Spirit Free Cocktails: Making Room for Everyone at the Bar

Many area restaurants are adding alcohol-free alternatives to their menus in response to a growing interest in mindful drinking.
By / Photography By | January 28, 2020
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Wildcrafters in Jacksonville provides an inviting place for friends to gather around a creative array of alcohol-free drinks.

For many individuals, taking a break from alcohol consumption has become synonymous with the New Year. The phrase “Dry January” is seen as a way to recover from the so-called “holiday hangover” or start off the new year on a healthier note.

However, many folks have also continued to hit pause on their alcohol intake beyond January, and even indefinitely. Sammy Previte, Co-Owner of Dietitians of Palm Valley, explained that “people are starting to be advocates of their own health and truly think about how they feel when they eat or drink certain things.”

In fact, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, alcohol consumption in the United States dropped for the third straight year in 2018. This trend has not gone unnoticed. Throughout the country, bartenders and beverage manufacturers have sprung into action, adding alcohol-free alternatives to their menus and product lines, and in some cases, opening alcohol-free bars. And, Northeast Florida is no exception.

Yhang Quintero, a mindful drinker and owner of Wildcrafters, a non-alcoholic bar opening soon in Riverside, says “nowadays, a lot of people are sharing with pride their abstinence and finding that others are joining them and being more mindful of their drinking habits, rather than criticizing them. This definitely isn't a hard stop to alcohol consumption, but more like a question before a drink or a drinking situation… the ‘good time equals drinking’ equation isn't necessarily the norm anymore.”

This “sober curious” or “sober sometimes” trend (or movement, as some prefer to call it) is catching on locally in several different ways, growing and evolving along with the number of conscious and mindful drinkers in the area.

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NOT YOUR FATHER’S ROOT BEER

Mike Doyle, Beverage Director for the Ice Plant, says the original concept behind the St. Augustine bar and restaurant was to provide not only world-class cocktails, but also a memorable experience for everyone who walked through its doors. “I don’t think mocktails were something that were asked for a lot in the beginning, because the general public wasn’t really aware that it was possible to have a non-alcoholic drink look and taste like a regular mixed drink,” he said. “It was a movement that really took off in more trendsetting craft bars in bigger cities the last 10 years. Now, we get requests all the time from all walks of life.”

Over the years, Doyle and his mixologists have played with and expanded their selection of non-alcoholic offerings, which started with simple, housemade lemon/lime, ginger and cola-flavored sodas. These days, he says, the staff is getting increasingly creative with their mocktails, which have evolved to incorporate the same specialty syrups, purées and shrubs they use for their seasonal signature cocktails. Additionally, the team at the Ice Plant has been exploring low-ABV cocktails, another popular trend.

Like Doyle, Chef Tom Gray included non-alcoholic, housemade sodas crafted with seasonal shrubs on his menu at Town Hall from the start, and plans to do the same at Prati Italia, the new concept that opened in early 2020 in the former Moxie space. His partner, Sarah Marie Johnston, says “We usually like to add an herbal element such as basil, cilantro or lemongrass along with something a bit spicy like peppercorn or ginger. When mixed with the ripe fruit and vinegar, the effect is balanced, layered flavors. It's the same philosophy we use with our craft cocktails, as well.”

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NEW-FANGLED OLD FASHIONEDS

Out at the Beaches, Jamie Rice of Show Pigeon Coffee is upping Northeast Florida’s non-alcoholic cocktail game with the Up Bar, a pop-up she hosts at Hotel Palms.

A conscious drinker herself, she says, “The Up Bar is an extension of Show Pigeon's coffee program, featuring cocktails using Seedlip's distilled non-alcoholic spirits. It's an evening affair that offers cocktail-inspired coffees and freshly picked, sliced and squeezed non-alcoholic drinks served in fancy glassware with spanked garnish. The idea is to offer a sociable space serving folks thoughtful uppers…[hence] the ‘Up Bar.’”

Rice explained that her personal curiosity about mimicking a bar mentality, but with a non-alcoholic focus, was what led her to the idea. While doing research, she came across Seedlip, a UK-based company that creates sugar and sweetener-free, zero-calorie distilled non-alcoholic spirits from centuries-old herbal remedy recipes.

She said that the brand’s sophisticated spirits, and the mocktails she can create with them, are “really helping to make room for everyone at the bar,” adding that her clients are “a lovely mixed bag of folks who are either genuinely interested and open to the idea or just need a break from the usual scene. Expectant mothers, minors and the people who like to notice the details come through.” 

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HEALING ELIXIRS

Speaking of spaces dedicated to mindful drinkers, Quintero has been putting the finishing touches on Wildcrafters, which he describes as “Jacksonville’s first booze-free bar, bringing the thrill of nightlife without the hangover.” With the look and feel of a trendy bar, Wildcrafters offers elaborately curated alcohol-free beverages, such as Kava Kava, locally-sourced kombucha (some of which contains trace amounts of alcohol), non-alcoholic craft beers and wines and cocktails crafted with zero-proof spirits. The beverages have been created in collaboration with local herbalists, nutritionists, mixologists and Ayurvedic professionals.

Michelle Calloway, the Creative Director of Space 42 and a conscious drinker, said she is looking forward to trying Wildcrafter’s offerings: “When it comes to the idea of a non-alcoholic bar option, I’m all for it. I love the idea of going to the gym or yoga, then meeting your friends for a healthy drink option that you know won’t make you regret it the next day afterwards.”

Quintero said that one of his goals is to add health benefits into all of Wildcrafter’s house-made beverages by incorporating medicinal ingredients. “With a concept similar to an apothecary, we are locally sourcing a lot of plant medicines, and creating syrups, reductions and alcohol-free tinctures with them, which then will be used as ingredients in our cocktails.”

Interest in zero proof cocktail is increasing, and Quintero aims to include something for everyone, whether a guest needs a sugar-free option or one that can help with issues such as insomnia, anxiety and inflammation.

As a consumer, Calloway agrees Wildcrafters, the Up Bar and others are filling a growing need. “I don’t think wanting to not drink is only for people who have a problem,” says Calloway. “There are many reasons I choose not to go to traditional bars, and having another option just opens up more opportunities that were otherwise not available to me.”
 



WHERE TO FIND SPIRIT-FREE COCKTAILS

Sober curious? Here’s where you can find zero-proof cocktails in Northeast Florida.

ICE PLANT
110 Riberia Street
St. Augustine, FL 32084

TOWN HALL
2012 San Marco Blvd.
Jacksonville, FL 32207

PRATI ITALIA
4972 Big Island Drive,
Jacksonville, FL 32246

UP BAR
Pops up at the “Unlikely Local Happy Hour” on the third Thursday and last Friday of every month, 6-9pm.
Hotel Palms
28 Sherry Dr. Atlantic Beach, FL 32233

WILDCRAFTERS
2105 Park St. #1
Jacksonville, Florida 32204

GNARBUCHA KOMBUCHA TAP ROOM
1257 Mayport Road
Atlantic Beach, FL 32233

CELLAR 6
6 Aviles St.
St Augustine, FL 32084

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