Mocktails, the New Adult Beverages

October 1, 2019

No-alcohol cocktails are making a big splash. Served like a traditional cocktail, they fit the less-alcohol ethos of Millennials. Discover how sophisticated they can be. 

Mocktails, non-alc, spirit-frees, virgin versions: Whatever you choose to call them, nonalcoholic specialty beverages are growing in popularity and sophistication. A well-made premium un-cocktail can be extremely appealing to tipplers and non-tipplers alike (situational or otherwise), as well as profitable for the house.

Millennials and Gen Z are widely seen to be cutting back on alcohol consumption. In fact, the number of alcohol drinkers in the world has decreased by nearly 5% since 2000, according to the World Health Organization, and the Beverage Information Group reports that beer sales have slumped for five years in a row. Moreover, Beverage Daily reports that fully 84% of people who consume alcohol are looking to drink less of it.

But as hashtags like #SoberCurious, #SoberIsSexy, and #SoberLife trend larger, it’s clear that this cohort hasn’t given up on the enjoyment of beverages and the conviviality of social settings. There are even bars in pacesetting places like Los Angeles, CA, and Brooklyn, NY, that serve premium mocktails with the same amenities (and price points) of their imbibing namesakes.

Make sure you’re not just condemning non-drinking customers to seltzer water and fountain sodas in the following ways:

  • Match nonalcoholic options to the menu and service concept
  • Emphasize the hand-crafted and specialty nature of your alcohol-free options, with naming, menu descriptions, and other cues
  • Consider the same flavor-balancing principles of sweetness, acidity, and bitterness that characterize the most successful alcoholic cocktails. Spicy elements like ginger or chile can also have a place
  • Bring in seasonality with fruit juices, fresh herbs, warm spices like cinnamon, and other harbingers
  • Make sure presentation—including glassware and garnishes—match the flair of cocktails (which can also help support premium pricing)
  • Get serving staff on board with the message that mocktails are every bit as sophisticated and grownup as their alcoholic cousins; incenting bartenders and servers to come up with ideas and recipes can really help boost creativity

The whole idea is to make nonalcoholic beverages more exciting, more distinctive, and more craveable.

Specifics to Think About

  • Look to lemonade—classic or flavored/infused—as a refreshing premium “mixer” for mocktails
  • Investigate the new category of nonalcoholic distilled spirits that are showing up in the marketplace
  • Housemade sparklers can be made with carbonated water topping off juices, infusions, iced tea, and other bases
  • Take a look at shrubs, a concentrated syrup that combines fruit, sugar, and vinegar to drink as is or mix into other beverages
  • Cold brew coffee makes an excellent starting point for a sophisticated specialty un-cocktail
  • Borrow from the kitchen for ingredients like spices, fruits and vegetables, vinegars, jams, syrups and honey, dairy products, and other flavor boosters
  • Nonalcoholic punches can be merchandised to groups of two or more guests, punch bowl and all
  • Experiment with nut milks both for flavor and to appeal to those who are avoiding dairy
  • Slushies and smoothies in intriguing flavors like guava or mixed berry can be offered as cocktail alternatives
  • Use signature bitters in flavors like celery and chocolate to add depth and interest to nonalcoholic cocktails

Sources: World Health Organization, Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health (2018); Beverage Information Group, 2018 Beer Handbook; Beverage Daily, “Drinking less but drinking better” (2018)

The information provided is based on a general industry overview, and is not specific to your business operation. Each business is unique and decisions related to your business should be made after consultation with appropriate experts.


  • Global favorites like Thai iced tea, kombucha, bubble tea, and kefir are beginning to appear as nonalcoholic offerings
  • “Mocktails” appears on 8.5% of menus, although actual items may be identified in other ways (such as “sparkler” or “chiller”)

Sources: Datassential Non Alcoholic Bev Varieties (2019); Datassential, Scores, Mocktails (2017)

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