A perfectly crafted cocktail can often enhance a celebration. Yet there are occasions when an alcohol-free option — prepared creatively with fresh, exotic ingredients — can be a smart choice. Why should consumers be denied a beautifully crafted beverage, just because they have reasons not to consume alcohol?
According to the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, that’s when it’s time to Live Free and Host Responsibly. As part of a continuing, groundbreaking partnership, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission has partnered with Brown-Forman, one of the largest American-owned spirits and wine companies, to create Live Free and Host Responsibly — a campaign encouraging consumers and lounge and restaurant owners to focus on responsible alcohol service and consumption. “The unique part of this stems from our moral responsibility to keep people safe,”
New Hampshire Liquor Commission Chairman Joseph Mollica says. “And that’s unique because we’re a control state, in the business of selling alcohol, but we have a responsibility to our consumers. We want them to be safe at all times, and know that there are times when you can have a mocktail and feel good about it. This is all about safe and responsible entertaining and safe and responsible drinking.” Recent trends have shown a rise in the demand for alcohol-free options. Whether it’s for health-conscious, sober-curious or recovery reasons, consumers are finding more alcohol-free hospitality options for entertainment. This fall, thanks to Live Free and Host Responsibly, New Hampshire will be among them.
“People are very cognizant of what they drink, and the safety of people is always important to a lot of folks,” Mollica says. “And now we’ve got this program in place that works a responsibility message into what we already do.”
“We’re in the alcohol business, but we’re also in the ‘keep people safe and responsibility’ business. There’s a fine line to walk between the two, and this is a very nice vehicle for us to do that. Brown-Forman has been a great partner through many aspects of our business, and they’ve helped us set the base and the tone as we move forward with this new program, New Hampshire Mocktail Week.”
New Hampshire Mocktail Week will run concurrently with New Hampshire Distillers Week — an annual celebration of spirits that culminates in the Distiller’s Showcase. This year, through the Live Free and Host Responsibly program, restaurant owners are being urged to add mocktails to their normal menus.
“I’ve talked to several restaurant owners over the years, and having been in the industry for 25 years — 15 of which were in New Hampshire — I know a lot of people in the industry and a lot of folks have bartenders who are trained to offer that sort of option,” Mollica says. “I think it will be very well received, because they are in the responsibility business, as well. No one wants to over-serve or see anything irresponsible happen to or with a patron.”
As Chairman Mollica predicted, in New Hampshire, it’s not a tough sell. A growing number of restaurants are adding mocktails to their menus, including Queen City hot-spots like the Hanover Street Chop House and the Crown Tavern. According to bartenders and managers, it’s a smart option for a number of reasons. “People want something craft, but not something that will make it so they can’t, or shouldn’t, drive,” Kiel R. Carroccino, general manager of The Crown Tavern, says. “We have a lot of young business professionals who want to try something different but not something necessarily with alcohol in it.”
In some cases it’s smart business, and in others, it’s a case of making the right choice. “We are seeing headlines every single day about trends and cultural changes around being sober-curious and people choosing mocktails,” says Taylor Amerman, North American corporate responsibility manager for Brown-Forman. “It’s all about respect and inclusion. Thirty percent of American adults do not drink alcohol and they want to have the same experience as anyone who chooses to drink. It’s about respecting that choice.”
The Crown Tavern, in particular, was an early adopter of the mocktail trend, and took a forward-thinking approach to offering such alternatives. “Rather than have a separate menu of mocktails, we offer them on our cocktail list,” he says. “We can make them with alcohol or without. We can make any of our cocktails using substitutes like a variety of juices, which can have very similar flavor profiles.”
“Our cocktail list is designed to not be overly strong anyway, so a lot of our cocktails lend themselves really well to mocktails.” One of the Crown Tavern’s most popular drinks is The Grey Gardens — a tea-infused vodka drink with honey, lemon and ginger beer. Staying true to its craft roots, the mocktail version simply replaces the Tito’s Handmade Vodka with Earl Grey tea. “If you tried each of them side-by-side, it would be tough to tell which has the vodka in it,” Carroccino says. “The cocktail itself doesn’t have a lot of alcohol to begin with, and Earl Grey has such a potent, strong flavor, that it’s pretty close.”
Amerman points out that offering elevated options (see the Crown’s Grey Gardens) with complex flavors and creative garnishes in the same glassware creates an identical experience for those who choose not to sip cocktails. According to Jesse Hawkins, founder of the Mocktail Project, the world of mocktails has moved well beyond Shirley Temples (though those are fine, too). “The reality is, tonic water and lime no longer cuts it,” he says. “We have so many wonderful mixologists and bar programs at this point, that consumers shouldn’t compare a mocktail to a cocktail. They should treat it as its own unique, delicious alternative option that stands on its own.”
The move toward including alcohol-free options is gaining momentum, and Google Trends show that interest in mocktails is increasing. “Consumers not only want to have a better experience in terms of atmosphere, but they’re more health-conscious, and they want to know what’s going into their bodies,” Hawkins says. “It’s similar to how the craft cocktail industry evolved — settling for a mocktail isn’t settling anymore.”
Hawkins started the Mocktail Project in 2017 as a grassroots movement to create a safer, stigma-free drinking culture. Since then, the group has partnered with a number of hospitality industry leaders like the New Hampshire Liquor Commission and Brown-Forman to move the concept forward. “Working with the New Hampshire Liquor Commission and Brown-Forman is a huge step in the right direction,” he says. “It shows they’re helping to welcome people into social environments and saying that there’s a respect for your choice not to drink. The message isn’t necessarily to stop drinking, but if you want to take a break, they’re saying it’s good to have a healthier relationship with alcohol.”
According to Chairman Mollica, it’s a welcoming, inclusive message. Order a mocktail, and you’ll have something in front of you, become part of the environment or celebration, and feel included. Sometimes, he says, situations simply call for a non-alcoholic drink. “That’s what’s wonderful about this,” he says. “Let’s face it, Brown-Forman is in the alcohol beverage business, but they’re behind this initiative, knowing that it’s not all about alcohol and profits all the time. It’s about keeping consumers safe. That’s a very cool thing, in my mind. They’re spending their resources on this initiative and it’s great that they’ve made this promise to their consumers and made it an important piece of doing business. I can’t speak highly enough about that.”
From Celebrate NH Magazine.