Four mixologists shake up the booming non-alcoholic trend
Words Laura Goldstein
Photography Lia Crowe
Mocktails, those arty cocktails concocted without alcohol, are making a skyrocketing impact on the drinks market in Canada with an impressive 123 per cent increase in 2023, according to the payment platform Square.
British-owned Seedlip and Canadian companies Sobrii and Village Brewery (CR*FT) are a few examples of entrepreneurial businesses that produce non-alcoholic spirits or beer in hand-crafted small batches, and many of these products are available at your local grocery store. Using pure botanical ingredients like juniper berries, coriander, allspice and star anise to replicate the flavour of either traditional tipples like gin and tequila or herbal and citrus spirits, these products make intensely flavourful mocktails with zero calories and no hangovers.
It was no coincidence that the first mocktail, the Shirley Temple, was invented during American prohibition in the 1930s. The child-friendly, vivid pink-red mocktail is a cloyingly sweet drink named after the feisty child actress who was the biggest movie star of that time. It consisted of ginger ale and a dash of grenadine (pomegranate juice) topped with a maraschino cherry.
Once considered a “girly drink,” today’s mocktails are a no-pressure, healthy alternative to alcohol for everyone who prefers to extend “Dry January” or “Sober October” over the entire year.
“The non-alcoholic beverage and mocktail category is explosive, and it’s honestly so wonderful to see this happening,” says Victoria’s Michael Walsh, a recovery coach and one of Canada’s leading substance-use experts. “I have many clients who are taking a break or quitting alcohol altogether and still have social or work events to attend, and they have a lot of anxiety around it. But many people can still have a great time without alcohol and be in a safe zone,” he says.
Here are a few mixologists stirring up the industry with delicious mocktails.
Jay Frederick (Dr. Cocktails)
Pretty Not Bad and Jacks, Kelowna
You might not think mocktails would be popular at a sports bar. However, contrary to popular belief, “people are requesting mocktails on football Sundays at Pretty Not Bad,” says mixologist Jay Frederick, who developed the non-alcoholic menu at both Pretty Not Bad and Jacks venues.
“Guests are requesting mocktails at each location, so we’ve been finding ways to make them just as exciting and unique as our cocktails. There are so many amazing non-alcoholic spirit options on the market right now that the integrity of the drink doesn’t have to change,” he explains. “The visual aesthetic of a mocktail is something we also want to capture, so we get creative with colours and use a variety of garnishes to elevate them. We don’t use any bitters in our mocktails because many are distilled in alcohol. Instead, we’ve been experimenting with using homemade tinctures [concentrated herbal extracts], which we have found to be a fantastic substitute.”
Drinking In The Sleigh (cold)
Makes one drink
- 1.5 oz Lumette LumRum non-alcoholic rum alternative
- 0.5 oz Abstinence Blood Orange Apéritif
- 1.5 oz rosemary-infused pineapple juice
- 0.5 oz Simps Rosemary Syrup
- 0.5 oz cranberry lime juice
Garnish: Flamed cinnamon stick,* rosemary sprig, dehydrated orange, frozen cranberries.
Served: In a Tall Collins glass.
Santa’s Marshmallow Elation (hot)
Makes one drink
- 3 oz chai tea cider
- 2 oz Abstinence Epilogue non-alcoholic whiskey alternative
- 1 oz gingerbread-infused almond milk
- 1 oz Simps Toasted Marshmallow Syrup
Method: Build in mug.
Garnish: Toasted marshmallows,* nutmeg, caramel sauce, gingerbread rim.
Served: Large coffee mug.
* Jay suggests using a baker’s torch.
Bar and beverage director, Freehouse Collective, Vancouver, and organizer of “The Science of Cocktails,” coming April 11, 2024 at Science World.
A ghostly fog of dry ice billows around a face while a mysterious phosphorescent green concoction is swirled inside a glass beaker. This is no mad scientist’s lair. It’s The Science of Cocktails, Science World’s annual fundraiser that attracts over 1,500 people inside the geodesic dome in Vancouver. It’s organized by award-winning mixologist Trevor Kallies, showcasing Vancouver’s marquee bartenders.
“The non-alcoholic category is super exciting now,” explains Trevor. “We apply a scientific approach to making cocktails at 35 drink stations. For example, using dry ice we create an aromatic fog around the drinks. At another station, using liquid nitrogen, we do flash-freezing of herbs, so instead of muddling mint leaves like you get in a mojito, we get a powder that adds a much more intense flavour. And all the chlorophyll gives a bright vivid green colour.”
Makes one drink
- ½ oz passionfruit puree
- 2 oz peach juice (Ceres)
- ½ oz lime juice
- ½ oz simple syrup
- 1 mint sprig
Method: Build in a glass and top with soda. Gently stir.
