You’ve heard how creative the city’s cocktail scene has gotten, yes? Well, so has the mocktail scene, believe it or not. Gone are the Shirley Temples and virgin Mudslides of days gone by.
“You’ve already got all of these syrups and specialty sodas and shrubs. There’s no reason you can’t make a mocktail,” says Sheridan Fay, bartender at downtown’s El Big Bad. Now the mother of a newborn, a few months ago Fay found herself asking a question we hadn’t heard before, namely: “We’re still in spirits, this is still our passion. How do we practice our craft while we’re pregnant?”
The answer, of course, is to remove the spirits but keep everything else, to lavish the mocktail with the same kind of attention normally reserved for a finely crafted Sidecar or Manhattan. Fay likes to make mocktail versions of El Big Bad’s renowned blueberry-jalapeño and cucumber-mint margaritas, among other creations. “I love to use our hibiscus syrup and a beet-carrot shrub,” she says, “to produce a refreshing and beautiful alternative to imbibing.”
As is the case at other bars and restaurants across the city, from Provisions to Caracol to Table 57 (that would be the new restaurant inside Tanglewood’s H-E-B), the mocktails at El Big Bad are off-menu, but all you have to do is ask. “I prefer to make them to order, gauge the guests’ taste the same way I would a cocktail, and get creative,” says Fay.
Other restaurants aren’t nearly so surreptitious. Beaver’s Ice House makes Kit-Tails (get the rosemary soda), Down House pours Lie-Bations (get the cherry vanilla phosphate), and Sanctuari Bar serves up Sunday School (get the Velvet Hammer, made with blueberry-vanilla gastrique and ginger beer). In Sugar Land, Jal The Grille lists perhaps the most extensive selection we’ve found, a menu of eight mocktails with names like Eastern Summer and Tropical Sunset among the South Asian restaurant’s list of lassis and specialty iced teas.
Fay thinks these creations are one way to make teetotalers more comfortable in a bar setting. “It gains the confidence of my guest by not pressuring them to drink. It can make someone feel included in the group when they make the decision—for whatever reason—to not drink when everyone else is.”
And Fay believes the mocktail is here to stay. “I think people are offering them not just because they’re trends, but to allow the bartender to be creative and have some staple non-alcoholic items at the same time,” she says. “There’s just no reason not to.”
As for those who still want their virgin Mudslide? Just order a chocolate milkshake.