Hours before a New York City craft cocktail spot opens, the bartenders are prepping ingredients for some of their most elaborate drinks. In the end, their spinning, straining and stirring deliver a tomato and passion fruit base for a drink they've named "Serendipity," a $16 cocktail that looks like an Old fashioned but doesn't have a drop of alcohol.
Dave Arnold and Don Lee have made names for themselves concocting some of the most talked about high-concept drinks in the industry. So when they joined forces and opened up Existing Conditions, they crafted a drink list appealing to both drinkers and non-drinkers alike.
In fact, their three non-alcoholic cocktails are the first thing on their menu – but don't call any of them a mocktail.
"I do hate that word," Arnold said. "It contains the word 'mock.' Why would I mock the guest who's coming in?"
"In fact, they're more expensive to produce than the alcoholic cocktails on our menu," said his partner, Lee. "Because we use higher quality ingredients, rarer ingredients. We put more time and effort into going from a raw ingredient to a final product, because that's what it takes to put that much flavor into something without alcohol."
Zero-proof cocktails are now in some of the most famous restaurants and bars, including the three Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park in New York City, as well as American Bar, the longest-surviving cocktail joint in London.
Caleb Bryant, a senior beverage analyst at Mintel, said the rise of alcohol-free cocktails is partially driven by Americans placing more value on health and wellness.
"The consumer gets that delicious flavorful complex drink and the operator is going to make more money on that higher margin beverage," Bryant said.
Jeannie Im said she often socializes with her friends at bars but doesn't always want to drink. Now, she doesn't have to miss out.
"This is one of the most interesting and complex things that I've tasted in a while and it has no booze in it. It blew my mind when I first tasted it," Im said.
The movement extends well beyond the bar. Heineken just released its first non-alcoholic beer, and Seedlip became the world's first non-alcoholic spirit. It's essentially booze, without the booze.