Mocktails find their moment

Utah has a longer history than most with booze-free cocktails, but new alcohol-free spirits are changing the game

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Angelena Fuller mixes a drink at Oquirrh Restaurant in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

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On a recent evening, the bar at Oquirrh restaurant in downtown Salt Lake was covered in cocktails — delicate glass flutes, colorful art deco style bottles, lowballs with salted rims and citrus garnishes. A green ceramic mug shaped like baby Yoda sat nearby.

Though the cocktails ranged from a strawberry margarita to a mint-green slushie with a cherry on top, they all had one thing in common: not one contained alcohol.

Like many fine dining restaurants, Oquirrh has offered mocktails — non-alcoholic cocktails — among its beverage options for years, alongside wine, beer, traditional cocktails and sodas. But this new lineup of “mocktails” fully reimagines Oquirrh’s approach to non-alcoholic offerings.

Late this summer, the restaurant debuted a new cocktail menu — and announced that it could make zero-proof versions of every of the drinks on request.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ruby Delight, a drink at Oquirrh Restaurant in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

For Angelena Fuller, one of Oquirrh’s co-founder, expanding the restaurant’s non-alcoholic options was about creating a more inclusive environment.

“Our whole motto is making everybody happy, across the board,” Fuller explained. Having a robust mocktail menu — and more prominently integrating it into the drinks menu — allows non-drinkers to feel more welcome at the restaurant.

According to Fuller, there are myriad factors that motivate customers to opt for non-alcoholic options.

There are endless reasons why someone might not drink alcohol – health, religious beliefs, social or otherwise – and restauranteurs and mixologists are increasingly focused on providing exciting, delicious cocktails that don’t ask customers to explain or justify their drinking habits.

So far, Oquirrh’s mocktail menu has been a big hit with restaurant-goers.

Fuller said customers “are stoked that they can go out to dinner and enjoy the same experience without alcohol.” When she made the announcement on Instagram, “People ... were like, ‘thank you for doing this.’”

A global trend at home in Utah

According to Forbes magazine, mocktails have a major trend in cocktail bars across the globe. The number of Google searches for the word “mocktail” has increased steadily since the mid-aughts, and Utah leads the way with the highest number of all-time searches for “mocktail” per state.

Oquirrh’s new mocktail menu has also allowed Fuller to experiment with new flavors and ingredients. “It’s been good for my creative side,” she added.

Andrea Latimer of Salt Lake City-based Bitters Lab agrees that mocktails are an opportunity for culinary exploration, since the drinks pose unique challenges for bartenders and mixologists.

In traditional cocktails, alcoholic components add “flavor complexity” and “a different mouthfeel,” explained Latimer. Mocktails get a bad name because people assume they’re “boring” kiddie drinks with too much sugar and a dumbed-down flavor profile.

However, for Fuller, Latimer and many of their colleagues in the industry are on a mission to disprove this misconception.

Local business owners understand that mocktails have the potential to be just as grown-up, delicious and visually stunning as their boozy counterparts. Plus, they tend to be less expensive (to make and to purchase) and are guaranteed to be hangover-free.

Whether you’re heading out for a night on the town or whipping up something tasty in the comfort of your home, these local businesses can help you trend.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Oquirrh Restaurant in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

Depth of flavor

Jacob Kailer is the co-founder of Sirop Co., a local simple syrup company that produces house-made, small-batch simple syrups.

He and his friend Nate dreamed up the business near the beginning of the pandemic, during a few themed cocktail nights with their pandemic pod.

Kailer could tell that the popularity of at-home bartending had increased exponentially over the past year. “You’d see Instagram folks with cocktail pages that [had] grown to thousands of followers, just over the last twelve months,” he said.

So he bought 500 empty bottles, picked out a domain name and Sirop Co. was born.

Kailer believes that his syrups’ complex flavor profiles can help aspiring home mixologists hop on the mocktail trend without leaving the house or breaking the bank.

“We wanted to create that same experience you might have in a bar,” he said. “At a bar, there might be five, six, seven ingredients in a craft cocktail, and we tried to simplify that by making the syrup complex.”

