A Comprehensive Guide to the Bay Area’s Best Mocktails
These 12 spots are light years beyond fake gin and tonics
Dry January is upon us, but these days, those on the wagon (temporarily or otherwise) need no longer accept a glass of orange juice or a Coke when everyone else is sipping more intriguing tipples. The zero-ABV movement is in full bloom, and perhaps nowhere more than here in the Bay Area, where it seems that nearly every bar we go to has a whole list of creative craft mocktails (and nary a bottle of O’Doul’s to be found).
“About two years ago, you had a very limited option for zero-proof cocktails,” says Carl Brown, bar manager at Kaiyo Rooftop and Cow Hollow. “Now there are so many more options.”
And it’s as exciting a realm of exploration for drinkers as it is for mixologists.
“We approach all of our non-alcoholic drinks the same way we approach any cocktails, “ says Francisco Bazo, co-founder and partner at Alley & Vine. “We want them to have depth and complexity, highlight something maybe a little unexpected, and be served in glassware that is both beautiful and inclusive. But mostly, we just want them to taste good.”
For Jerry Scheible, bar manager at Study Hall Rooftop Lounge at Berkeley’s Residence Inn, there are two ways to approach NA cocktails. The first is to attempt to replicate a classic cocktail in alcohol-free form by capitalizing on the myriad low-ABV spirits on the marketplace. It’s an approach that, he says, is “risky.”
“It sets you up for the inevitable, ‘This doesn’t taste like…’” he says. “Similar to when vegetarian burger options started.”
But much like such plant-based offerings, zero-ABV spirits have taken great strides, with some brands crafting truly standout spirit alternatives.
“Lyre’s is the Impossible Burger of this approach,” says Scheible. “They make whiskey-, gin- and tequila-inspired spirits but have since expanded to replicants of dark rum, reposado tequila, Italian vermouths and aperitifs. They’ve succeeded admirably.”
For Brown, the preponderance of these zero-proof distillates means that “it’s just as fun to make a no-proof Negroni as it is a full-proof one.”
But this is only one approach. Some bartenders prefer to deviate from the expected, using hand-crafted shrubs and infusions or products like Three Spirits or Seedlip, which do not necessarily emulate an alcoholic spirit in flavor or approach. These cocktails are wholly unique, and San Francisco has plenty of them.
If you’re looking for creative mocktails in the Bay Area, here’s where to head.
At Alley & Vine, mocktails tend to be inspired by the seasons and the bounty of local produce. The Zen Garden, for example, marries green tea, pineapple, grapefruit and lime, while the Don’t Be Chai pairs seasonal pomegranate with spiced chai for the ideal winter tipple.
“Pomegranate is brought to the forefront, accented by scents of the warm baking spices found in chai,” explains Bazo. “The pomegranate syrup is made using gum arabic, which adds a silky texture to the drink and also allows us to shake the drink to create a ‘foam’ that holds well — similar to a cocktail that contains egg whites which commonly lend a frothy topping.”
Hilda and Jesse already turns expectations on their heads with their brunch-inspired prix fixe, where you may see Latvian pancakes stuffed with white truffle and pumpkin cottage cheese, or an avocado “toast” made atop a base of tempura sweet potato. It’s an ingenuity that translates to the zero-ABV cocktail menu.
“We want the drinking experience at Hilda and Jesse to be equally as interesting and balanced when creating our non-alcoholic cocktails as our alcoholic offerings,” explains chef/co-founder Kristina Liedags Compton. “It’s important that we source really delicious zero-ABV products that are beautifully balanced and contribute wonderfully to food pairings.”
Options might include a play on a spritz echoing the maple-scented Pancakes Without Boundaries or a glass of small-batch heirloom kombucha scented with calamansi, juniper and coriander.
Elmer Mejicanos’s deep knowledge of NA spirits contributes to his work as managing partner and beverage director at both Causwells and Red Window. He particularly loves taking advantage of glycerin-based bitters, like Fee Brothers, his favorite, to create deeply flavored mocktails.
His approach tends to veer towards the zero-proof familiar: His mocktail menu notably includes zero-ABV versions of classics like Long Island Iced Tea or New York Sour with non-alcoholic vodka, rum, tequila, bourbon and even wine.
At Villon in the San Francisco Proper Hotel, Josh Harris and Bon Vivant Hospitality have crafted a massive, 49-drink cocktail list including seven zero-ABV options — though you won’t find this verbiage on the menu. In an attempt to keep from marginalizing non-drinkers, the words “non-alcoholic” and “mocktail” are nowhere to be found. (Instead, all of the mocktails are easily found in a section titled “7 X The Wagon.”)
