tips & tricks

THE RISE OF THE MOCKTAIL

New ideas are making non-alcoholic spirits bright.

WRITTEN BY CATHERINE ENFIELD
PHOTOS BY RAOUL ORTEGA

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From left, Shrub’s the Word and Mock-Star mocktails at Revival in Sacramento

 

Sit down for a drink at a bar or a nice dinner out and you’re likely to see a surprising number of mocktails or nonalcoholic beverages on the bar menu. Mocktails, or mixed drinks without alcohol, have become more relevant in recent years due to changing views on drinking and the resurgence of the pre-Prohibition art of mixology taking place currently within the bar industry. Why should alcohol drinkers have all the fun?

Gone are the days of nondrinkers going to the bar and being forced to choose between soda and water. Guests no longer have to hang their heads in shame to order virgin daiquiris or Shirley Temples (the most famous mocktail). Today’s mocktails go beyond the simple squirt of soda water into juice.

“These days, there are a lot more people who aren’t drinking. People may not drink due to health issues, allergies, religious beliefs, sobriety, or being the designated driver,” says Steve Nichols, bar manager at Sacramento’s Bacon & Butter. Nichols’ mocktails may start with juice and soda water, but they also include other ingredients such as fruit, herbs, and spices.

Over at Revival at The Sawyer hotel, Matthew Betts, lead bartender, begins with a question.

“I always ask what they like. Do they like sweet, citrus, or a bit of spice?” Betts says.

Both Nichols and Betts press their own juices from local, seasonal produce. They also play with traditional shrubs to add a bit of acidity. The creation of shrubs is a centuries-old way to use and preserve produce before it spoils. Produce is mixed with sugar and vinegar and allowed to sit anywhere from a few hours to a couple of weeks. During that time, the mixture ferments as the sugars are converted by beneficial bacteria into acetic acid. Shrubs give a bit of tang to cocktails and mocktails.

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Matt Betts, lead bartender at Revival in Sacramento, making a mocktail

“I don’t like the term ‘mocktail,’” says Trevor Easter, operations manager of the Irish Hospitality Group, which owns de Vere’s Irish Pub in Sacramento. “It implies a sugary drink to me when there are plenty of nonsugary, nonalcoholic alternatives now available.”

Easter has used another centuries-old ingredient — verjus. The word verjus derives from the French term vert jus, or green juice. Verjus is produced from unripe grapes or other sour fruits. Unlike with shrubs, no fermentation takes place. The verjus provides a naturally sour tang or acid component for sauces, stews, dressings, and, in Easter’s case, beverages.

To keep up with the growth of the nondrinking population, new alcohol-free mixers also are coming on the scene. Tired of the abundance of sugary mocktails, entrepreneurs now are starting to distill spirits with the alcohol removed to create more sophisticated, alcohol-free drinks. Betts had one such new spirit on hand, Seedlip Garden 108, which has an herbal gin flavor without alcohol or sugar. Seedlip comes in two other flavors, Spice 94, with hints of allspice and cardamom, and Grove 42, a citrus-flavored distillate. Elsewhere, distilleries are creating other brands of nonalcoholic versions of gin, whiskey, and rum. Major alcohol producers such as Pernod Ricard as well as a growing number of wine and beer makers are taking note and creating their own alcohol-free beverages to participate in this growing market.

Mocktails often cost several dollars less than traditional cocktails, since they don’t include the alcohol component (though those containing the new distilled spirits usually will stay close to full cocktail price).

“It can be a true test of a bartender’s skills,” Betts says, “when they can successfully create a complex, nonalcoholic drink.”

So put your bartender to the test.

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Matt Betts, lead bartender at Revival in Sacramento, shakes up a mocktail

 

Hot Buttered Cider

(courtesy of Trevor Easter, operations manager, Irish Hospitality Group. Serves 1)

6 ounces house-made spiced cider (see recipe below)

3 ounces salted butter

½ teaspoon brown sugar

Add butter and brown sugar to the bottom of a mug, then pour over hot cider.

For house-made spiced cider

1 liter cloudy apple juice

10 grams cinnamon sticks (about 8 to 10 sticks)

5 grams (or 1 rounded teaspoon) cloves

3 whole orange peels

Cook in either a sous-vide cooker at 160 degrees F or simmer in a covered pot on low heat for 2 hours.

 

Ginger and Juice

(courtesy of Trevor Easter, operations manager, Irish Hospitality Group. Serves 1)

1½ ounce fresh lemon juice

¾ ounce honey syrup*

¾ ounce ginger syrup*

½ ounce ruby red grapefruit juice

Combine all ingredients and shake. Strain over new ice, top with soda water, and garnish with a grapefruit slice.

*Can be purchased at specialty beverage shops such as BevMo

 

Grapeful Rose

(courtesy of Steve Nichols, bar manager, Bacon & Butter in Sacramento. Serves 1)

½ cup grapefruit juice

5 ounces rosemary syrup

2 dashes Scrappy’s black lemon bitters

Club soda

Sprig of rosemary, for garnish

Add all ingredients but club soda to a cocktail shaker and shake for 10 seconds. Pour over ice. Top with club soda and garnish with a grapefruit twist and a sprig of rosemary.

 

Mock-Star

(courtesy of Matt Betts, lead bartender, Revival in Sacramento. Serves 1)

3 basil leaves

1 ounce fresh pineapple

1 ounce ginger syrup

¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

2 ounces club soda

Basil leaf for garnish

Start with club soda in a Collins glass. Muddle 3 basil leaves in a shaker. Add ingredients and shake, then strain over pebble ice. Garnish with basil leaf.

 

Shrub’s the Word

(courtesy of Matt Betts, lead bartender, Revival in Sacramento. Serves 1)

1 ounce blackberry thyme shrub*

1 ounce fresh lime juice

¾ ounce simple syrup

3 blackberries

2 ounces club soda

Sprig of thyme and 1 blackberry for garnish

Start with 2 ounces club soda in a Collins glass. Muddle 3 blackberries in a shaker. Add ingredients and shake, then strain over pebble ice. Garnish with a blackberry and a sprig of thyme.

*Can be purchased at specialty beverage shops such as BevMo

Revival at The Sawyer
500 J St., Sacramento
916-545-7111 • Revivalsacramento.com

Bacon & Butter
5913 Broadway, Sacramento
916-346-4445 • Baconandbuttersac.com

de Vere’s Irish Pub
1521 L St., Sacramento
916-231-9947 • Deverespub.com

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