The nonalcoholic Spice of Life cocktail at Duck Duck Goose is a spicy margarita riff. Photo by Deb Lindsey

Inside the bar studio at Marriott International’s headquarters in Bethesda, Sarah Jane Curran, beverage manager for global operations, is making an elaborate drink. She blowtorches hickory wood until smoke appears and quickly inverts a rocks glass over it. Then, in a mixing glass filled with ice, she pours Seedlip Garden 108, a distilled nonalcoholic spirit made with hops, peas, spearmint, hay, rosemary and thyme; Concord grape juice; fresh lemon juice; and tigernut syrup. After a quick stir with a barspoon, she strains the mixture over a large, clear, craft ice cube in the smoky rocks glass and places a frondlike sprig of kinome, a Japanese herb from the Sichuan peppercorn tree, on top. The result: The Concord, one of three zero-proof cocktails that will be available at the Marriott Bethesda Downtown’s Hip Flask rooftop bar and Seventh State restaurant and lounge when the hotel opens this spring.

“The smoking of the glass and the use of craft ice are opportunities we take to create an experience in the making of the cocktail even if it doesn’t have any alcohol in it,” Curran explains during our sneak peek of the libations in December.

The Marriott Bethesda Downtown is the company’s first property to have nonalcoholic cocktails—also known as mocktails, zero-proof cocktails, spirit-free drinks or alcohol-free drinks—on its menus from day one, an indication that the movement is gaining traction and the hospitality industry is taking it seriously.

Leaning into the nonalcoholic cocktail trend is a recent development at Marriott, says Dana Pellicano, the company’s global vice president of food and beverage. In 2021, it added no- and low-ABV (alcohol by volume) products to the list of approved items it gives hotel operators annually. “Could you get a nonalcoholic drink at our properties in 2019?” Pellicano says. “Yes, but the difference is that now it comes from the bar, handcrafted and served in a beautiful glass with lovely ice, instead of from the pantry with a server putting juice and club soda together. There is industrywide data that consumers want this.”

That’s true. During a panel discussion last October at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States’ annual conference, Kim Cox, the senior vice president of account development for NielsenIQ, a company that analyzes retail and consumer data, said that off-premise sales of nonalcoholic beverages increased by 33.2% in the U.S. in the previous 12 months. In a February 2021 report, IWSR, a U.K.-based data analysis company, predicted that low- and no-alcohol sales would grow by 31% across 10 markets—including the U.S.—by 2024. Even though the no/low alcohol market is small (3.5% total alcohol market share), Cox said, it’s still a movement to watch because it intersects with health and wellness trends.

After alcohol consumption spiked at the beginning of the pandemic, some people participated in short-term breaks from drinking, such as Dry January, Dry July and Sober October. Consumers who are “sober curious” are rethinking their relationships with alcohol and its impact on their general well-being, but may not want to stop drinking alcohol altogether.

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Mixologist Derek Brown, who owned the Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. (it closed in February), is the author of Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No- and Low-Alcohol Cocktails, which came out in January and contains 60 recipes. The 47-year-old had built his brand on being an alcohol connoisseur and a well-known partaker but decided his own consumption had gotten out of control. “I realized I have bipolar depression and that correlates very highly with drinking. People tend to have a double diagnosis, suffering from alcohol use disorder, too,” he says. After addressing his mental health issues with therapy and other wellness practices, he was able to come back to alcohol but didn’t need it anymore. “The things I was afraid I might lose—the camaraderie, the ritual, the great drinks—were not dependent on alcohol,” he says. He realized that people who are not drinking or are drinking less were not being serviced by the bar and restaurant industry, including his own establishment. “These people weren’t able to order cocktails. They had to have a Coke or lemonade.

Everyone should have access to adult, sophisticated beverages,” he says.

Two years ago, North Bethesda resident Laura Silverman launched Booze Free in DC, a website that serves as a wellness travel guide for people seeking sober-friendly establishments and experiences. Sober since 2007, the 38-year-old calls herself the “booze-free babe.” “For an adult, there wasn’t really anything mainstream to drink at trivia night or a wedding—other than some form of a Shirley Temple—until the last few years,” she says. “The availability of nonalcoholic products exploded over the pandemic because of the mental state we find ourselves in and because people are more health conscious. We want to drink socially when we are out or just hanging out at home without sacrificing flavor and ritual.”

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The plethora of nonalcoholic spirits now available in stores and to bars and restaurants represents a sea change in recent years. In 2015, British-based Seedlip was the first producer to hit the market, launching Spice 94, the first of its three distilled nonalcoholic spirits, followed by Garden 108 in 2016 and Grove 42 in 2018. To make each one, Seedlip imbues a neutral grain spirit with macerations of various ingredients; for example, it uses bitter orange, blood orange, Mandarin orange, lemongrass, lemon and ginger for Grove 42. In the distillation process, the alcohol cooks off. Each product has a different flavor profile in the way that one gin may taste like juniper and another like licorice.

