"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee is brought to you by Miller Brewing Company, calling Milwaukee home since 1855. For the entire month of March, we're serving up fun articles on bars, clubs and beverages – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews, the results of our Best of Bars poll and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
Most people have experienced a situation where they can’t – or would prefer not to – drink.
Maybe you’re pregnant. Perhaps you’re a designated driver. It’s possible you’re taking medication or undergoing therapy that prevents you from drinking. Or maybe you simply don’t feel like drinking. That’s OK.
But Milwaukee is a drinking town with a strong drinking culture. And that poses an interesting conundrum for anyone who wants to go against the flow.
"If you’re not in the mood to drink, there’s often a lot of peer pressure to do it anyway," says Tripper Duval, United States Bartenders' Guild president and mixologist at Badger Liquor. "It’s compounded by the fact that so many of the non-alcoholic alternatives make it obvious that you’re not drinking. And sitting there drinking water – even seltzer – just isn’t fun. I know a lot of friends who have gone out and weren’t intending to drink, but end up drinking anyway."
Add to that the fact that there aren’t many bars around town that publish a non-alcoholic cocktail menu (keep reading, there’s a good reason for that), and it’s a pretty uncomfortable situation for someone who’s tee-totaling. Even just for an evening.
But it’s 2017, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to avoid alcohol and still drink something enjoyable.
NA Pina Colada (PHOTO: Stand Eat Drink Hospitality)
Why not just publish a menu?
Most bartenders we’ve talked with agree that their biggest goal is to please their customers and make them something they really enjoy. That applies to non-alcoholic cocktails.
"One of the best things you can do is to open up the conversation with the bartender and see what sorts of things they can make for you," says Duval. "The old pretentiousness that was attached to the craft bartender is disappearing … because it just didn’t work. And that, in and of itself, has made it easier for people to actually have a dialogue with their bartender and get something they really enjoy."
But we decided to do a bit of the legwork for you. We talked to a number of bartenders around the city who are great at whipping up non-alcoholic drinks. And we asked them for a few they’d recommend ordering the next time you’re in.
Pro tip: This is not an exhaustive list of places that make great non-alcoholic cocktails. In fact, there are an increasing number of bars around town that use freshly squeezed juices, make their own syrups and stock a variety of interesting cocktail modifiers (think Bryant's, Odd Duck and the like). And a good, thoughtful bartender at any of these venues should be able to make you something delicious, even without spirits. The key is: don't be afraid to describe what you like and ask what they can do.
"People think mocktail and immediately they think fruity and sweet," notes bar manager Solomon Brown of Braise. "But that’s not the case. We really try to create options that cover the spectrum of flavors from sweet to dry and creamy to bitter. And when you cut out the spirits, it’s important that the ingredients are high quality and interesting."
Options at Braise include:
- Margarita: agave and lime, shaken and topped off with selzer (sweet and tart).
- Matcha tea mocktail: Matcha tea with sage and lemon (green and herbal).
- Jalapeno and Sriracha syrup blended with lime and a float of Door County cherry juice
- Iced Jasmine tea with lemon (tart and floral).
- Cold brewed blueberry rooibos tea topped off with tonic and expressed orange peel (a bit like an Americano).
- Kombucha tonic with elderflower (dry and floral).
- After dinner drink: Spiced coffee syrup made with cold brew barrel aged Hawthorne coffee with cinnamon, peppercorn and chilis. Served on the rocks, it’s a bit like Kahlua.
"Non-alcoholic cocktails are always available at Dock18," notes bar manager Brandon Reyes. "In fact, the first one is free to all. We have such a small place that is so focused on cocktails and spirits, we thought it'd be a welcoming gesture to all non-drinkers to offer a free mocktail. Typically we'd ‘dealer's choice’ it with whatever juices and syrups we have featured on our menu, but these two selections are drinks we've created that area available year round."
- Jesus Take the Wheel: orange cordial, lemon, Bittercube Blackstrap bitters, finished with seltzer and garnished with an orange twist.