Sirop Co. flavors include Earl Grey, Spiced Honey, Roasted Jalapeno, and Cherry Pie, a seasonal offering that is one of Kailer’s proudest accomplishments.

Like Sirop’s other flavors, Cherry Pie is a small batch syrup that utilizes locally-sourced ingredients. “We were able to drive up to a small orchard up in Willard and get cherries that were picked and packed the day before we bought them,” said Kailer.

These tasty syrups can elevate the flavor of your mocktail (or cocktail) creation far beyond the boring, simplistic realm of club soda and juice.

‘The backbone of your drink’

The Salt Lake City-based company Bitters Lab released its first product in 2015: aromatic bitters, with hints of cinnamon, anise, and citrus. They have been producing flavorful, sustainably sourced cocktail bitters ever since.

Andrea Latimer, Bitters Lab’s founder, believes that bitters provide “the backbone of your drink.” She suggests thinking about bitters as the liquid equivalent of seasoning — to be deployed sparingly, like a pinch of salt or a splash of lemon juice.

Even those who well-versed in the vernacular of craft cocktails may not know what’s inside a typical bottle of bitters. Bitters usually consists of botanicals — fruits spices, herbs, leaves, bark, and more — dissolved in an alcoholic solvent.

Though they do technically contain alcohol, it is common to use bitters in a mocktail recipe since they add lots of flavor and next-to-no alcohol. little is required to add flavor to a drink. “You’re putting drops and dashes in,” explained Latimer, usually just a couple of drops for an entire drink.

These small-but-mighty components can up the ante on mocktails’ flavor and add some kick to the beverage. Flavors like plum and oak, rhubarb and sea salt, and hibiscus and yuzu make a drink anything but ordinary.

“There’s so much nuance” in the how to make a great mocktail, Latimer said. “You can infuse simple syrup, you can infuse tea, you can add different kinds of flavored coffees…making mocktails can be so much more interesting than syrup and club soda.”

The increased popularity of the mocktail has been a heartening change for Latimer, though she believes there is still more work to be done to make the bar experience more inclusive for guests who choose not to drink alcohol.

“I don’t think it’s as common as it could be,” she said. “Someone who’s pregnant still wants to go out and hang out with their friends.”

‘Fun, tangy flavor’

Like the owners of Sirop Co., Brooke Marple was also inspired to enter the world of craft beverages during the pandemic.

She is the founder and owner of Drupefruit, a local business that produces “shrubs” — fruity, vinegar-based concoctions, popular in mixed drinks.

The mocktail trend is particularly applicable to Marple, who is a non-drinker. She believes that shrubs are a great way to add health benefits and unique flavor to non-alcoholic mixed drinks.

“A lot of people are using [shrubs] as a transition [to non-alcoholic drinks],” she said. And drinking shrubs isn’t just an alternative to drinking alcohol. Marple pointed out that many people “drink [shrubs] earlier in the day and you get the benefits from the vinegar.”

Marple uses raw apple cider vinegar as a base in all her shrubs, since it contains “good bacteria” and has a “fun, tangy flavor.” Then she adds imaginative combinations of fruits and lets them steep.

One Drupefruit flavor includes mango, habanero, hibiscus, and lemongrass, another has mulberry, key lime, and orange blossom.

Drupefruit produces new flavors each week – find them at the Salt Lake farmer’s market or follow them on Instagram for updates @drupefru.it.

Ready for a drink?

If you’d prefer to leave the drink-making to the experts, these Salt Lake restaurants offer mocktails on their regular drinks menu — and many other restaurants and bars will gladly whip up a mocktail for you on request.

Oquirrh’s mocktail options are particularly extensive, since they provide non-alcoholic alternatives to each mixed drink on their menu.

HSL has two mocktail options — a sweet one and a savory one — and their ingredients depend on what is available on any given night. The presentation, however, is impeccable. Each drink comes with a fruit garnish and green garnish – a sprig of mint and a lime with a design carved into its rind, for example.

Copper Common — the speakeasy-style bar next door to it’s better known sister restaurant The Copper Onion — features mocktials on its menu but their available drinks aren’t fixed. Talk to your bartender to find what you’re looking for.

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