Whether observing Dry January, No Alcohol November or just honoring the body with a timeout from booze, many are going dry for a day—or a lifetime. While drinking without alcohol has long meant saccharine sodas, tired spritzes, or a lime, and some sparkling water today craft mocktails have come of age. Now spirit-free options are not only nearly limitless, they can also be exciting and delicious.
“Sadly, many times our guests aren’t expecting to be wowed by a spirit-free cocktail, they’re just hoping for something interesting and not too sweet,” says Beverage Director Amanda Reed. It’s delightful when we can deliver something carefully crafted, that’s spirit-free, and that impresses.”
At Heartwood Provisions, constructing proof-free drinks takes on special importance, as so much of our menu revolves around pairings. While our bartenders have pocket mocktails, they also happily craft drinks on a guest-by-guess basis.
Simple Beginnings Go Beyond Simple Syrup
While juices and sweeteners have long been a staple in a spirit-free cocktail, things have changed. Now, your spirit-free can be based around everything from sparkling water to a dry soda or even a vinegar. Shrubs, which are comprised of drinking vinegar and fruit syrup, offer unique dry options worth building on, for example.
“With shrubs, sure you have sweet, but the sour balances the sweet. Vinegar helps balance the sweet exceptionally well,” says Reed. Take, for example, the peary shrub mocktail bartender Michael Cadden created earlier this year
For other options, Reed suggests using everything from craft sodas to non-alcoholic ginger beer—think the original, blood orange, or even chai cider from Rachel’s Ginger Beer, just a block away in Pike Place Market. Take, for example, the Zen Libation that Reed recently added to the brunch menu. Built around ginger beer plus Thai palm syrup, a hint of pineapple gum, and a good amount of fresh lime juice, the mocktail is remarkably refreshing. Or, go more traditional with a homemade savory syrup. One popular off-the-menu option includes the chamomile syrup used in the Heartwood classic, Khalessi’s Reign. The bartenders mix chamomile syrup, lemon juice, and soda water to create what is basically a chamomile lemonade. The result is refreshingly herbal, floral and dry.
There are less traditional starters, like verjus, a vaguely vinegar-like juice made from under-ripe “green” grapes. Where the cocktail pairing for our Wagyu jerky relies on a salty-sour beer and vermouth, our spirit-free version makes use of salt water, verjus, and tonic to replicate the flavors of its spirituous counterpart. And, new on the menu, is a brunch mocktail—the Bitter Thyme—that incorporates verjus, Pomegranate syrup, and Fever Tree Tonic.
With so many incredible no-proof options now on the bar, it’s time for craft cocktail lovers to get past the fear of asking their bartender to craft something without booze just for them.
How to Ask the Bartender for Spirit-Free Cocktail
When it comes to asking for that perfect drink, Reed suggests going about it the same way you would a roulette cocktail—one of those drinks where a guest chooses the spirit and the flavor profile and the bartender makes the magic happen: begin with the ideal flavor profile.
“Ask yourself, do you want it sweet or dry? Citrus or no citrus? Floral or spicy? Should your drink be herbaceous?” Reed suggests.
These answers, as well as knowing whether you want your drink fizzy or still, will go a long way toward helping your bartender craft a spirit-free cocktail worth sipping slowly. From here, your bartender might start with a variety of bases: homemade sweet or savory simple syrup; dry non-alcoholic cider; ginger beer, soda water, or verjus just included.
For the DIYer, Reed has two critical pieces of advice: first, always balance the sweet ingredients with acid, in any cocktail—alcohol or sans alcohol. And, adding fresh herbs either directly in the drink or muddled, will add freshness and complexity to any drink.