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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.

Basil Lemonade from the Perch + Plow on Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Basil Lemonade from the Perch + Plow on Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

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.

Ditching basic sodas for more elaborate drinks seems to be trending among designated drivers and people who don't drink, she added.

“People who just don't drink appreciate a special drink that goes beyond soda,” she said.

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The following recipe is from Marilyn Rodriguez of Perch + Plow. You can purchase simple syrup or make it yourself.

Basil Lemonade

Makes 1 serving

5 fresh basil leaves

1 ounce (2 tablespoons) lemon juice

1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) simple syrup

- Sparkling water, to fill

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the basil leaves. Add the lemon juice and sugar syrup. Shake well and pour into a glass filled with ice.

Fill the remainder of the glass with sparkling water.

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The following recipes are from Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg.

Bravas Mango Ginger Brew

Makes 1 serving

1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Mango Syrup (see recipe below)

1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) Ginger Agave Syrup (see recipe below)

1 ounce lime juice (2 tablespoons)

1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) orange juice

- Soda water

- Orange slice (for garnish)

- Candied ginger (for garnish)

Combine first four ingredients into cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and pour into a pint glass filled with fresh ice, top with soda water.

Garnish with an orange wheel and a piece of candied ginger

Mango Syrup

Makes 2 cups

1/2 mango

2 cups simple syrup

Remove the fruit from the mango. Place the half mango and simple syrup in a blender and blend on high until completely liquefied. Store extra syrup in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one month.

Ginger Agave Syrup

Makes 2 cups

2 cups agave syrup

1/4 pound fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

Place ingredients in a blender and blend on high until completely emulsified. Store extra syrup in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one month.

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The following recipes are from Sam Levy at Fern Bar in Sebastopol.

Strawberry Rhubarb Shrub

Makes 1 serving

2 ounces (4 tablespoons) Strawberry Rhubarb Syrup (see recipe below)

6 ounces (3/4 cup) club soda or tonic

Add strawberry rhubarb shrub to the base of a Collins glass, add ice to the top, then finish with club soda or tonic, whatever your preference is.

Strawberry Rhubarb Syrup

Makes 4 cups

2 cups strawberries

1 medium stalks of rhubarb

1 cup natural cane sugar

1 cup white balsamic vinegar

Cut the tops off the strawberries and quarter them. Use the base of the rhubarb where it is pretty and pink, cleaning off any dirt. Cut the rhubarb into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the strawberry, rhubarb, sugar and vinegar to a pot with a well-sealing lid (using a top helps to keep all aromatics in the shrub). Cook on medium low heat until it gently boils for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Blend all ingredients in a blender after it cools and pass through a fine strainer, retaining the liquid.

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Bee's Knees

Makes 1 serving

11/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) Seedlip Spice 94

3/4 ounces (11/2 tablespoons) Lavender Honey Syrup (see recipe below)

3/4 ounces (11/2 tablespoons) lemon juice

- Lavender flower, for garnish

Add all ingredients together and shake, then strain into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with a lavender flower blossom.

Lavender Honey Syrup

Makes 2 cups

1 cup honey

1 cup water

2 tablespoons dried lavender

In a medium heavy-bottom pot, bring the honey and water to a low boil, then add the lavender to steep. Cook on low for 30 minutes, then remove from heat and strain out the lavender.

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Moscow Mule

Makes 1 serving

1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Seedlip Grove 31

3/4 ounce (11/2 tablespoons) Mint Syrup (see recipe below)

3/4 ounce (11/2 tablespoons) lime juice

4 ounces (1/2 cup) Fever Tree Ginger Beer

- Lime slice, for garnish

- Mint, for garnish

In a copper mug, place the Seedlip Grove 31, mint syrup,and lime juice. Top with crushed or shaved ice and pour ginger beer over the top to fill. Garnish with a lime wheel and mint garnish.

Mint Syrup

Makes 2 cups

1 cup natural cane sugar

1 cup water

1 cup fresh mint leaves

In a medium heavy bottom pot, stir the water and sugar together. Bring to a boil then let cool to room temp. Add mint and steep in the syrup for 12-24 hours in the refrigerator, then strain and discard the mint.

Nicole Spiridakis is a Sebastopol-based food writer. Reach her at nspiridakis@gmail.com or at cucinanicolina.com.

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