- Temperance, Good Fellow: grapefruit cordial, ginger syrup, lime and pineapple garnished with a lime wheel, Krazy straw and tiki umbrella.
"Here at Goodkind we love all things booze ..." says Katie Rose. "But more important than that, we love all things beautiful, and flavor is beautiful! So it doesn't matter if you need an ABV or not, we're always happy to mix something up along the way. The ultimate goal is for a guest to have a great time, enjoy their night out and have an experience that they will remember. We don't turn our noses up at people who don't, or can't, have a cocktail; instead, we turn that into a challenge and use it as an opportunity to design something unique for that person."
Things to ask about at Goodkind:
- The bar always has a variety of shrubs (drinking vinegars), oleo saccharums (syrups made from citrus macerated in sugar), teas, sodas and fresh juices. So, ask what they have. If something sounds good to you, ask them if they can make a non-alcoholic drink with it.
- Goodkind also crafts, builds, kegs, carbonates and bottles housemade sodas. Their Szechuan ginger beer has what amounts to a near cult following. So, try it out. Not your jam? Ask if other flavors are available. They might even jazz it up with other flavors if you ask.
- Like gin? Or simply a great herbaceous drink? Goodkind makes a syrup that uses mint and spruce tips, giving it a similar flavor profile to gin, but without the alcohol. Shaken with a bit of fresh lime juice and topped with tonic, it makes a stellar drink that's as close as you can get to a gin and tonic without using gin.
Gen Longoria at The Outsider regularly makes up non-alcoholic cocktails for guests at the rooftop bar. Favorites include:
- The Arancia Alba: muddled blood orange and blackberry, lemon and ginger syrup topped off with San Pellegrino blood orange.
- The Savory & Celery: fresh pressed celery juice, lemon, serrano chili syrup and Fever Tree ginger beer with a mint and black peppercorn garnish.
- Blackberry Italian Soda: blackberry syrup, heavy cream and Fever Tree soda with garnishes of mint and blackberry.
"When it comes to our non-alcoholic cocktails, it’s about giving people something that we’ve crafted by hand in the same way we do our regular cocktails," notes Joey Houghtaling of Phoenix Cocktail Club. "There are lots of reasons why people don’t drink, and our goal is to give them something thoughtful so that they can take part in the experience here without having to drink."
Options at Phoenix include:
- Rum-less banana daiquiri.
- The Red: a mash up between a pina colada and a strawberry daiquiri.
- A non-alcoholic gin & tonic made with housemade tonic.
- Tropical soda made with Jamaican rooibos tea from Rishi.
- Housemade cola made with citrus, cinnamon, lavender, star anise and brown sugar, along with a few secret ingredients.
"The Red" PHOTO: Phoenix Cocktail Club
6. Wolf Peach
"Our bartenders at Wolf Peach are great at accommodating guests looking for non-alcoholic options," says bar manager Andrea Kloehn. "Pretty much anything that I have for the seasonal cocktail offerings is fair game when it comes to making non-alcoholic versions. I basically start the same way I would with a guest looking for a cocktail suggestion by asking them what their favorite flavor profiles are, sweet or tart, if there are any flavors they would like to avoid, and I go from there."
Popular drinks include:
- A variation on the Wolfhound using grapefruit juice and rosemary.
- Another features pineapple, lime, ginger beer and fresno chili and turmeric syrup.
"The biggest thing is not treating non-alcoholic cocktails as an afterthought," says beverage director Daniel Beres of Vermuteria 600. "The word 'cocktail’ is right there in the name. And one of the things you pride yourself on as a bartender is creating a balanced cocktail. So, you should be able to do that without alcohol."
- A mock pina colada featuring fresh pineapple and lime juices and a house coconut blend garnished with an edible orchid and Amarena Fabbri cherry.
- The sîn & tonic with lime, grapefruit, bloomed juniper berries, allspice, Indian tonic water and grapefruit oil
Sîn & tonic PHOTO: Stand Eat Drink Hospitality
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.