Mocktails — or zero-proof cocktails, to use the insidery term — present a version of what I like to call the Faux Fur Question.
To wit: What is the purpose of faux fur? To substantially (even convincingly) mimic real pelt or to be an item of fashion interest in its own right? And so with zero-proof pours: Should they be judged against traditional cocktails or do they stand on their own merits?
It’s the latter, according to no-proof proponents.
“It’s best to consider the taste of each drink as a new flavor instead of trying to compare with the alcoholic version,” said Cheree Boteler, founder of Reno Food & Drink Week and a mocktail enthusiast. “Zero-proof cocktails are not the same (as alcoholic cocktails), but when well-crafted, they deliver a great experience.”
Deliverance from club soda
Part of that is mocktails deliver folks from the austerity of club soda with lime when they’re taking a break from booze during Dry January or other times. (Speaking of: We’re two-thirds of the way through January. Are you still fully dry or have you gotten damp at the edges?)
Zero-proof drinks also mean people who aren’t imbibing can still take part in the camaraderie of the bar — and some of the look and flavors of regular cocktails.
Mocktails have grown more diverse (and better tasting) in the past few years, taking on some of the complexity of cocktails, as I discovered during a quick tasting of options around town.
Zero-proofing it around town
Bistro Napa in the Atlantis is offering a lively, herby, rosemary cucumber cooler sweetened with simple syrup and ginger ale (straightforward coolers are typically a good choice if you’re unsure of what mocktail to order).
At The Shore rotunda bar in the Renaissance Reno hotel, a Model T Old-Fashioned feels like a lively iced tea, with a cool ingredient: the juice of unripened white wine grapes. A Blueberry Burlesque, as Boteler noted, tastes like a smash without the bite.
Over at Pignic Pub & Patio, owner Trevor Leppek is crafting some of the most layered zero-proof cocktails in Reno. The drinks harness ingredients from Lyre’s, a highly regarded L.A.-based producer of low-alcohol and no-alcohol spirits. The City of Page? Real rum color, with tangy sweet vanilla notes. On the nose, How the West Was Won smells similar to bourbon; on the palate, it’s nutty caramel.
If you drop by Pignic, be sure to ask Leppek about the mocktail names. And wherever you zero-proof it, remember that absence of booze doesn’t mean mocktails are punch. Don’t gulp. Sip. Like a real cocktail.
Name: Cucumber Herb Cooler
The mix: Muddled cucumber, ginger ale, rosemary syrup, fresh lime juice
Notes: Crisp, gently sweet, refreshing
PIGNIC PUB & PATIO, 235 Flint St.
Name: City of Page
The mix: Lyre’s Dark Cane Non-Alcoholic Spirit, Lyre’s Italian Spritz Non-Alcoholic Aperol, Liquid Alchemical Passion Fruit, lime
Notes: Real rum color; tangy-sweet meets vanilla-caramel
Name: How the West Was Won
The Mix: Lyre’s American Malt Non-Alcoholic Whiskey, Cocktail & Sons Spiced Demerara syrup, Fee Brothers Black Walnut Non-Alcoholic Bitters
Notes: Smells a bit like bourbon, with nutty caramel flavors
Name: Berry Burlesque
The mix: Ginger beer, blackberry simple syrup, honey syrup, fresh lime juice
Notes: A little sweet, a little spicy, a smash without bite
Name: Mock T Old-Fashioned
The mix: Freshly brewed tea, verjus blanc (juice of unripened white wine grapes), simple syrup, orange flower water
Notes: Like a slightly amped-up iced tea
Johnathan L. Wright is the food and drink editor for Reno News & Review. Follow him on Twitter at @ItsJLW or on Facebook personally or at @FoodNevada. Sign up here for the Reno News & Review free weekly newsletter highlighting our most recent stories.