Go ahead, mock me

Delicious zero-proof drinks are on the menu around Boulder County


Crystal Sagan loves helping people celebrate special occasions. As an event bartender and founder of boutique beverage catering company Cocktail Caravan, she makes the tasty drinks folks hold up to toast big milestones — and knows those drinks don’t need to contain booze to be celebratory. 

“People are perhaps expecting sparkling water in a can or iced tea,” says Sagan, who instead offers mocktail versions of an event’s specialty cocktails such as a Q Sour, made with fresh orange juice, rosemary and maple syrup. She adds sparkling water rather than whiskey and cuts the sweetness by shaking with ice. 

“People aren’t usually expecting to be offered something so fresh, vibrant and beautiful, whether it has alcohol in it or not,” Sagan says. 

Given that many restaurant’s nonalcoholic offerings are the same as the beverages on the kids menu, of course those looking to abstain are thrilled when someone shakes up a special beverage for them. Bar programs that offer quality zero-proof options not only meet that demand but also make bar culture more inclusive. 

One such program is at OAK at Fourteenth, where mocktails have been on the menu for years. 

“It’s something near and dear to OAK’s program to cultivate a bar culture where you can get out and enjoy all the social components of a bar and not have it rely on alcohol to have fun,” says Collin Griffith, beverage director for both OAK, Corrida and the rest of Half-Eaten Cookie Hospitality’s collection of restaurants. 

Certainly, none of the decadence of an espresso martini is missing in OAK’s N/ASPRESSO mocktail, which features decaf espresso, agave, chocolate bitters and Three Spirit’s Social Elixir. The Social Elixir is one of three drinks featuring Three Spirit currently served at OAK and Corrida, and each boasts certain neurotropic effects. In Social Elixir’s case, it claims to make you feel elevated, calm and connected. 

“I think when you say nonalcoholic, there’s the connotation that something is missing and we’re trying to go against that,” says Griffith, who explains that such alcohol-free spirits are one way to create sophisticated zero-proof drinks. “You don’t want something that’s flat and hits one note. You want to have an experience from the front of the palate to the back of the palate.”

Taking another tack, John Adair is serving gourmand Shirley Temples at Farow in Niwot, choosing to use homemade products to complexify and balance their zero-proof drinks. Rather than Sprite and Rose’s Grenadine, his Shirley Temple is composed of house lemon-lime cordial and homemade pomegranate grenadine, and the highlight of the Nada Colada is a base of homemade coconut cream shaken with pineapple, lime and Elemakule Tiki Bitters. Neither drink is too sweet, and both are delicious. 

“We definitely want to have something that’s more than an afterthought. I want to create something with fresh ingredients of good quality,” says Adair, who rolled out Farow’s dedicated mocktail menu to coincide with Dry January. The response was so strong, the zero-proof menu has become permanent. “We’re surprised and thrilled people are enjoying it.”

Adair notes that mocktails have also proved a great way to use ingredients more sustainably. For instance, he might utilize juice from an orange that might otherwise only be peeled for garnishes in a zero-proof special. “If you’re savvy about it, I think you’re also doing things to help maintain your margins,” he says. “Some of it is an effort to avoid waste.”

Drinking less alcohol is part of a growing trend toward healthier lifestyles, but the increased visibility and attention on NA drinks also reflect lessening stigma around not drinking. 

“It’s not about abstinence, necessarily,” says Griffith, who says there are evenings he’ll switch from cocktails to mocktails to stretch out the celebration without overindulging on alcohol. “I like to have something in my hand. I like to toast with the table and have something to sip on.”