As mocktails gain popularity, Sonoma County restaurants take a cue from seasonal produce
The rise of the craft cocktail scene in Sonoma County and beyond has been well-documented, but perhaps lesser known is the fact that non-alcoholic craft drinks here are keeping pace alongside it, and taste equally intriguing.
As non-boozy beverages gain in popularity, local bars and restaurants are creating unique, sometimes whimsical offerings that cater to those who abstain as well as those who are simply taking a break from their usual libations.
Going far beyond traditional sodas and sparkling water, the current crop of nonalcoholic drinks tempt customers with thoughtfully developed, seasonally inspired drinks.
From the newly opened Fern Bar in Sebastopol to the trendy Perch + Plow in Santa Rosa and Spanish-inspired Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg, bartenders are reimagining their alcohol-free drink menu and creating innovative flavor combinations.
Nick Izzarelli, the food and beverage manager for the Stark Reality Restaurants group, said he has seen an increase in sales of alcohol-free cocktails across the restaurant group and that all the Stark restaurants serve specialty, nonalcoholic drinks.
At the restaurant Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg, the most popular drink currently on the mocktail menu is the Mango Ginger brew, he said, though it changes seasonally.
“We still sell lots more regular cocktails compared to the mocktails, but it seems to be catching on more and more,” Izzarelli said. “Also, some people really appreciate other options besides the run-of-the-mill sodas and iced teas, which are still very much the norm at most places.”
Creating a “mocktail” menu can take up several weeks to finalize, and the process often involves a collaboration between the restaurant's front- and back-of-the house.
“The key is using fresh local ingredients as much as possible and drawing from our talented bartenders, managers and chefs,” Izzarelli said.
“It is something we have always felt strongly about, offering something fun and delicious to those that do not wish to drink alcohol or are designated drivers or have simply had enough wine for the day.”
At Fern Bar in Sebastopol, the “Free Spirited” menu uses ingredients like Seedlip, billed as the “world's first nonalcoholic spirits,” as well as house-made juices, in its alcohol- free drinks.
“Everybody deserves to have something special, including drinks,“ said Sam Levy, general manager at Fern Bar.
The Fern Bar mocktail menu includes drinks such as the Spirited Away, made with Seedlip Garden 108, kaffir lime, matcha, lemon, lemongrass-galangal syrup, and aquafaba; and the Blue Dream, which includes Seedlip Spice 94, blue lotus, kava root, passion flower and spiced coconut cream.
These mocktails echo the unique offerings on the Fern Bar cocktail menu, such as the High Tea Fizz, which calls for London Dry Gin, pistachio, bergamot, lemon and an Earl Grey foam.
Seedlip, a distilled spirit from the U.K., can be used to impart a floral note similar to gin or vodka, Levy said.
At Fern Bar it is used in drinks that play up its botanical qualities, but it can also replace gin to make a non-alcoholic gin and tonic or be swapped for vodka in a Moscow Mule.
When he was at Meadowood Napa Valley, Levy said he noticed a growing need for interesting, nonalcoholic drinks and started developing cocktails specifically for nondrinkers.
“The less stigma for people who don't fall into mainstream categories the better,” Levy said. “People who don't drink are comfortable with it and appreciate that they have something. They still want to celebrate with a special drink.”
Marilyn Rodriguez, bar manager at Perch + Plow in Santa Rosa, said her nonalcoholic cocktail menu is often directly inspired by the cocktail menu and incorporates seasonal nuances.
At Perch + and Plow, the “mocktails” menu is developed after working with the restaurant's chef to make use of the seasonal produce already in the kitchen. Rodriguez said all syrups and purees are made in-house, so an ingredient found in a drink on the cocktail list may also make its way onto the nonalcoholic menu.
The Pink Lady, for example, calls for strawberry puree as well as a strawberry-hibiscus shrub and was created to use up the strawberry puree the chef had made for another drink.
Other drinks on the menu currently include a Basil Lemonade and The Julius, made with orange juice, orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream.
“The craft cocktail scene has been really growing in Sonoma County, and I've noticed that mocktails are becoming as popular as craft cocktails,” especially with the observation of Dry January (a phenomenon that originated in the U.K. but has caught on in the states), Rodriguez said.