blend of alcohol and water. The Rock Lobster is made from dehydrated rock candy. “You still get the complex drink with a lot of thought and care, but you don’t have to worry about the side effects,” Vierthaler says.

Tenth Ward also carries Ginger Beer made by Sweet Farm of Woodsboro. “This is an intense ginger flavor, and yet it’s non-alcoholic,” Vierthaler says.

The response to the Zero-Proof menu has been overwhelmingly positive, he says. “We’ll have a family do a tour, and while the parents have cocktails, we’ll mix up zero-proof cocktails for the kids,” he says. “We have safeguards in place to make sure there are no mix-ups.”

MEDICINAL MOCKTAILS

Frederick naturopath Dr. Cristine Ehly, who goes by Dr. Cristine, enjoys teaching others how to make mocktails that are not only alcohol-free, but also come with some health benefits. She combines herbs, teas, berries, leaves and fruits to make what she calls “Medicinal Mocktails.”

Ehly always enjoyed a good drink, especially a Manhattan. Health problems led her to give up drinking, yet she didn’t want to give up the flavor profiles she likes in a good drink.

She put her herbal skills to work. Like the creator of Seedlip, Ehly decided to create drinks with natural ingredients. Seedlip founder Ben Branson uses herbs, spices and other plant-based flavorings to create tastes not usually found in drinks.

Ehly has a background in nutrition, botanical medicine and homeopathy. Instead of limiting her cocktail party options to club soda and soft drinks, Ehly decided to combine her botanical expertise with liquids to concoct beverages that are not only refreshing, but fun to drink.

The drinks combine herbal or fruity flavors with just a touch of sweetness without the added sugar. Sugar in a traditional mixed drink—along with alcohol, which converts to sugar—can affect your immune system, Ehly says.

Conversely, the antioxidants in her drinks help protect the body’s cells against damage caused by stress, environmental factors and age-related problems. Ehly’s Hydrating Hibiscus Cooler has vitamin C, beta carotene, iron and calcium. The drink uses dried hibiscus flowers, which are sold in tea-bag format.

Ehly’s creativity extends to the Mocktail Mule, which is a different take on a Moscow Mule. Instead of vodka, Ehly’s recipe calls for lime juice, ginger kombucha or Sweet Farm Ginger Beer, mint, turmeric and a pinch of black pepper. “The ginger helps with migraine head-aches, and the turmeric can act as

an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial ingredient.” This drink is not recommended for pregnant women, however.

Ehly’s favorite is Tom’s Top Hat, or a mock Manhattan. Ehly mixes chilled black tea (Earl Grey or Oolong), tart cherry juice, hawthorn berry or elderberry syrup, herbal bitters, and tart or sour cherries.

“You can do so much with them,” Ehly says of her drinks. “These have less sugar, because alcohol is a sugar.” That’s a plus for people who may be on the path to diabetes, or who have metabolic syndrome. “[The beverages] tend to be more nutrient-rich, because the ingredients contain a lot of antioxidants, and improve the immune system and the mood.”