Lately, Miami’s cocktail menus have been offering a growing amount of nonalcoholic and low-ABV options — posing the question, is the sober-curious movement here to stay?
From zero-proof sections on the menus of popular bars to spots like downtown’s Margot Natural Wine Bar, whose menu features not only fun and funky wines but specialty cocktails with little-to-no alcohol in them, there are options aplenty these days. Those looking to abstain from drinking, but still want a refreshing beverage to enjoy while out on the town are no longer limited to soda water and some kind of sugary juice out of the well. Craft cocktails officially have made their way into the low-ABV and alcohol-free space.
“I feel very strongly about this and I’ve been saying it quite a bit lately, but 2023 is the year of the nonalcoholic beverage revolution,” shares Ben Potts, co-owner of Beaker & Gray, the Sylvester, and partner in Unfiltered Hospitality, a beverage consulting company. “It’s been slowly growing and whispered in the dark corners of bars that nonalcoholic cocktails are cool and starting to taste pretty good. It’s evident with all the producers that are making zero-proof beers and liquors — it’s a massive evolution.”
There’s no doubt that the creation of nonalcoholic spirit brands like Lyre’s and Seedlip, who have their own versions of tequila, whiskey, and even Campari-like aperitifs, has made making alcohol-free drinks a much more interesting process. They are leading the stampede in allowing for options that make those looking for the chance to stray away from alcohol still able to be part of the party. Studies show that Gen Zers, who are the most recent generation to reach the legal drinking age, are consuming significantly less alcohol than the generations before them.
According to Nielsen data, between August 2021 and August 2022, total dollar sales of nonalcoholic drinks in the U.S. stood at $395 million, showing a year-on-year growth of 20.6%. While there most certainly is a market for those who lead a completely sober lifestyle, more than 80% of those purchasing nonalcoholic brands still consume alcohol on other occasions.
“Alcohol is incredibly delicious and a lot of fun, but it’s certainly not the healthiest thing we put in our bodies, so having alternatives that are low and no are amazing, and as someone who has been in the bar industry for so long, I never thought I’d say that,” Potts says.
BarLab’s global beverage director Christine Wiseman says she thinks it’s a super important conversation people should be having. Wiseman relocated to Miami from Los Angeles and she didn’t realize Miami wanted or embraced the sober-curious trend. “When we did the cocktail menu at MaryGold’s we didn’t include any zero-proof drinks because we didn’t think there was a desire for them, but we’re actually asked about them all the time,” shared Wiseman. While the menu might not have immediately had nonalcoholic options, there are always low-ABV drinks on all of her menus.
We’re also less likely to hear or see the term “mocktail” as menus continue to expand their options. While a popular term in the 2000s, mocktail refers to these drinks being mock cocktails, but it also can have a condescending connotation at times. “It feels juvenile and too kid-friendly. When you call it something more elevated, I think people immediately understand they are getting a beverage that’s more high-end with actual effort over something just full of sugar and juice,” says Wiseman. Potts says he agrees and believes the term is a little passé. “I like to use zero-proof, no-proof, nonalcoholic, or n/a,” he says.
When consulting on beverage menus around the city, Potts says his team is always inclined to recommend having a few zero-proof drinks on the menu and has encountered quite a few forward thinkers who have asked for them on their own. He also shared that if they ultimately decide against including a nonalcoholic section, he makes sure the bar team still has a few recipes up their sleeve in case guests ask.
Will zero-proof bars find their way to Miami? Potts says he sees room for them to do well in the Magic City. “I think it’s about wellness versus temperance. It’s about time we start taking care of ourselves. Personally, I’ve found myself drinking a bit less and taking the time to enjoy a nonalcoholic beer or cocktail and there’s still that opportunity for artistic expression and creativity and the ability to go out and have the same nightlife experience.”
Wiseman isn’t fully convinced. “It’s about having a balance of offerings at your bar. You want to make sure every single person is comfortable walking into your space. Having staff that knows how to make a range of beverages to make everyone happy is the goal,” says Wiseman.