If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that personal reflection is paramount. The generalized anxiety of the situation, financial uncertainty, etc., has been brutal to our mental health. Some people coped by living healthier, while others followed a wine-worn path. For many of the former, quitting booze was crucial to improving their lives.
While a little alcohol doesn’t imply a problem, for some people it starts a slippery slope to abuse. Bars and pubs abound throughout the world, and Europe, in particular, is a continent that embraces its drinking culture and iconic products—wine, beer, spirits, etc.
For the person who decides to eschew the trappings of imbibing, there haven’t been all that many alternative ways of having fun and socializing in a bar-like atmosphere. Thankfully, in recent years, we’ve seen a trend towards mocktails, those craft drinks that have nary a drop of alcohol.
In the past, tea totalers were relegated to drinking coke or actual tea. Now you see drinks such as the ginger beer–infused Mango Mule and the non-whiskey whiskey-centric Magic Apple in cities all over Europe and beyond.
“I like the idea of alcohol-free beers and wine because I like to drink, but I find it difficult to stop,” says Florian, a 29-year-old in Berlin. “And alcohol-free beers are good now. It’s the same taste, you get the same feeling of freshness and lightness you get from a beer.”
It’s not just alcohol-free beers that are the rage now. Many people love the idea of cocktails without alcohol. “I like the act of drinking, being included in the wider experience, [so] I will drink almost anything branded alcohol-free, including mocktails, ” says Daisy, a 35-year-old Londoner.
At The Virgin Mary, in Dublin, Ireland, you can imbibe on mocktails or alcohol-free beer at your leisure. Behind its catchy name is a revolutionary idea: an alcohol-free pub in one of the countries with the highest number of drinkers per capita in Europe.
Bar manager Anna Walsh crafted the entire drinks menu at The Virgin Mary. Credit: The Virgin Mary
The bar, decorated in a classic Irish style with clean lines and dark green tones, hired drinks wizard Anna Walsh to design a mocktail menu that reflects its ambience and clientele. Think herbaceous or frothy drinks that stimulate the nose and palate but include less than .05 percent alcohol.
“We are seeing a movement emerge amongst younger consumers where they are looking for interesting drink options that offer complexity and a wide diversity of flavors,” says Sarah Connolly, Director of Communications for The Virgin Mary. “In 2018, we saw a distinct market opportunity for championing a cultural shift in the way people socialize.”
The idea behind Varsovia bar in Gijón, Spain, is similar: Give them something unique, that harkens back to their alcohol-drinking days. The chic and inviting bar is located in a modernist building covered in Art Nouveau frescoes with a fantastic view of the bay of San Lorenzo. Inside, stone walls collide with Thonet chairs, Bauhaus armchairs, Chesterfield sofas and antique counters. It’s the perfect place for a leisurely evening of socializing and savoring tasty drinks.
Award-winning mixologist and Varsovia Bar owner Borja Cortina creates innovative nonalcoholic drinks. Credit: Varsovia Bar Varsovia’s Tea Cucumber boasts green tea and cucumber syrup with lemon juice. Credit: Varsovia Bar
“Mocktails are something that we see as a must in our bar, as we always try to offer special and unique drinks,” says owner and award-winning mixologist, Borja Cortina. “We can’t forget those who don’t want or can’t drink alcohol but also don’t want a simple mixer or a mega-sweetened cocktail mixture of syrups and juices.”
The bar, while still catering to traditional drinkers, has a long list of mocktails, such as the Not So Cosmo and the Baby Jane, that combine fruit, spices, soda water and bitters in a unique way.
Liquor brands have also stepped up to the challenge of offering alcohol-free beverages. Vintense, a Belgian wine brand, realized in 2011 that the non-alcoholic wine market was too small so they expanded their menu to include a series of mocktails dubbed “Vintense Ice” that utilized their dealcoholized sparkling wine, Vintense Fines Bulles Blanc.
“Mocktails allowed us to reach a larger and younger clientele and to bring them into the Vintense world,” says Brand Administrator Anne Stassen.
This development was further cemented by the increase in nondrinkers during the pandemic who looked beyond a dry January and wanted to make a full lifestyle change. You can find Vintense products at many venues in Belgium such as Boeff, a tapas bar in Tongeren, an hour away from Brussels. Located in an old hospital building, it features red brick walls and an expansive half-covered garden with beach chairs for relaxation when the weather is good.
One thing is clear: this trend isn’t dying down anytime soon. Mocktails and mocktail bars were already becoming a thing in Europe pre-COVID-19, but this switch in people’s lifestyles will see them truly bloom in the upcoming decade. Cheers!