Raising a Non-Alcoholic Glass for the Holidays

Zero-proof and full of flavor

With cardamom, salted honey syrup, and burnt bay leaf, the Bees & Bays from Barcelona Wine Bar is refreshing and complex
With cardamom, salted honey syrup, and burnt bay leaf, the Bees & Bays from Barcelona Wine Bar is refreshing and complex (Barcelona Wine Bar)

By Matthew Lardie

It’s that time of year for bubbly! And eggnog! Don’t forget whiskey by the fire, or perhaps a cocktail or three at the neighborhood holiday party.

The period between Thanksgiving and New Years is perhaps America’s booziest, and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving has been dubbed “Blackout Wednesday” or “Drinksgiving”. When you factor in the pandemic, during which 1 in 5 Americans have been consuming an unhealthy amount of alcohol, it’s no surprise that many of us are thinking about hitting pause on the Pinot or even giving up drinking altogether.

I began to notice last year how much my own drinking had increased amid the stress of the pandemic combined with being home almost all the time. What else was there to do? Last holiday season was a blur of vodka, bourbon, and wine, but since this holiday season appears to be getting somewhat back to normal, I’m looking for a reset.

Luckily for me, and maybe you as well, the uptick in drinking has been accompanied by a flourishing of new non-alcoholic (NA) options at bars and restaurants across the Carolinas. It used to be that NA drinkers were confined to water, soda, or perhaps a zero-alcohol light beer. As the popularity of NA options has grown, so too have the variety of offerings. No longer relegated to club soda with lime, those now looking for a booze-free sipper can choose from everything from craft mocktails to alcohol-free wines and spirits.

During a recent date night with my husband at Raleigh’s Barcelona Wine Bar I ordered a Bees & Bays, made with lime juice, cardamom, salted honey syrup, sparkling water, and burnt bay leaf. It was one of the most refreshing and complex drinks I’ve had in a long time, with the flavor profile changing as the ice melted and the drink came up to room temperature. Barcelona also offers no-alcohol wines, like the Le Naturel “Zero Zero” Garnacha from Spain’s Navarro region.

In Bluffton, South Carolina, brothers Billy and Sean Watterson, founders of Burnt Church Distillery, launched a new brand earlier this year called Amethyst. A zero-alcohol spirit, Amethyst comes in two flavors, Blueberry Ginger Mint and Lemon Cucumber Serrano, and each blends fruits and botanicals much in the same way a traditional gin would, only minus the booze. Both lend themselves perfectly to creating spirit-free cocktails that don’t compromise on taste.

Durham’s Da Kine’s Kava Bar takes a slightly different approach to providing the full bar experience with none of the booze. Zoey Best opened the bar with her husband Brent Waffle in 2020, serving kombucha, tea, coffee, and kava-based mocktails. Kava is an extract made from Piper methysticum, a plant native to western Pacific islands, and is said to relax the body and relieve stress and anxiety. Da Kine’s menu includes offerings like the Mo’a Pear Mule and the Kava Hot Toddy.

If you are looking to track down more NA options, check out the city guides from The Zero Proof, a website dedicated to all things non-alcoholic. The guide for Charleston, a city not known as a tee-totaler’s paradise, notes the following:

While Charleston embraces its classic, Southern heritage, The Zero Proof was excited to find such progressive non-alcoholic options on menus throughout the city… and a cohort of passionate entrepreneurs helping push the zero-proof movement forward. Whether you’re in the mood for mocktails, non-alcoholic beer or just a good booze-free drink, Charleston is on the forefront. In fact, over 50% of restaurants we called in Charleston said they either already had mocktails or non-alcoholic beer on the menu, or would make a mocktail if a guest requested one.

Just as the restaurant world has wrestled with the spectre of sexual assault and abusive workplace environments, so have many big-name figures worked to reframe the conversation about alcohol, both inside and outside of the industry. Raleigh’s Scott Crawford has been open about his sobriety and serves as a industry leader and mentor for others in recovery. Sean Brock, of Charleston’s Husk and McCrady’s fame (among many, many other accolades), famously stopped drinking and checked himself into rehab after years of embodying the hard-partying chef stereotype. Writer and podcast host Julia Bainbridge has become what Food & Wine called “the unofficial hype woman for non-alcoholic cocktails,” and her 2019 book Good Drinks is still a leader in the NA space.

I’m pretty clear-eyed that trends in the bar and restaurant industry come and go just as they do in any other industry, but it feels like this move towards menus and spaces that are more inclusive of those looking for NA options might be here to stay. It’s been a rough couple of years, and I know that I’m not alone in having turned to the bottle (more than once) in an effort to numb the stress and anxiety that comes with living through a global pandemic. As I begin to reframe my own personal relationship with booze I am heartened to know that I can go to some of my favorite restaurants and bars and still find something to drink—indeed something that has even been specially crafted to be delicious as opposed to an afterthought.

Wine, beer, and liquor aren’t going anywhere, and nor should they, but the rise of diverse and delicious non-alcoholic offerings is something we can all raise a glass to this holiday season.

If you or someone you know needs help you can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). There is also non-profit called Ben’s Friends specifically dedicated to working with food and beverage professionals who are struggling with addiction and substance abuse.

About the Author

Matthew Lardie

Matt Lardie is a food, beverage, and lifestyle writer. Born and raised in New England, he has been exploring and eating his way through the Carolinas since 2008. He has been published in Our State Magazine, Wine Enthusiast, Apartment Therapy, Eater Carolinas, The Kitchn, Durham Magazine, and more. His first book, Unique Eats and Eateries: North Carolina, is due to be published in the fall of 2022. He lives in Durham, NC.

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