Hot “Gin” Punch (hot)
Makes five drinks
- 500 ml Seedlip Spice 94 non-alcoholic spirit
- 750 ml Edenvale Premium Reserve non-alcoholic Pinot Noir
- Mulling spices: 4 clove (whole), 4 star anise (whole),
cinnamon sticks (broken into four-inch pieces)
- 1 g fresh grated nutmeg
- 3 chamomile tea bags
- Lemon (peel from ½ a lemon plus garnish)
- Orange (peel from ½ an orange)
Method: Add all ingredients to a pot. Warm on medium heat until it reaches desired serving temperature (do not boil—liquid should be drinkable temperature when poured into mug or cup).
Garnish: lemon wheels (other half of lemon sliced into wheels) and orange wheels (other half of orange sliced into wheels).
Creative beverage director, Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver
“Mocktails are all about the senses because we taste with our eyes,” affirms Melbourne-born Grant Sceney from behind the Fairmont’s upstairs Botanist Bar.
The award-winning mixologist, with the nose of a perfumer, has travelled to 28 countries, working in the bar industry for 17 years. He was instrumental in developing the hotel’s cocktail lab and the cocktail program in the Lobby Lounge.
“When designing a mocktail, I like to look at the end product first. So, I think about my clientele. If it’s the holiday or winter season I know they might be cold coming in from outside, so I’ll create something hot that they can wrap their hands around. Secondly, the holiday season inspires nostalgia and I like my mocktails to reflect those flavours and colours that we associate with that time of year. I’m really inspired by the natural bounty of herbs, fruits and spices, especially from our Pacific Northwest, and we work directly with the farmers who plant the seeds and then forage for us.”
Cranberry Christmas (cold)
Makes one drink
- 30 ml cranberry chai cordial
- 30 ml lemon juice
- 30 ml soda water
- 30 ml ginger beer
Method: Build all ingredients into tall glass, give gentle stir to combine. Gently add ice, top off with extra soda and ginger beer if necessary.
Garnish: Mint sprig, 2 frozen cranberries with dusting of no-melt icing sugar
Served: Tall Collins glass.
Blueberry Toddy (hot)
Makes one drink
- 30 ml blueberry and thyme oleo*
- 10 ml honey
- 30 ml lemon juice/peel
- 60 ml hot water
Method: *Make the blueberry and thyme oleo ahead of time: In a pot, muddle the blueberries and lemon peel with thyme and water. On low heat, gently muddle to break up blueberries and lemon oils and remove once sugar is dissolved. Once combined, move to food-safe sealable container and let rest for 12 hours at room temperature. It’s important to let the oils of the lemon peel and blueberries absorb into the sugar and not be heated into it. It’s a slow flavour extraction method. Then strain and rebottle. Label and date. Kept refrigerated.
Build all ingredients into a pre-heated teacup, give a gentle stir with a spoon to combine.
Served: Vintage teacup and saucer
Beverage director, Boom + Batten, Victoria
Once a male-dominated industry, the mixology scene is seeing more and more women shaking things up with an eye for detail and emphasis on creativity.
“I’ve really seen a change in what men and women are ordering,” says Kristine Osachuk, an award-winning wine director. “Before, men might order a non-alcoholic beer and women a fancy soda. But now there is so much more variety in all the non-alcoholic spirits and it’s possible to create great mocktails with them, so it’s really become a 50-50 split. I do think that customers need to be aware that the pricing for mocktails is about the same as for alcoholic cocktails because the labour and ingredients are expensive. It takes specialized craftsmanship to create non-alcoholic spirits. I have so many new ideas for fall and winter mocktails, like a coffee nightcap, adding a fabulous non-alcoholic velvety stout by CR*FT and taking an Irish or Scottish coffee to a whole new level. And don’t forget the whipped cream!”
A Gin-ius Disguise (cold)
Makes one drink
- 5-6 basil leaves
- 1 oz Lumette Bright Light non-alcoholic gin
- 0.5 oz lime juice
- 0.5 oz elderflower cordial
- Zero Lush non-alcoholic sparkling wine
Method: Add basil leaves, Lumette, lime juice and elderflower cordial to a shaker tin, muddle the basil, add the ice and shake. Pour into a glass, add more ice and top with Zero Lush sparkling wine.
Sobriety in the Highlands (hot)
Makes one drink
- 1.25 oz Lyre’s Highland Malt on-alcoholic whisky
- 3 oz cold brew concentrate
- 0.75 oz CR*FT non-alcoholic elvety stout
- 0.25 oz maple syrup
- Whipped cream
Method: Heat a specialty coffee glass by filling with hot water, heat up the cold brew concentrate in a saucepan or with a steam wand on an espresso machine, and empty the specialty coffee glass. Add the Highland Malt, CR*FT stout and maple syrup to the glass. Add the heated cold brew concentrate.
Garnish: Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Served: Coffee glass.