In a city bursting at the seams with breweries, where much of our social culture centers on alcohol, there is a growing trend — “people not drinking,” Haberdish mixologist Christina Crout said. That trend of the cutting out alcohol has been met with open arms by some of the best bartenders in Charlotte.
Cocktail lists are growing and expanding with housemade sodas, tonics, syrups. Amaros and aperitivos have resurfaced, bringing a European flair to cocktail menus. There is a degree of creativity, professionalism and craft being poured into cocktail creation. Josh Herbert, manager at Zeppelin in South End, loves the idea of getting creative when people want to go off-menu, ordering a libation-less cocktail.
“We get to just go wild with it,” Herbert said, “and that makes it kind of fun.”
So if you’re going for a cleanse, trying to cut out alcohol or just looking for a beverage that is not alcohol-centric, how would you step into the unknown of mocktails or other non-alcoholic beverages? While sweet tea and sodas are an option (we’re in the South, y’all), we reached out to a few of the places in town with crafty non-alcoholic offerings on their menus.
3116 N. Davidson St.
Dustin Lail of Crepe Cellar created a mocktail with a pretty specific formula: seasonal fruit syrup, citrus, floral syrup and ginger beer. While Lail said the actual components may shift with the seasons, he has set out to create a consistent and crowd-pleasing recipe. Crepe Cellar is currently featuring the Crepe Cellar Refresher, made with a blueberry-thyme infused syrup, lemon juice, orange blossom water and ginger beer.
“The syrup gives it a kind of depth,” Lail said, “while the orange blossom water gives a light floral pop.” Lail recently went through a self-declared “orange blossom phase” and was looking for creative ways to implement the flavor. “Adding the orange blossom water and topping with ginger beer gives a spicy effervescence for a well-rounded beverage.”
3106 N. Davidson St.
Step just down the street to Crepe Cellar’s sister restaurant, Haberdish. Colleen Hughes, the president of the Charlotte chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, has curated an expansive cocktail menu with various artful elements, and mixologist Christina Crout developed what she cleverly titled Sang’free’a.
The drink is one of three mocktails on the menu that was created by Crout when she took a month off alcohol. Crout was planning, preparing and training for a national competition with the Bartenders’ Guild as one of 10 participants in the South (and the only woman from North Carolina to advance to regional level). “I didn’t have time to waste or mess around,” Crout said, “so I took time off alcohol to focus.”
The Sang’free’a has “depth, without the alcohol,” Crout said. With fresh grape and cranberry juices, Crout uses the dried fruit syrup she created for her competition and tops it off with a homemade orgeat, a sweetener made from macadamia nuts. The menu also includes the Fruit and Flower Spritz, with hibiscus, grapefruit and mint, as well as a Ginger Fizz, which features citrus, honey syrup and ginger beer with fresh sage.
2230 Park Road
Not Just Coffee has made a name for itself with high quality coffee options and, at the Dilworth location on Park Road, some of the most understated cocktails in the city. Amaros and aperitivos play a large role in the creation of the drink list that mirrors the quality of the coffee they are known for. Yet the creativity flows beyond libations. Dilworth’s manager, Barry Burgess, has crafted a mocktail with a housemade strawberry simple syrup, lime juice and ginger beer. Think of it as a dolled-up version of a strawberry limeade.
With a vast selection of bitters, house-carbonated water and fresh-squeezed juices, the staff at Not Just Coffee is happy to make a bubbly beverage with lavender bitters, lemon juice and simple syrup topped with soda water.
1600 W. Morehead St.
Sitting on the patio of what was once a Volkswagen garage, you can sip on local beers, craft cocktails or any one of its variety of non-alcoholic drinks. Pinky’s is so committed to the non-drinking crowd that it has dedicated an entire menu to booze-free beverages.
“The ginger limeade is popular year round but very refreshing during the summer,” said Kris Tooley, general manager of the Morehead location. “And our Shirley Temple is a favorite because we add in pineapple juice and use Ginger Ale instead of Sprite.” Tooley also recommended a King of Pops cocktail (yep, that’s a cocktail with a popsicle) without the alcohol.
And if you’re feeling adventurous, head up to Pinky’s Huntersville location, 9818 Gilead Rd. ste B-101, for its highly recommended Sparkle Pony. The homemade Italian cream soda is mixed with ice cream (try the hazelnut) and finished off with whipped cream and sprinkles. This is the ultimate treat yo’self.
235 W. Tremont Ave. Suite 100
Zeppelin’s cocktail menu has a modern take on the classics. If you’re not into the alcohol but are looking for similar flavor profiles, Herbert said patrons can just ask. “We can get an idea and go from there,” Herbert said.
The Strawberry Fields cocktail can be made into a non-alcoholic version while still being served up in a Nick & Nora glass, allowing sippers the ability to feel fancy without the booze. The strawberry and lemongrass syrup, muddled ginger and pomegranate juice give it a lovely color, perfect for a summer day. Also available are the Coco Cabana mocktail, pictured above, and the I Got The Juice mocktail, shown below.