Welcome To The Decade Of The Mocktail
Written by: JoAnne Pearce
Of course the mocktail lady was going to save this reason for last. Aside from the fact that I have skin in the game, watching the alcohol-free drinks market explode has been the most exciting trend to behold since the arrival of the butter board.
It’s not often that we get to watch a whole new food frontier emerge, and make no mistake about it. Mocktails are food.
Alcohol-free alternatives have been trending upwards in the food and beverage industry for several years, with a sharp upswing in demand driving the market as folks look to level out from the excesses of their pandemic drinking. The 2010’s saw some stirring in the scene, most notably with the release of ground breaking zero-proof spirit Seedlip which hit the UK market in 2014. Locally, Calgary’s own Partake Brewing was also ahead of the curve, launching in 2017.
It took a year of pandemic-level drinking for the zero proof industry to hit its inflection point.
The 2020’s have ushered in a new era for the adult beverage scene, with retailers seeing a steady increase in sales in the past three years. Some studies suggest that there stands to be a 23% increase in sales each year from 2022 to 2026, with no signs of the industry slowing down in the near future. Indeed, the alcohol-free beverage sector is poised to enjoy the same explosion of growth and creativity as the craft beer scene saw this past decade. In Edmonton alone we went from a single locally produced alc-free beer at the start of 2022 (the very solid Phantom Buzz by SYC) to no less than five local options at the beginning of 2023.
It’s an exciting thing to behold, from both an economic and a creative perspective.
Not only are beverage manufacturers racing to fill the gaping hole in the alcohol-free drinks market, but so are bars and restaurants pivoting to accommodate the sober-curious. Much in the same way that the one person with dietary restrictions will dictate a group’s restaurant choice, so too will sober folks begin to influence the group’s bar choice (and it won’t be anywhere that they have to order off the kids’ menu). Just as we expect to see a decent vegetarian option on most menus when we go out to eat at a restaurant, so can we come to expect a healthy mocktail and craft alcohol-free beer menu at any self-respecting bar.
Foodies everywhere can also rejoice, since mocktails are essentially just drinkable cuisine. Cold soup on the rocks. They are not bound to contain a single common ingredient amongst them, while ethanol-based drinks cannot boast the same freedom.
Cocktails are recipes to be followed. Every cocktail calls for the combining of ethanol products that were produced by somebody else. This is not the case with mocktails.
Mocktails are pure creativity, unbound by precedent. They're all jazz, baby.
What’s more, we have nothing but gaping swaths of space in our palates to be surprised by mocktails, especially in North America, where alcohol-free beverages tend to almost always skew towards sweet. The economic impetus of having a half decent mocktail menu, though, will no doubt drive the emergence of a whole new culinary category. Soon we can expect to see more bitter, salty, smoky, sour and umami liquid creations hitting the scene. In short, it's going to get weird, and I am HERE for it.
It’s only a matter of time before some top chef talent gets looped into the conversation, and then we’ll really be muddling with gas.
So if, when you think of the word ‘mocktail’, all you can imagine is a Shirley Temple, I have two pieces of advice for you. One, go out and order a Shirley Temple. They are as delicious now as they were when you were eight and will douse your tastebuds in a grenadine dream of yearning for simpler times (we need to stop pooh-poohing poor Shirley, seriously). And two, head to your local craft liquor store and check out their alcohol-free selection. Places like Sherbrooke Liquor and Sip Liquor have beautifully curated selections and very knowledgeable staff who will be more than happy to help divest you from the notion that all alcohol-free alternatives taste like your Uncle Clyde’s O’Doul’s.
So let's raise a glass of something good, and revel in the dawn of a new era. Whether you drink alcohol or not, everyone stands to gain from an upswing in creativity when it comes to food and drink, and having more sober options will only make dry months that much easier. More choices plus less hangovers equals higher quality living for everyone.