Who needs booze?
8 local spots to enjoy outstanding mocktails
Austin’s growing cocktail scene is one of the most vibrant and creative in the country. We are lucky to have award-winning mixologists who can craft anything from pre-Prohibition classics to unique signature drinks all over town.
But what about sober individuals, designated drivers, people taking medication, and folks on Whole30-type diets? Why should they have to drink boring iced tea, or even worse, plain old water? We think they should be part of the fun with stunning mocktails that will satisfy the cocktail craving without any of the guilt.
Long before offering a full bar, this Clarksville favorite was serving house-made sodas in flavors like Texas pecan, vanilla, and hibiscus. But now that liquor is in the mix, bar manager Nathan Etheredge is having a field day experimenting with syrups and infusions which can be used in mocktails. “Right now, for instance, we have a lemon peel syrup that is essentially virgin limoncello, as well as ginger and juniper syrups,” he says. “I’m working on ways to use yaupon and black tea as a whiskey analogue, too.” But that’s not all. Café Josie is also using freshly-squeezed lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit juices and carries good pineapple juice and coconut milk. Etheredge can use all of these things in a number of ways to create delicious zero-proof drinks, including solid versions of classics like the paloma, lemon drop, French 75, piña colada, and a radler made with Beck's and fresh lemonade. “More often than not, I do on-the-fly concoctions as guests tend to just ask for something delicious and refreshing,” says Etheredge.
Though not on the printed menu right now, the newly-reopened North Loop bar has a few great mocktail options at the ready. Guests can now order a house-made rice horchata, the key ingredient in their boozy milk punch, but which is equally delicious on its own. The horchata is made with basmati rice, slivered almonds, cinnamon, vanilla, star anise, and cane sugar. Owner Jessica Sanders also recommends a mocktail that she describes as a bit brighter and less creamy, made with hibiscus tea, mint-infused lemon cordial, Mediterranean tonic, rose water, and a few dashes of Angostura Bitters. “Yes, the bitters do have some alcohol, but with just a dash or two, it’s basically nonexistent,” she adds.
Lead bartender Jayson Black is the creative genius behind the bar at this downtown speakeasy, crafting excellent libations that match chef Tim Lane’s innovative, Italian-tinged menu. Inspired by next door neighbor trailer My Name is Joe, the Garage team decided to create a special menu of non-alcoholic drinks. The “unleaded” menu, developed by Black alongside general manager Paul Finn and owner William Ball, serves our favorite, most cocktail-like mocktails around. Start with the About Face, a simple blend of fresh pineapple juice, lime, and grenadine. For a more complex option, go for the Serene Dream, which combines Seedlip Garden, aloe, cucumber, fresh lime, and sugar. For a more seasonal selection, try the newly released Seedlip Milk Punch, featuring Seedlip Spice, figs, pineapple, coffee, lemon, orange, and turbinado sugar. In case you don’t know, Seedlip is a line of non-alcoholic, small batch spirits distilled in copper pot stills. It is my new favorite ingredient and soon it will be yours.
This cozy East Austin eatery has been serving non-alcoholic bevvys since opening day. The menu includes simple offerings like coffee soda made with Little City coffee or fresh pineapple limeade. More elaborate drinks include the refreshing Pickpocket, made with balsamic, strawberries, and basil; the Country Doctor, which combines ginger, fresh apple, and cinnamon; and a traditional Brooklyn egg cream. Any and all can be enhanced with booze if you so desire.
The fabulous cocktail program by Jen Keyser offers one of the most complete mocktail menus in town. Aside from the marvelous frozen lemonade, the bar pours sodas with house-made shrubs in apple-mint, peach-basil, cherry-sorrel, and grapefruit-habanero flavors. If you are looking for something more complex, the capable staff can make a custom libation based on your preferences from menu categories labeled Spicy, Sweet, Citrus, and Energy. Just tell your friendly bartender what strikes your fancy and they will gladly mix up something fabulous. Their awesome behind-the-bar “chemistry set” allows them to concoct boozeless drinks that will fool the most seasoned mixologist.
The popular caffeine emporium offers seasonal drinks each spring and fall (sometimes winter, too) that are available for a limited time in addition to their regular menu. Currently they are featuring two exciting offerings until the end of November. The Basil Spritz is a perfect pre-dinner patio sipper, made with cold brew, balsamic syrup, and tonic, served on ice and garnished with fresh orange and basil. The 221B combines black tea, aromatic fir tips, Champagne-flavored syrup, cocktail bitters, ice, and a lemon slice garnish. The black tea base is enhanced by the syrup and bitters, then finished with a mist of real evergreen fir and served like a Kolsch: clean, crisp, and refreshing.
This lauded Holly neighborhood favorite always has a rotating selection of seasonal non-AVB drinks for those looking to sip more than just water. Launderette is currently offering a couple of sparkling shrub-based drinks, including one made with a shrub of white balsamic, apple cider vinegar, fresh grapefruit, Fresno chiles, and lime, and a drink made with the perennial favorite watermelon and lime shrub. Both pair well with the eclectic, farm-fresh flavors of the menus.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself on Phuket beach. To match the spicy-salty-sweet-sour flavors of the Southeast Asian cuisine, the folks at Sway serve non-alcoholic cocktails and sodas over crushed ice. While the turmeric sparkling shrub is a no-brainer, our current favorite drinking vinegar is the mango-chile, which is very lightly sweetened to allow the fruit flavor to come forward. A pinch of dried Thai chili adds a touch of savory spice that actually helps cool the mouth from fiery dishes like som tom and jungle curry. The same goes for the coconut-lime soda, with its tangy flavor. For something sweeter and warm, try the calamansi-vanilla soda. Word has it that Sway plans to add liquor to their bar, so these refreshing drinks could be enhanced with a splash of something boozy in the near future.