The rise of the mocktail

Three mocktails from Max's Southseas Hideaway: Island Passion, Call Me in the Morning and Pomegranate Piña Colada. Photo by Amanda Kamppinen

If you’ve ever woken up after a night of drinking and thought, “I’m never doing that again,” you’re not alone. Cutting out alcohol is becoming more normalized than ever before.

Until recently, not drinking meant choosing either to not go out with friends or surrendering yourself to being questioned about why you’re abstaining. Also, non-alcoholic options of the past have been limited, and those not imbibing left with sugary sodas or lackluster water as the only other choices at the bar. As a part of the sober-curious movement, a new thirst for mocktails has emerged with a vengeance. High-quality mocktails are popping up at almost every restaurant and/or cocktail bar around the country, and Grand Rapids is no exception.

With so many spots embracing the mocktail, I set out to explore the sober-curious lifestyle and test some of the city’s best nonalcoholic drinks. For the sake of this experience, I stuck to establishments with dedicated non-alcoholic menus and cocktails crafted with a variety of juices, syrups and tonics for a more refined interpretation.

My first stop was Roam by San Chez, which boasts a global take on street food and offers a variety of different choices to entertain your food and drink palette. While out to dinner with my sister, I ordered the Rosemary-Elderflower Spritzer, made with rosemary and elderflower simple syrup, lemon, soda water, and Butterfly Pea Tea. This delicious-sounding combination was cited as a favorite by our waiter, who noted that he was glad to see the city offering more alcohol-free options, to be more inclusive of those who may not be able to drink. My mocktail spritzer arrived with a delightfully sophisticated look, in a dreamy purple ombre hue that included a large, blue-tinted ice square and was topped off with a fresh lemon slice. At first sip, it was refreshing and light, without the obvious bitter alcohol taste accompanied with standard cocktails. Initially, I thought I might feel as if I was missing out by drinking a mocktail, but instead I was struck by how it still made for a festive night out, just sans alcohol.

After dinner at Roam, we headed out for one more drink to end the night. While normally we would have just popped over to the next closest bar, I had to be more strategic about the choice, wanting a place with a mocktail menu available. We made our way over to Max’s South Seas Hideaway- a place I’d heard had selection of realistic-tasting mocktails. When we sat down, I was directed to their “Zero Proof” menu online, where ten different mocktails awaited me. From Mahalo Mint, with effervescent, light mint and lime, to Call Me in The Morning, with salted plum, coconut and pineapple juice served in a pineapple, I was happy to see a wide range of non-alcoholic options available.

A tiki bar, Max’s atmosphere is an experience in and of itself. My chosen mocktail, 5 Spice Makes It Nice, came in a tall glass with a creamy coconut color, garnished with an aloe leaf, and was tasty enough to feel like I was sipping my drink beachside. Sitting at the bar, I watched the bartender craft my mocktail, giving it a proper shake and attention to its presentation– something that made me feel like, despite the lack of alcohol, I was still a part of a special experience.

Sipping my drink made with lemon, Chinese 5 spice, pineapple, and coconut cream, I pondered the appeal of alcoholic drinks in the first place. Outside of the relaxing side effects, there is something exclusive about drinking alcoholic cocktails; with the barrier of age and needing to show your ID to secure one at a bar, it can feel like a private club that signifies a level of maturity. The rise of more thoughtful mocktails delivers an elevated appeal beyond kiddie cocktail or Shirley Temple. This new wave welcomes a broader range of sober-curious people, with an openness to just give the drinks a try.

My next opportunity to experience a mocktail was at a happy hour with a friend after work. I selected Buffalo Trader’s, a cozy art-deco inspired cocktail lounge on Fulton St. that includes a zero-proof selection of drinks. I was curious to see what mocktail options would be offered in a place that largely relies on alcohol to exist in the first place. There was a small, but differentiated, assortment of non-alcoholic options from Little Saints CBD, which included an interesting mix of espresso and ginger mule to Tor’s Tonics, a West Michigan startup, that is a “refreshing herbal tea wellness tonic.”

With an option on the menu for a custom zero-proof drink, I asked them to surprise me, and they delivered. A tall glass with a mix of grapefruit juice, lemon juice, simple syrup, club soda and other flavors came my way, topped with a dehydrated orange to round out the pretty package. This was an easy-drinking, citrus-y taste and was great to be able to sip alongside my friend’s espresso martini over conversation.

My last stop for a mocktail was at Chartreuse Sisters, a French American Fusion Patisserie Café located on Wealthy St. that just opened in January. Nestled among the menu of fresh pastries and coffee drinks are a few mocktails. I selected The Owls Are Not What They Seem, which they shook up behind the counter with Lyre’s orange sec, cranberry juice, maple syrup, Brix Jamaican Ginger Beer and garnished with a dried orange wheel. My drink was a bright, dark pink color and was delightfully fizzy to the taste thanks to the sharp ginger beer, a surprising favorite among the mocktails I tried. I set out to do some shopping and strolling along, mocktail in hand. I appreciated the fun shopping companion to spice up the day.

Maybe you’re looking for a break to focus on your health, still want a fun drink during pregnancy, or just looking for moderation versus eliminating alcohol altogether. Along with health benefits of trading out some cocktails for mocktails, these nonalcoholic treats have an added benefit of saving some money, with most mocktails coming in around $5 to $9.

With a larger trend towards a sober-curious lifestyle, mocktails can be a fun alternative to alcohol consumption. Grand Rapids has truly embraced the sober-curious scene, with even more spots I didn’t get a chance to visit that carry an extensive non-alcoholic cocktail list. Long Road Distilling and One Twenty-Three are two of many establishments now giving those who are interested in the sober-curious lifestyle plenty of places to still enjoy drinks in the city.

Thanks to Alt City NA Bottles and Beer, a new Leonard St. store that offers nonalcoholic mix-ins and bottles to test and get creative with, you can even make your own DIY mocktails at home. Cheers!





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