Quick Take: “Mocktail” is a valid term for a style of non-alcoholic drink, which can be codified and considered seriously.
The food and drink world has come up with some divisive terms. For example, in the “Mixologist” versus “Bartender” debate, I usually roll my eyes at the sense of self-importance the word mixologist implies and only employ it in writing to break up the monotony of saying “bartender” a dozen times in the same article.
On the other hand, though navel-gazing “foodies” have been know to fill forums with discussions on whether their descriptor is an insult or a compliment, I feel it usefully describes and defines the tribe of the food-obsessed in a way no other word does. In fact, I’m trying to single handedly establish the use of the word ‘drinkies’ as the foodies’ liquid counterpart. It’s simple, it’s lighthearted, and it describes a counterculture of those who obsess over everything drinkable from cocktails to coffee.
And yet another maligned moniker that I can get on board with is “Mocktails.” It’s been known to insite sniggers from the modern day mixologist who will insist on saying ‘non alcoholic cocktails’, but I’d argue that ‘Mocktails’ is a valid term for non-alcoholic drinks that can be codified and considered seriously.
I suggest “mocktails” should be defined as non-alcoholic drinks, made using techniques employed for cocktails and meeting one or more of the cocktail’s purposes. Let’s get a little deeper into that definition…
First off, let’s talk technique. Cocktails can be stirred, shaken, built, blended or rolled. Cocktail geeks might get into smoking, bottling, aging, batching, or carbonating their creations. Plus they might pull a little fermentation or shrubs into their recipe. It’s worth looking into which of these – and other – techniques and practices that are commonly found in the cocktail world can be successfully applied to zero octane drinks for added value.
To further determine if a drink is a truly imitating cocktails, let’s look at why one drinks cocktails in the first place. I present, my five reasons for cocktailing:
Taste: When done right, cocktails taste great. No one’s gonna say no to that balance of strong, sweet and sour or potent spiciness. It’s a flavor combo that makes us happy.
Celebration: Whether it’s the fun of something fizzy to celebrate a festive occasion or a classic cocktail that connotes a holiday, alcoholic drinks can add some oomph to your celebrations.
Conviviality: We toast accomplishments, friends, special occasions, new acquaintances. Cocktails and spirits can be a way to connect with those around you.
Mood Alteration: Cocktails alter your mood. Sometime we want to come down, cool off, cozy up…alcohol (in moderation, of course) can ease the situations.
Creativity: there are so many ways to get creative with cocktails…playing with them in a culinary sense, exploring new flavors, getting conceptual and looking at them in a bigger context. Or just having some fun with presentation and garnishes.
IMHO, mocktails are those drinks made using these cocktail techniques that meet one – or preferably more – of these criteria. Meaning, they’re more than just cocktails minus the alcohol, as this style of drink can imitate cocktails in so many ways. This may seem a fine distinction, but I think under this definition, mocktails can be so much more than just a virgin cocktail.
Under this definition, a simple juice and sparkling water could be considered a mocktail. With the right proportions it can taste great and even be celebratory in its bubbly nature. Though some might recoil at the thought of simple juice + water as a non alcoholic cocktail, they’re probably the same ones who dismiss a screwdriver as “not a cocktail.” But, don’t dismiss it as something so simple. Just as there is room to geek out on a simple vodka/orange, so to is there with fruit/water combos. What size of bubbles? What brand of bottled water? The provenance of the fruit from which the juice is squeezed. You can go dive just as deep if you want to go there.
Of course, things aren’t completely black and white and there is some subjectivity to where mixed drinks turn into cocktails or just drinks turn into mocktails. But i believe the Mocktail can stand on its own as not just a cocktail without booze, but as a drink that can independently and creatively imitate the cocktail in meeting certain criteria. And, I think in further exploring that criteria, much can be learned about both the mock and the cocktail.
And so, I make a call to all Drinkies out there: Unite and Embrace the “Mocktail!”
This is the first in a series called A Modern Day Guide to Mocktails, where I’ll further explore and codify the matter.