The bartender slapped the metal shaker shut, and shook.
Moments later, he poured the fussy libation — boasting house-crafted syrups and bitters — into a fancy fountain glass, spritzed it with seltzer and carefully garnished the glass rim with orange and lemon peels.
“Simple execution, delicious outcome,” said bartender Zac Siejko.
At Eat Street Social, a cocktail emporium in Minneapolis, this was some of the talented bar staff’s best work — not surprising, considering the level of detail and the amount of time that had gone into its creation.
But this drink was missing one key component:
Booze. This cocktail was actually a mocktail.
What was once viewed as a halfhearted cocktail fraud is now coming into its own. Bartenders and restaurateurs in the Twin Cities and nationally are taking similarly serious approaches to nonalcoholic options as drinking establishments expand the emphasis on high-quality ingredients and technique, and as guests make the decision to drink less or no alcohol.
On a recent night at Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis, the bar sold 230-plus regular cocktails and 67 nonalcoholic drinks, the latter from its carefully crafted mocktail list.
Head bartender Robb Jones remembers watching the tickets roll in.
“They actually sell,” he said. “There’s a market for them, and people want them.”
Seven years ago, if you had walked up to a bar and asked for a nonalcoholic cocktail, the bartender might have served up a glass of cranberry juice and a thin smile.
But attitudes changed — on the part of both bartenders and patrons.
In the era of juice cleanses and healthy living, plenty of us are following suit. Sometimes that means moving onto something lighter after a liquor-infused cocktail or two and sometimes it means abstaining altogether.
The stigma is beginning to fall away.
“It used to be just teetotalers and pregnant women who drank nonalcoholic cocktails,” said Randy Stanley, owner of 6Smith in Wayzata. “Not anymore.”
Added Jones: “There’s a little bit of a broader movement in our industry, here and nationally, for just health and well-being. People are asking for this.”
Meanwhile, the craft cocktail renaissance has led to many establishments creating their own would-be mixers — juices, sodas, bitters and tinctures and flavored syrups — which step up the mocktail options.
“Part of it is just to show off what we can do,” said Patrick Williams, beverage director at Punch Bowl Social, which opened a location in St. Louis Park last year. “I mean, we’ve got all this cool stuff; let’s keep it rolling.”
In general, restaurants and bars have become increasingly more detail-focused as competition grows and consumers become more knowledgeable, and that attention extends to nonalcoholic options, Stanley of 6Smith said.
“Everything in the food service industry has become more cutting-edge and aggressive,” he said. “If you want to play on the field anymore, you have to know what you’re doing and really drive an experience.
“The days of mixing together orange juice and cranberry juice and calling it a nonalcoholic beverage are just not going to cut it anymore,” said Stanley.
6Smith whips up drinks like Erik the Red, a spiced mocktail with house-made ginger syrup. Punch Bowl Social serves a booze-free drink with aloe juice shaken into it — for a frothy, egg white-like texture. Jones recently infused new life into Spoon and Stable’s list of nonalcoholic drinks, which use ingredients such as rosemary, cinnamon and rooibos tea. And at Eat Street Social, bartenders mimic everything from a whiskey and Coke to a gin and tonic.
Yes, they serve what they call a nonalcoholic gin and tonic — highlighted by a complex tonic recipe that features cranberries, ginger, cardamom and lemongrass. Otherwise, they’ve managed to make their nonalcoholic drinks sound so good that regular drinkers are asking to add alcohol to the mixtures without.
“Honestly, they’re awesome,” said Siejko, of Eat Street Social. “I drink them all night.”
And besides being delicious, there are other benefits. For the restaurant, that means $6 or $7 drinks being added to the tab. For patrons that means blending in with the drinking crowd while also managing to stay in control.
“If you have a mocktail, you’re carrying a cool glass and you fit right in,” Stanley said. “You keep coherent speech all night long, and you win every argument.”
You can experiment with nonalcoholic drinks at home, too, of course. Try one of these.