Zero-Proof Springtime Sippers
Build a mocktail bar should booze become uncomfortable
Last year was one of the booziest on record in America. Research firm RAND Corp. says consumption rose 14% in 2020 overall, and most dramatically in women—who self-reported a 41% increase of episodic heavy drinking.
Interesting no- or low-alcohol drinks haven’t always gotten the attention they deserved in the hospitality industry. After all, controlling consumption is a sensitive topic when alcohol sales contribute so significantly to an establishment’s enduring success. “It’s a third rail,” says Andrew Volk, owner of Portland Hunt + Alpine Club. “But talking about alternatives is important as customers work to figure out their relationship with alcohol going forward.” Whether you’re taking a day, a week, a month, or a lifetime off from drinking alcohol, he continues, “you’re going to want some good options at that bar.”
Mindful drinkers and the sober curious are bellying up to the same bar as dry martini and minty mojito lovers, and they’re looking for something vastly different than sickly sweet Shirley Temples and vastly more interesting than club sodas with lime, explains Maureen Petrosky, NBC’s Today Show entertaining and lifestyle expert, in her new book Zero Proof. “The desire for delicious drinks with no or low alcohol has opened the door for a whole new category of craft cocktails,” she writes.
As drinking in public bars continues to be curtailed by COVID restrictions and cold weather, edible MAINE has assembled a collection of spirit-free drinks whose colors and flavors are as bright and beautiful as a springtime fashion parade in Paris. And with this collection of recipes contributed by Hunt + Alpine and Vena’s Fizz House in Westbrook, we demonstrate how easily a Mainer can assemble an adaptable mocktail bar from locally made ingredients, from Vena’s Aromatic Bitters to Royal Rose simple syrups.
An easy route to an interesting zero-proof mixed drink at home is to have a ready-made mixer in the refrigerator. Volk and his crew of bartenders started bottling four options last year as the pandemic wore on and customers scrambled for take-away drinks. We feature Garden Party (see recipe) due to its springy profile of cucumber, lemon, and celery juices slightly sweetened by lavender-juniper simple syrup. Other possibilities, which can be bought online or in person at Hunt + Alpine or at Bow Street Beverage on Forest Avenue in Portland, include spicy Green Snapper, coconut- and grapefruit-flavored Beach Drink, and a Little Red Cup tea–infused Laura Palmer.
If you want to build a good mocktail from the bottom of the glass up, explains Mary Jo Marquis, director of business development at Vena’s Fizz House, you must balance the elements. Acidic ingredients like citrus juices or drinking vinegars called shrubs are complemented by warm spice-infused simple syrups or fruity gomme syrups, which are thickened by a natural emulsifier to create a sweetener with a heavier mouthfeel. Bitters—available in a mind-blowing variety; Vena’s alone offers 11—add interesting undertones, and bubbly (most often seltzer) helps fill the glass, topping it off in celebratory fashion.
Vena’s offers online mocktail classes to help demonstrate the art of that balance. Each class costs $70, runs for an hour over Zoom, and teaches attendees how to make two different mocktails. As part of the purchase price, you’ll receive a box prior to the class with all the ingredients needed to craft the drinks—plus enough supplies to shake a few more of the same offline.
Christine has lived in many places, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, England and France. But her professional world has consistently been grounded in just two: in journalism and in the kitchen. Throughout her 30-year writing career, she’s covered sports, politics, business and technology. But for the past 10 years after completing culinary school, she’s focused on food. Her words and recipes about eating locally and sustainably have appeared in publications from The Portland Press Herald to Fine Cooking. Her award-winning cookbook Green Plate Special (link is: was published in 2017. When she’s not laboring over a cutting board or a keyboard, she’s learning from her two semi-adult children, a community of food-minded friends, hundreds of productive Maine farmers, thousands of innovative chefs near and far, and her 30,000 honeybees.