In Asheville, quality crafted beverages are arguably every bit as important as killer food options — and nonalcoholic drinks are no exception. Many local bartenders put as much energy and creativity into their mocktails as they do their cocktails, recognizing that some customers, for health and other reasons, choose to avoid the booze. So whether you always eschew spirits or just want to on occasion, there are plenty of spots in town that can make your palate happy sans liquor.
During Asheville Cocktail Week in early May, event founder Kris Kraft also simultaneously opened a new watering hole on North Charlotte Street, The Waterbird. “We intentionally chose to be just outside of downtown and more neighborhoodcentric,” says Kraft. “Selfishly, I created the space that I wanted to work in, drink in and hang out in. I figured if I needed a place where I could work and have a cocktail at 3 p.m., then there were others.”
Yet she wanted to make sure teetotalers would feel welcome, too, so in addition to craft cocktails, wine and beer, The Waterbird’s menu also features a wide variety of alcohol-free selections, from coffee and tea to juice elixirs and mixed drinks. A production manager Kraft has dubbed her “flavor guru” is conceptualizing and executing a host of mocktail syrups and fresh juice combinations for the menu, like a pear juice and ginger elixir that she recommends pairing with the fancy deviled eggs from her snack menu.
Sovereign Remedies has always taken its cocktail-making seriously, and as reigning Best of WNC Cocktails winner three years running, the downtown bar could get away with not worrying about alcohol-free offerings. But the business stays true to its name, which honors “an old tradition in this area where families would come up with their own herbal medicines or ‘remedies,’ and since each one was proprietary, it was known as a ‘sovereign remedy,’” explains manager Brian DuBois.
One of the brunch menu’s regular mocktails, the Haymaker Punch, is a salutary mixture of cherry bark, honey, ginger, hibiscus, rose hips, raw apple cider vinegar and a variety of herbs that is steeped for 24 hours before being diluted for serving. The menu also features a seasonal tonic, with the current option combining foraged green herbs and gentian.
“Our process for developing and deciding on mocktails is newer to us but has been quite an exciting development,” says DuBois. “The focus for the creative process is seasonal local ingredients, the ability for the drink to be made nonalcoholic, a variety of flavor profiles and embracing the ideals of Sovereign Remedies.”
A mocktail special makes its way daily onto the drinks board at The Odditorium, one of West Asheville’s quirkiest dive bars. But co-owner Amy Marshall says that for additional inventive, alcohol-free options, customers need only ask. “Our staff is great at finding out what will suit a person’s taste and creating a concoction they will love on the spot.”
“Allowing our staff to be creative is what we think works best for us and our patrons — especially since we are all ages,” adds fellow co-owner Tamy Kuper. One winning potion is the Virgin Radioactive Unicorn Tears, a mixture of orange juice and coconut cream with whipped cream and cherry topping. Another drink, which is clearly suited for the bold of palate, is the Bloody Ming Dy-nasty, a combination of wasabi, sriracha, ponzu, tomato juice and fish sauce with a sushi garnish. But less-adventursome drinkers need not despair — The Odditorium also carries tamer nonalcoholic options, such as Appalachian Mountain Culture kombucha, ginger beer, sodas and juices.
Like The Odditorium, Isis Music Hall doesn’t have mocktails on its menu per se, but the bar has plenty of quality ingredients on hand for creating custom mocktails. In addition to making syrups in-house, the bartenders also squeeze fresh juices daily and prepare a variety of shrubs and nonalcoholic concentrates. “Depending on the time of year, those shrubs, concentrates and syrups will change,” explains co-owner Harris Woody. “And then we create a tasty beverage from a marriage of the patron’s desire and the ingredients at our fingertips.” The staff regularly produces several signature mocktails, too.
The veteran mocktail maker in town might just be Laughing Seed Café, which has been perfecting its nonalcoholic drinks game for nearly a decade. “We have a healthier clientele than many establishments, being vegetarian, so I was finding that a lot of folks were ignoring the drinks and sticking to water,” says bar manager Benjamin Combs. “I believe most people want a fun beverage when they go out, but it’s just often the same boring stuff at most places.”
He has even enlisted a local company to make glycerite herbal tinctures so patrons can add energy, calming, immune-boosting or other health-supporting properties to their drinks. The Laughing Seed currently has 10 mocktails on the menu, from fruity lemonades to faux mojitos and creamsicles. “I think any restaurant bar program would benefit from a mocktail program,” says Combs. “It’s a great way to increase bar sales, and executed well, it can really take a dining experience over the top.”
The Waterbird is at 197 Charlotte St. Visit thewaterbirdasheville.com for details. Sovereign Remedies is at 29 N Market St. For more information, visit sovereignremedies.com. The Odditorium is at 1045 Haywood Road. Find more information at ashevilleodditorium.com. Isis Music Hall is at 743 Haywood Road. Visit isisasheville.com for details. The Laughing Seed Café is at 40 Wall St. Menus and details are at laughingseed.com.