Bartenders hate the word “mocktail”. Here’s why

The recent rise of non-alcoholic cocktails on bar menus is a very positive development, according to the bartenders who make these lists and take these orders. “Just because someone doesn’t drink alcohol (for whatever reason) doesn’t mean they don’t deserve something celebratory and fun,” said Thomas Mizuno-Moore, Senior Beverage Manager of Aba in Austin, Texas and Miami.

Creating thoughtful and balanced beverages that contain no alcohol presents an exciting challenge to bartenders and offers guests attractive non-alcoholic options. But it has sparked some debate among industry insiders about what to call these drinks. And to the dismay of many bartenders, “mocktail” seems to be the most popular term right now.

‘Mocktail is accessible.’

In the interest of fairness, we’ll start by giving space to a few bartenders who Not hate “mocktail” as a menu term. Hilary Sheinbaum, the author of “The dry challenge a book on how to successfully have a dry January isn’t crazy about the term “mocktail.” However, she acknowledged that the word “is shorter and has fewer characters, making it easy to fit on a drinks menu where space is limited,” compared to alternatives like “non-alcoholic cocktails.”

Daniel Watson, the bar manager of urban farmer in Philadelphia, likes “mocktail” and calls the term “clever and uncontroversial”. He also pointed out that “it is accessible, [as] Guests don’t always know what the terms “proof” and “ABV” mean.”

‘I fucking hate it.’

But most bartenders we consulted have a deep aversion to “mocktail.” One of them is Iluggy Recinos, the beverage director for the exir Portfolio of bars, including paradise, Casablanca and Tipsy Elf in Dallas. “I hate it,” Recinos said in an email. “I think it takes away the love and work of the service and the cunning of the bartenders.”

“‘Mocktail’ implies that the drink in my hand is not an actual drink.”

– Daniel Goslin

For many bartenders, the aversion to “mocktail” comes from the presence of “mock” in the term. “Taunt isn’t very comprehensive. It suggests something to tease or laugh about, or something that isn’t authentic or real,” said Daniel Goslin, general manager of Helen in Birmingham, Alabama. “The word comes with implications. “Mocktail” implies that the drink in my hand is not a real drink. And when I order a mocktail, I feel judged and made assumptions as to why I’m not drinking. A cliché has certainly been created around the word.”

“I think it became a buzzword very quickly.”

People know that “mocktail” means “a drink without alcohol,” but not much else. “I actually thought the word was smart at first, but I think it quickly became a buzzword that didn’t have much meaning behind it,” said Stacie Stewart, beverage director of Edward Lees upcoming restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, set to open in early 2023.

It’s something of a “mixologist” in that everyone has an opinion on what it means,” said H. Joseph Ehrmann, owner of elixir in San Francisco. Generic and trendy (and therefore likely to feel dated in a few years), “mocktail” is causing many bartenders to yearn for a clearer term to better communicate exactly what they’re trying to achieve with their non-alcoholic cocktail menus.

“The term ‘mocktail’ definitely doesn’t sound like it belongs to a drink that can cost over $15.”

-Aaron DeFeo

With “mocktail” so firmly entrenched in our vocabulary these days, it can increase concern among bartenders that the term feels childish. “The first time a tiara-wearing 10-year-old told my hostess that she was hoping for us to have a mocktail menu, I really smacked the word,” Stewart said.

“I’m delighted to see the term being replaced with more positive titles like Zero-Proof and No-ABV.”

So if bartenders aren’t fans of “mocktail,” what phrase would they like to use instead? Julia Reiner ― a pioneer of the mixology movement, owner and founder of Clover Club and Legendand partners of the iconic and newly revamped miladys in New York City — said she’s “very glad the term is being replaced with more positive titles like ‘zero-proof’ and ‘no-ABV’.”

After all, like Aaron DeFeo, the owner and operator of Little rituals As Phoenix put it, “The term ‘mocktail’ definitely doesn’t sound like it belongs to a drink that can cost over $15.”

The terms “zero-proof cocktails” and “no-ABV cocktails” may require bartenders to explain the meaning to unfamiliar guests, which may prevent them from being a good choice for high-volume venues. But in a craft cocktail bar or restaurant with a carefully curated cocktail menu, where bartenders are already accustomed to guiding guests through their choices, these conditions allow non-alcoholic guests to participate equally in the cocktail experience.

Imagine you go to a bar, order a drink and… [having] The bartender will ask you if you want that full or zero proof. If the [non-alcoholic] Drink looks like a real cocktail and tastes amazing, this will help attract a wider customer base because no one will feel left out,” said Chris Tunstall, veteran bartender and founder of A pole above Mixology brand. “Also, as a guest who opts for Zero Proof cocktails, you don’t have to answer very personal questions about why you don’t drink and you can avoid the weird peer pressure that surrounds alcohol.”

“Non-alcoholic cocktail is an adult term for someone who makes a healthy personal choice about their drink.”

“Our bartenders are professionals. They make flavors in a jar instead of on a plate,” Goslin said. “They are artists of the drink, of the libation, of the elixir. None of these ever really require alcohol to be considered a cocktail.”

Many of the experts we spoke to agree that a simple, unambiguous term is best for guests and bartenders alike. For this reason, the “non-alcoholic cocktail” is a widespread alternative to the “mocktail”.

I personally think the term is ‘non-alcoholic cocktails,'” said Kristina Roth, founder of the non-alcoholic cocktail brand mixo ash. “Like beer, but for cocktails. (“Let me have a mockbrew,” no one ever said.) “Non-alcoholic cocktail” is a grown-up term for someone making a healthy personal choice about their drink for a night out, every night, or anywhere in between.”

Michael Lindgren, the bar manager of Butcher & the Boar in Minneapolis, likes the directness of the “non-alcoholic cocktail”. “It sounds utilitarian, but ‘non-alcoholic cocktails’ are my number one choice, especially when writing a menu,” he said. “More creative terms like ‘zero-proof’ can be overlooked by guests, especially those with little experience with alcohol. With any menu, it’s important that the guest doesn’t feel uneducated or stupid, so the more obvious you can make it the better. Calling them ‘cocktails’ also implies a certain care on the part of the bar regarding the quality of the drink, as guests know that we take our cocktail program very seriously.”

Sarah Clark, the beverage director of The Dearborn in Chicago, this concept was taken a step further, preferring the term “Craft Non-Alcoholic Beverage”. “There’s so much thought, care and consideration that goes into the creation of these drinks,” Clark said. “The beverage category name should reflect that. The end product is no coincidence, it was created for the guest.”

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