Mocktails 101

By Shelby Deering | Photos by Holly Leitner

There was a time not so long ago when those who didn’t partake in beer, wine or cocktails at a social gathering may have received some questioning glances. Today, however, more and more people are voluntarily cutting down on their alcohol consumption, thanks in part to movements like “Dry January,” a period after the holidays when many people give up alcohol for a month. To meet the demand for alcohol-free options, many bartenders are developing more and more complex mocktail creations. But what exactly is a mocktail?

“It’s a non-alcoholic version of a drink designed to mimic the look and taste of a counterpart drink that contains alcohol, like a cocktail,” says Michael Seaver, Director of Food & Beverage at The Abbey Resort in Fontana.

Juan Barbosa, Lead Mixologist at the Maxwell Mansion’s Apothecary Bar, goes on to explain that today’s mocktails are designed to taste delicious and feel elevated while omitting the alcohol.

“It usually consists of fruit juices like citrus, as well as non-alcoholic spirits, homemade syrups, vinegar shrubs or flavored vinegars in general,” he says. “Mocktails are meant to be shaken and stirred just as other cocktails are with alcohol included. You still get the show and presentation.”

Megan Trainor, Bar Manager at Cafe Calamari and Harpoon Willie’s in Williams Bay, says that the influx of new, non-alcoholic spirits on the market have allowed bartenders to create “dry” versions of customers’ favorite cocktails.

The rise in brands specializing in alcohol-free spirits has coincided with the public’s increased interest in reducing alcohol consumption, not just in the United States but internationally as well. The concept of “Dry January” began in Great Britain about 10 years ago as a way to start the new year fresh, catering to those aiming to consume less alcohol, or perhaps to cut alcohol from their lives altogether.

The Washington Post reported in 2022 that “Dry January” participants often experience increased energy, improved sleep, reduced weight and a fuller wallet by the end of the month. Researchers have found that these benefits can last beyond the month as well.

Going dry, whether for a set period of time or as a general lifestyle choice, is increasingly common, especially among younger demographics. “Studies are showing that millennials and Gen Z are drinking significantly less than their older counterparts,” Trainor explains She adds that a robust mocktail menu, like the one found at Cafe Calamari, allows people to go out to a bar or restaurant, socialize with friends and still feel good about their health.

Trainor credits the increased interest in forgoing alcohol among the younger set to both health concerns and the power of social media. “There have been a growing number of celebrities who are sober, and TikTok exposes a whole [landscape] of mocktails people can make at home,” she explains. “There is something to simply holding a tasty drink in a fancy glass and being [fully] present that I think the current generation finds much more appealing than previous generations.”

In addition to those health boosts, the Apothecary Bar’s Barbosa believes that establishments are trying to be more inclusive to those who are sober, pregnant or abstain from alcohol for religious reasons. “Those guests are starting to realize they can have fun and be included in a bar or restaurant with alcohol around without needing to partake in drinking,” he observes.

It’s a trend that has definitely made its way to the Geneva Lake area. Seaver says The Abbey has recently experienced an uptick in mocktail requests as the popularity of alcohol- free options has become more mainstream.

Barbosa says that Maxwell Mansion has been working on refining its mocktails. “We continue to expand our menu as the interest continues to grow,” he explains, adding that mocktails can inspire creativity among bartenders.

Trainor says that there has been a lot of positive feedback to Cafe Calamari’s mocktail menu, which includes seasonal options and classics. “A lot of people have seemed pleasantly surprised that our mocktail list offers well-balanced options,” she says.

“There are so many different directions you can go with mocktails … you can have fun with them, play around and learn a lot about new flavor profiles and combinations,” Barbosa says. “It’s exciting to watch someone come into the Apothecary and realize we have mocktail options and get excited to try new drinks. One of our favorite things to see is when a couple comes in and the pregnant spouse sits on the side just patiently waiting for their significant other to get their drink and we let them know we have great options for them to try some fun drinks. Their eyes light up and get so excited that they don’t have to just drink water or juice all night. They can have a fancy glass and sip all night on tasty drinks, too.”

Garden Cucumber 8

Bartenders at 240 West at The Abbey share one of their favorite alcohol-free drinks to make at home:

  • 2 oz. Seedlip Garden 108
  • 1 oz. cucumber juice
  • cucumber wheel for garnish
  • 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
  • Soda
  • Mint (shaken)
  • 1⁄4 oz. simple syrup

Combine and shake with ice: Garden 108, cucumber juice, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and mint.

Strain into Old-Fashioned glass. Top with soda water.

Garnish with cucumber wheel.

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