From cups of lemonade at wedding receptions to Friday night meetups at “dirty soda" shops, nonalcoholic beverages always have been a thing in Utah.
But lately, the state’s teetotaling ways — linked to the state’s predominant religion — seem progressive, even ahead of their time, as more consumers across the country choose booze-free beverages for better health and wellness.
There have always been those who choose not to drink beer, wine and spirits either because they’re pregnant, worried about a drug interaction, don’t like hangovers or prefer not to see compromising photos of themselves on social media.
Faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who follow the faith’s health code, called the Word of Wisdom, have a religious reason to abstain. Muslims also are taught to avoid alcoholic beverages.
Whatever the motivation for being “spirit-free,” they may also have felt uncomfortable or embarrassed ordering a plain Diet Coke at a neighborhood party or company mixer.
That awkwardness may be changing, says Clare Liardet, author of “Dry: Delicious Handcrafted Cocktails and Other Clever Concoctions.”
“Although there is still a social pressure to drink and be part of the gang,” she wrote in an email from her home in the United Kingdom, “it is easier to find interesting nonalcoholic drinks and to be part of a group that doesn’t drink.”
In recent years, she said, an increased focus on health and wellness is driving the rise of spirit-free drinks at restaurants and bars.
Those who are serious about fitness and nutrition take to heart the link between excessive drinking and chronic conditions — from cardiovascular and liver disease to cancer.
Pushing the trend are diets such as Whole30, which eliminates grains, dairy, sugar, legumes and alcohol from the diet for a month, and movements such as “Dry January,” when people ditch alcohol for the first month of the year as a reset from excessive drinking over the holidays.
Beverage makers are getting in on the trend, producing more low- and no-alcohol products. Heineken, for example, recently launched 0.0, a nonalcoholic beer. Seedlip, available on Amazon, is the world’s first distilled nonalcoholic spirit and bills itself as the solution to the “ever-growing dilemma of ‘what to drink when you’re not drinking.’”
Restaurants and bars also are adding creative nonalcoholic cocktails — often called mocktails — to their menus.
At the new Hearth and Hill restaurant, which opened in mid-December near Park City in Kimball Junction, four mocktails appear on the drink menu. Boon’s Bubbles, named for owner Brooks Kirchheimer’s pet, is the most popular with a blend of raspberry puree, lime and lemon-lime soda.
“We wanted to provide a variety [of drinks] for guests and this gives them another option,” Kirchheimer said. ”It’s something different than soda, water or sparkling cider.”
Customers have responded. Since opening, the restaurant has sold more than 250 mocktails a month. At $6 each, they are about half the cost of regular cocktails (which range from $10 to $12) but double the regular $3 drinks.
On Dec. 30, 2018, Utah became the only state in the nation with a drunken driving blood alcohol limit of 0.05, so it’s likely that some customers who ordered mocktails were designated drivers, said Kirchheimer. “It would be interesting to see how the new law has affected sales.”
Some of those mocktail fans, no doubt, were Latter-day Saints.
No matter the reason for drinking alcohol-free, he said, “I think people who dine with family and friends still want to feel like they are part of the group and enjoying a beverage.”
Oz Hutton, owner of Melange Liquid Catering, a Salt Lake City bartending service, said mocktails have become a staple at wedding receptions — including Latter-day Saint ones — backyard parties and corporate events in Utah.
People have traveled to other states and countries for work or pleasure, he said. “They come back with a heightened palate and want something more than just a punch bowl or Diet Coke.”
A mocktail, of course, is more than just mixing a regular pina colada sans booze.
“They are more involved,” Hutton said, noting that there should be a physical and chemical reaction in the glass. “It should have elements that excite the palate and arouse your aromatic senses.”
It also should be visually appealing.
Hutton put all those requirements into action recently, when HBO hired him for a private party and screening for the new “Game of Thrones” movie.
The movie giant wanted to serve both alcoholic and nonalcoholic cocktails. Hutton created the alcohol-free Mother of Dragons cocktail, a mix of mango juice, lime juice and nonalcoholic triple sec, garnished with fresh dragon fruit and cayenne pepper.
“It shows the power of mocktails,” he said. “They are consumed at major events and by Hollywood types.”
See, it’s not just a Utah thing, but Utahns were among the first to raise it to an art form.