Thanks to a growing movement in Sydney’s bars and restaurants, there’s never been a better time to stay on the wagon. Mocktails are getting a makeover, with mixologists and bartenders stepping up to the task of creating a range of creative, complex and delicious options for non-drinkers. From tonics and teas to cold-pressed juices – these Sydney bars are the ones to try for considered virgin drinks.
“I actually don’t drink myself, so I know the feeling of going out and having to order the same super-sweet mocktail over and over again,” says owner and head chef of Newtown’s Bloodwood restaurant, Mitchell Grady. “When I designed the Bloodwood menu I wanted to make sure we were serving drinks that were interesting for non-drinkers, and provide a range of options and different flavour profiles.” Sweet and floral tones are combined in the NY Daisy Lavender Iced Tea. The bitter citrus Virgin Negroni and spicy Ginger Smash pack a savoury punch, and house-made chinotto and kombucha lend complexity of flavour in place of spirits. For Grady, it’s important that mocktails not only taste as good, but look as good as their alcoholic counterparts, and an attention to presentation helps retain that special feeling of treating yourself to a drink on a Friday night.
For Newtown’s famed “pay-its-worth” vegan restaurant, Lentil As Anything, providing non-alcoholic options is something it has taken seriously. It has opened Sydney’s first-ever alcohol-free bar. Located upstairs from the King Street restaurant, Lentil on the Rocks serves a range of mocktails at donation-based prices and provides a space for non-drinkers to meet, mingle and have fun. “Newtown is known for its boozy culture, so we wanted to create an alternative space for non-drinkers to have a good night out,” says bar manager, Jeebak Bajracharya. The mocktail menu changes every week with a focus on wholesome ingredients. Current concoctions include the Smooth Criminal, a creamy blend of rice milk, maple, coffee and coconut milk, and the vibrantly coloured Yetti, which combines kiwi fruit with house-made lemon-basil syrup and soda.
Cultural considerations are also important when putting together a drinks menu, says Jordan Roche, of Surry Hills’ Longrain and Subcontinental restaurants. “The kind of cuisines we’re working with have a very multicultural focus, so for us it’s important to provide options for customers of all cultural backgrounds, some of which, of course, abstain from drinking. At Longrain the drinks are sweeter and fruiter to balance out the spice and bold flavours of Thai food. At Subcontinental we’re trying to enhance some of the subtler spices in the dishes, such as cinnamon, cloves or ginger.” The non-alcoholic Sarfraz Fizz has been popular (the menu names its drinks after famous cricketers from the Subcontinent). It blends together a house-made Indian spice mix with fresh mint, rosewater and ginger beer. The Kanhai Crush has a sweeter profile, combining rhubarb, honey, ginger and lemon. “When we’re making our cocktails we like to start with an ingredient or interesting flavour and then work in a complementary spirit,” says Roche. “By doing it this way we can create a range of drinks that look and taste just as good with or without the alcohol.”
And it’s not just restaurants doing their part. Two of Sydney’s connoisseurs of cocktails, Darlinghurst’s Eau de Vie and Oxford Street’s This Must Be The Place, are also getting serious about providing attractive options for non-drinkers. “For our spring menu we’ll be adding a number of virgin cocktails to our list, working with ingredients like cascara, cold-brew coffee, different fruit and vegetable juices and teas,” says Charlie Ainsbury of This Must Be The Place.
“We get our bar staff to ascertain the flavours the customer likes and will happily make them up something from there,” says bartender, Tom Egerton at Eau de Vie.
The only ingredient missing? A hangover the next morning.