Inspired by high-end non-alcoholic spirits, on any given day Harris may be stirring together the Coasting Wagon, made with Martini & Rossi Vibrante and zero-proof sparkling Riesling, or the Radio Flyer Wagon, which pairs grapefruit and cold-brew with Figlia Aperitivo, an aperitivo-style base, similar to an Aperol or amaro.
Ajay Walia’s approach at Saffron focuses on full-flavored cuisine inspired by regional specialties from throughout India — and that holds just as true for the drinks. Non-alcoholic options include a mint-cucumber cooler or the Mango Ginger-Jito, which marries the aromas and flavors of mint, mango and ginger for a refreshing, slightly sweet tipple.
“At Saffron, we strive to create mocktails that are as tantalizing and flavorful as cocktails themselves,” says Walia. “That means utilizing fresh, seasonal ingredients and tangy citrus fruits that deliver zest, similar to spirits.”
Those who’ve been sipping on non-alcoholic cocktails for a while now know Seedlip as a pioneer in the zero-ABV spirits game, and these fresh, botanical tipples are just one of the ingredients inspiring Brown. His concoction Boro the Caterpillar sees Seedlip Garden 108 combined with cucumber juice, white miso, lemon juice and tonic for a fresh cocktail with lovely umami depth.
At this restaurant from chef Michael Mina and the late chef Ken Tominaga, lead bartender Natalie Lichtman seeks to craft cocktails that “reflect a variety of tastes and preferences.”
“It is my goal for the bar at PABU to be an inclusive one, with a beverage that excites everyone’s palate as the level of creativity and care is the same across the board,” she says. It’s with this in mind that she crafted her Ringo Spritz, a play on the Venetian classic that sees zero-ABV Martini & Rossi Floreale Aperitivo served with apple soda, coconut-yuzu foam and micro shiso salt.
At Residence Inn, Scheible takes advantage of both zero-ABV iterations of classic spirits like tequila and gin as well as unique herbal creations to craft a mocktail menu rife with tantalizing options. The Fauxgroni is a non-alcoholic Negroni made with Lyre’s Italian Orange and London Dry, while the There Was Room, Rose is made with pomegranate grenadine and Seedlip.
“How I approach our NA offerings for Study Hall could best be described as casting a wide net for a diverse community,” he says. “I want everyone to feel welcome here.”
Birch & Rye’s modern Russian menu is reflected on its drinks list, which features no fewer than five mocktail options. The aptly named Olena’s Flowers is floral and perfumed with subtle citrus and green apple notes thanks to non-alcoholic sparkling Chenin Blanc, while the Princess Anastasia marries black currant with citrus, fresh cucumber and tonic. You’ll also find zero-ABV plays on classics like the Negroni and Moscow Mule, and there’s also a large menu of infusions from horseradish to carrot-cinnamon to hazelnut-chocolate-honey.
Osito has a particularly vested interest in crafting an interesting mocktail menu: Chef-owner Seth Stowaway is sober. He takes inspiration from his experiences in Denmark, where he was offered beautiful juice pairings that made him feel like he wasn’t missing out.
“I want to have both the feeling and the actual experience of drinking something special with my meal,” Stowaway says. “Something that is as sophisticated, interesting and thoughtful as wine.”
At Osito, he takes a no-waste approach in crafting creative mocktails. The leftover juice from fermented cherries on the menu might find its way into a cocktail, for example, and buttermilk, a byproduct of the kitchen’s house-made butter, is often used for a creamy treat with a slightly acidic punch.
While Delfina’s Colin Gallagher claims to not have much experience with the newer NA spirits, he has long crafted and served seasonal fruit and herb shrubs, which are naturally devoid of alcohol.
“Shrubs have been around for hundreds of years as a way of preserving fresh fruits so you can enjoy them year-round,” he says. “Delfina is a very seasonal restaurant, and now that we’re in the winter months, we have access to some beautiful winter citrus.” His blood orange/mint shrub is made with a small amount of sugar and spearmint-infused vinegar and can be served with sparkling water for a play on a spritz perfect for Dry January — or any night when you’re looking for a booze-free option that’s just as creative and delicious as a classic cocktail.
At Berkeley’s Gather, Kevin Pacotti, general manager and beverage director, is sensitive to the desires of non-drinkers, who sometimes “shy away from triggering flavors like a gin simulation.” While he has noticed that many laudable zero-ABV spirits exist, he finds “most mocktail hunters are seeking something bright, crisp, seasonal and thirst-quenching.”
At Gather, this might mean a cucumber-mint gimlet or a ruby red spritz made with Seedlip.
“The key,” he says, “is to develop a program that appeals to a wide array of expectations in the NA multiverse.”
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