I Threw a Mocktail Party — And Didn’t Miss the Alcohol at All

published Jul 17, 2023
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polar seltzer, mocktails, mixers, wood picnic table, wood slated fence, sunset
Credit: Sofia Rivera

During the hot, humid days of summer, you will rarely find me without a little drink in hand. Oftentimes it’s water in a giant glass with lemon squeezed into it, or an iced coffee made creamy with oat milk — but when the sun sets I usually have the hankering for something sparkly with a garnish. And if I’m hosting friends at home, that’s typically where a cocktail or glass of wine comes in. 

While I adore a good negroni, a cocktail doesn’t always suit the occasion. Sometimes I don’t want to feel the effects of a few too many aperitifs that night (or the next morning), plus I have friends who don’t drink. It’s a preference that’s becoming more and more common, especially among millennials and Gen Zers, and overall alcohol consumption among adults in the U.S. is down 5 percent in the last few years. In its place have stepped 0% ABV alternatives.

“Non-alcoholic beverage sales increased 33 percent to $331 million over the last year, and a 315 percent increase in online non-alcoholic beverage sales, according to data from Nielsen,” reports ABC. What I’m really craving when having drinks with friends is something fun to sip on and the excuse to linger over conversation for hours. The zero-proof solution? A mocktail party. 

Let me preface this by saying that the mocktail “party” I threw was actually two friends I texted the night before, but I firmly believe no gathering is too small to feel special. Still, we kept it simple, ordering some sushi takeout and bringing the mocktail ingredients out to my deck. The Zero Proof, a retailer for alcohol-free spirits, had graciously sent me ingredients for a dark and stormy mocktail and a phony Negroni, as well as a bottle of Château del ISH, a sparkling non-alcoholic white wine. 

Credit: Sofia Rivera

We started with the dark and stormy, filling glasses with ice and adding RumISH (the booze-free rum alternative that reminded me of butterscotch), Fiery Ginger Syrup (thick and delightfully spicy), Cheeky Lime Juice, and topped it all off with some club soda and a dehydrated lime slice — stunning! Mixing it up and giving our tasting notes — I loved that it was reminiscent of kombucha, while one of my friends described it as “medicinal” — was a fun way to play drink critic.

Although we’re already friends with no shortage of things to talk about, if I were at a mocktail party with new friends or strangers, I’d appreciate the built-in conversation starter. It’s no secret that alcohol can soothe some initial social anxiety, so having a sparkly drink that doubles as an ice-breaker would make embracing a sober night out so simple.

Credit: Sofia Rivera

As it got dark enough for the twinkle lights strung around my deck to shed some necessary light, we brought out a new set of glasses for the phony Negronis. For this mocktail, we mixed GinISH, an alcohol-free gin substitute, with Wilfred’s Aperitif, which looks the part of Campari with its bright orange-red color, and added Gnista Floral Wormwood in place of vermouth. The resulting drink, we agreed, didn’t taste very much like the negronis we’ve had, but it was a botanical, sippable summer drink.

Usually, after a second drink, I’d be weighing my wanting to keep spending time with friends against how expensive the cocktails are, how tipsy I want to be, how productive I need to be the next day, and how safe friends will feel driving home, among other factors. Thanks to our drinks’ 0% alcohol, though, none of that passed through my head. We got to focus on catching up, watching the sun set, and sipping our mocktails without a care. 

We topped off the night with some 0% ABV sparkling white wine, which not only felt celebratory but also tasted wonderful — dry, refreshing, and bubbly. Inspired by a table full of mixers, we used some of the wine in mocktails like Château del ISH Sparkling White Wine and Wilfred’s Aperitif (delicious). Although you don’t need any fancy ingredients to make a delicious mocktail — club soda, citrus, and a juice or shrub are plenty — using these carefully formulated ingredients made the drinks feel extra special.

Credit: Sofia Rivera

“DIYing our own mocktail recipes resulted in the best drinks and was a fun activity,” one friend said, adding, “Also the bottles were all beautiful and made me feel fancy.” You could easily customize your own mocktail mixers, too, reusing pretty old bottles or painting some plain glass bottles and filling them with homemade shrub or syrups to make your own delectable zero-proof bar options.

It’s true — although you don’t need an activity to have fun with friends, it can elevate the experience. “I enjoyed all the mindlessness of sipping a bevvy with none of the consequences,” my other friend said. Accompanied by a summer night that had shed the cloying humidity of the day and glasses of pretty drinks, we sipped, talked, and before we knew it, nearly six hours had passed. It was a Tuesday, and sometime around midnight we brought the mocktail bottles inside, joking that you don’t need alcohol, apparently, to lose track of time. Best of all, when my friends left, I didn’t feel sleepy or weary of a headache to come at all. I felt great — hydrated, even. These lovely, zero-proof bottles have earned a spot of honor on my bar cart and, honestly, I can’t wait to have another mocktail party.