It didn’t take long for other producers to follow Seedlip’s lead. At the end of 2019, cocktail and spirit writer Camper English posted a list of producers of nonalcoholic spirits on his blog, Alcademics: The Study of Booze by Camper English—there were 137 producers on it. (Now there are 139.) One of those, Australian-based Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Spirits, hit the market in 2019. The company’s 16 offerings mimic actual alcoholic spirits, such as gin (Dry London Spirit), vermouth (Apéritif Dry and Apéritif Rosso) and bourbon (American Malt). Seedlip retails for $32 for a 700 mL bottle and Lyre’s $35.99 for 700 mL on their websites.

Silverman says the zero-proof cocktail trend has made strides but still has a long way to go. She predicts we eventually will see nonalcoholic drinks interspersed with alcoholic offerings on cocktail menus and identified with a symbol next to them, rather than listed in a separate category. “What we are seeing now is fine dining and innovative restaurants offering nonalcoholic options. We’ll know we have arrived when we can order Athletic Brewing [a maker of nonalcoholic craft beer] in dive bars,” she says. Silverman acknowledges that zero-proof cocktails have been slow to catch on in Montgomery County, but we have found some that please our palates.

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Photo by Deb Lindsey

Conquistador soda, $7

Julii 

Over the past several years, the owners and management team at CAVA Group Inc. (which also owns North Bethesda neighbor restaurants Julii and Melina) noticed that their customers didn’t necessarily want just lemonade, iced tea or a soft drink when they weren’t drinking alcohol—so they set out to meet the demand. “They still want a wow factor, something with structure that complements the food as well as the experience,” says Melina general manager Susan Lerche. “And Instagram-worthy pictures.” For the three zero-proof cocktails at Julii, which come under the heading “Designated Driver,” the team formulated libations that stood on their own and could also have alcohol added to them to do double duty on the menu. (Some places do things the other way around, simply removing alcohol from cocktails they’ve already created.) Of the three beverages Melina offers under the heading “nonalcoholic,” one, blackberry lemonade, overlaps with Julii. Another, a nonalcoholic gin and tonic, is made with Monday brand’s Zero Alcohol Gin.

For the Conquistador Soda at Julii, the bartenders muddle and juice fresh ginger, then combine it with passion fruit puree, fresh lime juice and agave syrup. (They make the base often and in small batches to maintain its freshness.) Instead of club soda, they add San Benedetto sparkling water to finish the Tom Collins-like libation. “It has clean bubbles, isn’t too carbonated and doesn’t come from a [soda] gun,” Lerche says. “It’s much brighter than club soda.” The cocktail comes in a highball glass, the interior of which is lined with a vertically sliced strip of cucumber. A colorful and edible flower rests on top.

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Julii, 11915 Grand Park Ave. (Pike & Rose), North Bethesda, 301-517-9090, julii.com


Photo by Deb Lindsey

Spice of life, $9

Duck Duck Goose

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Ashish Alfred, the chef and owner of Duck Duck Goose, which opened in Bethesda in 2016, has been sober since 2014. He decided to research and develop zero-proof cocktails after a 2017 trip to Las Vegas, where a night of drinking Red Bulls led to insomnia and hangoverlike discomfort the following day. That night, he asked for nonalcoholic beer. The server had to travel across the hotel to get one, which made Alfred feel conspicuous. He realized there was a need for thoughtful nonalcoholic options. “Seedlip was the only company I knew making nonalcoholic spirits, so I sent their three offerings—Spice 94, citrus-forward Grove 42 and Garden 108—to my managers and asked them to develop cocktails with them,” Alfred says. The zero-proof cocktail menus at his three Duck Duck Goose locations (also Baltimore and D.C.) feature four or five complex, handcrafted offerings. Among them: the Golden Palmier (made with Ginsin nonalcoholic gin, thyme, lime juice, cranberry juice and candied ginger) and A Good Thyme (Seedlip Garden 108, lemon thyme syrup, grapefruit juice and elderflower tonic water).

For a spicy margarita riff, try the Spice of Life cocktail. Fresno chiles, used for their vibrant red color and sweet zest, are muddled with agave syrup, lime juice and blood orange puree. Then Seedlip Spice 94 (ingredients include allspice, cardamom, grapefruit, oak and lemon) is added, and the cocktail is shaken and served in a highball glass rimmed with salt, sugar and Espelette chile powder. (Espelette is a fruity Basque chile with mild heat.) The garnishes are a lime wheel and a ring of Fresno chile. “Espelette is a through line between the cocktails and the food. We use it in our beef tartare and our soft-scrambled eggs at brunch,” Alfred says.

Duck Duck Goose, 7929 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda, 301-312-8837, ddgbethesda.com

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Photo by Deb Lindsey

Espresso notini, $11.99

Clyde’s Tower Oaks Lodge and Clyde’s of Chevy Chase

When Clyde’s Restaurant Group introduced zero-proof options to its cocktail menus in March 2019, some bartenders questioned why people would sit at a bar and not drink. Bart Farrell, the company’s vice president of food and beverage, responded by quoting Clyde’s founder Stuart Davidson, who said, “It’s more fun to eat at a bar than to drink at a restaurant.”

