Passed across the bar in a tall, chilled Collins glass, the sunny orange drink garnished with a single, elegant pineapple leaf, the beverage doesn't look like something a kid would—or could—order. But that's exactly what it is, though this isn't your mother's mocktail. An increasing number of bar menus are making room for mocktails, which are as carefully crafted as the craft cocktails they accompany.
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In this month's issue of Houstonia, we consider the sudden popularity of a drink that was once considered child's play: a Shirley Temple to make your pre-teen feel included when the adults are indulging in wine at dinner, or virgin mudslides whipped up in blenders for your teenagers to let them feel cool at a pool party. At El Big Bad, bartender Sheridan Fay notes that the mocktail is a way to let everyone in a group feel included—age notwithstanding—and offers adults who don't drink for any number of reasons (religion, pregnancy, diet, sobriety, etc.) the opportunity to enjoy a thoughtful beverage instead of an iced tea or a Coke.
Through another lens, the rise of the mocktail could also be tied to the rise of the craft cocktail scene itself—and not just because bartenders are increasingly making their own shrubs, infusions, syrups, tinctures, and other non-alcoholic accoutrements that taste just as good in carbonated water as they do in booze. As a nation, we've all been swept up in the open throttle cocktail movement, discovering and/or rediscovering libations that make overindulging far too easy. Maybe the mocktail trend is a momentary show of abstinance in the face of years of indulgence; maybe we're just catching our breath.
Whatever the reason may be, it's a welcome respite for some, myself included, for whom keeping up with the cocktail scene had become an effort in maintaining sobriety. There are days you just don't want to drink—such as this past Saturday afternoon, when my best friend and I stopped into Provisions for a quick, light, early dinner, the kind best achieved by sitting at the bar. Some bars and restaurants, such as El Big Bad, are more than happy to make you an off-menu mocktail to order. Others, like Provisions, have built mocktails directly into their bar menu.
I picked the thyme swizzle, and watched as it arrived in its well-appointed Collins glass—just like a real swizzle, barring any alcohol. In its place: fresh-squeezed mandarin orange juice, pineapple juice, thyme syrup and effervescent Topo Chico over finely crushed ice. On their own the juices would be too sweet, too childlike if you will, but the bright, herbaceous thyme syrup upended them with its grassy dryness. My girlfriend received her rosemary fizz in flute topped with a wafer-like orange twist, with more Topo Chico bubbling up to the surface along with rosemary syrup and a trio of citrus juices.
The price—$7 per drink—was as refreshing as the mocktails themselves, as was the feeling of walking back into the early evening with our heads on straight and the entire night still ahead of us. Whether or not the mocktail trend is here to stay (is anything really here to stay anymore anyway?), I'm glad it's here right now.