Free Spirits
Sunset|April 2019
Free Spirits

New artisanal mixers make it easier than ever for bartenders to craft nonalcoholic cocktails that stand up to classic boozy drinks.

Jen Murphy

THE NONALCOHOLIC COCKTAIL SCENE has exploded over the past year, and the epicenter of the movement sits in a cozy co-op in California wine country. Opened in December, Fern Bar is serving some of the freshest, most inventive takes on spirit-free drinks. Located in Sonoma County’s health-conscious hippie town of Sebastopol, the 72-seat space is the brainchild of local restaurateurs Lowell Sheldon and Natalie Goble; chef Joe Zobel; Gia Baiocchi, owner of the Nectary juice bar; and Sam Levy, former bar manager at Napa Valley’s Michelin three-star Restaurant at Meadowood.

“We want our customers to feel included, even if they’re taking a night off from drinking,” says Levy. “If your friends are having a fancy cocktail, you shouldn’t have to settle for a Coke.” Levy likens the trend to chefs challenging themselves to craft vegetarian dishes that even a carnivore could love. “We’re putting just as much thought and care, and as many ingredients, into the cocktails minus the alcohol,” he says.

A limited pantry of sugary juices and sodas is partly responsible for the tyranny of bad mocktails. Seedlip, The world’s first nonalcoholic spirit, has been a gamechanger, says Levy. Produced in London, it tastes similar to gin and is available stateside at select Whole Foods Markets and boutique liquor shops. Levy uses it in nonalcoholic versions of classic cocktails such as the Moscow Mule.

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April 2019