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Farrell oversees cocktail recipe development with one bartender from each of the company’s 12 D.C.-area restaurants. They started out featuring Seedlip’s nonalcoholic spirits in two cocktails. When one of them, a basil lemonade with Seedlip Garden 108, quickly became the sixth highest seller among 14 cocktails (12 of them contained alcohol), the bartenders turned into believers.

Clyde’s switched to Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Spirits by the summer of 2020. Seedlip’s products were flavor-blends; Lyre’s sought to replicate actual spirits. “Lyre’s tastes like rum and bourbon. That changed the game of what you could produce,” Farrell says.

Clyde’s menus have three “what to drink when you’re not drinking” offerings, including a version of the ever-popular espresso martini. It’s made with Lyre’s Coffee Originale (a coffee liqueur substitute), Lyre’s White Cane Syrup (a rum riff), cold brew coffee and simple syrup. The mixture is shaken with ice and strained into a martini coupe. The aeration from shaking creates a layer of foam on top, just like the crema on espresso. The drink is lush with notes of cocoa, nutmeg, vanilla and cardamom, and tastes every bit like its alcohol-based doppelgänger.

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Clyde’s Tower Oaks Lodge, 2 Preserve Parkway, Rockville, 301-294-0200; Clyde’s of Chevy Chase, 5441 Wisconsin Ave., 301-951-9600; clydes.com


Photo by Deb Lindsey

Pineapple kick, $8

Summer House Santa Monica 

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Summer House Santa Monica has been ahead of the zero-proof cocktail trend. When its flagship location opened in Chicago in 2013 and its Pike & Rose outpost debuted in 2015, the restaurants’ beverage menus included a section of nonalcoholic drinks. “Our zero-proof cocktails do appeal to adults who may just want to take a month off from drinking, say for Dry January, Dry July or Sober October. I don’t think we expected it to be as popular a trend as it has become,” says Edgar Lincoln, the Summer House brand’s beverage manager. “Over my five years with the company, I would say there is a 15% increase in zero-proof sales. People look for that section in the way they seek out modifiers for gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian items.”

The current menu at Summer House in North Bethesda offers two zero-proof cocktails, which are mixtures of fresh juices served over ice and topped off with club soda. For the Pineapple Kick, the mixologist muddles slices of fresh jalapeno in a cocktail shaker, adds fresh juices (pineapple, lime and orange), agave syrup and ice, then shakes and pours the ingredients into a rocks glass. It’s a refreshing drink with a nice balance of sweetness and tartness similar to a margarita, plus a jolt of back heat, and prepared with the same panache as an alcoholic cocktail.

Summer House Santa Monica, 11825 Grand Park Ave. (Pike & Rose), North Bethesda, 301-881-2381, summerhousesm.com

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Unleaded spritz, $12

Hip Flask and Seventh State at the Marriott

Aperitivos (premeal libations) are a popular drinking trend, says Dana Pellicano, Marriott International’s global vice president of food and beverage, and none is more well known than the Aperol Spritz, a popular European cocktail made with Aperol, prosecco, a splash of soda and an orange slice. Unleaded Spritz, the nonalcoholic interpretation offered at the Marriott Bethesda Downtown hotel’s two dining outlets, Hip Flask rooftop bar and Seventh State restaurant and lounge (both are expected to open this spring), is made with Lyre’s Italian Spritz, Lyre’s Classico (that company’s riffs on Aperol and prosecco) and mango syrup. Garnishes are a dehydrated orange wheel and a bouquet of fresh mint. Italian Spritz has the same familiar ruby red color, bitterness, citrus tartness and sweetness as Aperol, with notes of pomegranate, orange, rhubarb and gentian, a bitter root. Lyre’s Classico has the freshness and fruit-forward qualities of prosecco, with hints of melon, peach and crisp apple. The mango syrup’s sweetness balances the spritz’s bitterness. The cocktail, presented in a Bordeaux wine glass, is a refreshing, celebratory palate cleanser. “The Aperol Spritz has been having a moment in the U.S. for five years,” says Pellicano, so this nonalcoholic version is a way to ride two trends. Like its alcohol-infused counterpart, the Unleaded Spritz “is the drink you order before you know what you want to drink and a great way to kick off a dinner.”

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Hip Flask and Seventh State at the Marriott Bethesda Downtown at Marriott HQ, 7707 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-820-6188, marriott.com


Photo by Deb Lindsey

Recipe

Make your own

We asked Marriott to share a zero-proof cocktail recipe. With three ingredients (plus garnishes), this nonalcoholic version of an aperitivo can be whipped up easily at home.

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Unleaded spritz

From Hip Flask and Seventh State at the Marriott Bethesda Downtown

  • 2 ounces Lyre’s Italian Spritz
  • 3 ounces nonalcoholic sparkling wine, preferably Lyre’s Classico
  • 1/2 ounce Real brand mango puree syrup (or half mango puree and half water)

Combine all ingredients in a Bordeaux wine glass over ice and stir with a barspoon. Garnish with mint sprigs and a dehydrated orange wheel.

David Hagedorn is the restaurant critic for Bethesda Magazine.