Fourth of July Fizz: Mocktails Make a Splash

The spirit-free movement is linked to a cultural shift towards wellness and mindful consumption of beverages.

4 min read
Fourth of July Fizz: Mocktails Make a Splash
Photo Credit: Adobe

In today’s creative cocktail culture, two drinks are rapidly making a name for themselves.

The Espresso Martini, with its frothy velvety texture and caffeinated kick, and Ranch Water, a simplified Texas-style margarita, are capturing the hearts and palates of enthusiasts across the nation.

According to the latest insights from market research firm Datassential, these two libations are set to surge in popularity, with projections indicating growth of over 100% in the next four years.

Yet, as these modern cocktails capture the spotlight, national beverage experts are noticing another trend – a demand for low- to zero-alcohol beverages.

At this year’s 2024 National Restaurant Association food show in Chicago, experts highlighted how consumers, particularly Gen Z, are increasingly seeking sophisticated low-alcohol and zero-proof drinks that pair just as elegantly with their meals as their boozy counterparts.

“People are looking to opt into more sessionable cocktails,” Michael Parlapiano, managing director for San Francisco-based restaurant consulting firm The Culinary Edge, told The Prep.

During the upcoming holiday weekend, consider incorporating mocktails into your drink menu to capture a wider audience - including those who choose not to drink. 

Alcohol-free drinks rise in popularity

Held in mid-May, the restaurant conference highlighted the latest trends in cocktails, with a prominent focus on the rise of innovative, low-ABV and zero-proof drinks. Several experts during the show said the movement is a response to a cultural shift towards wellness and mindful consumption.

As diners seek out these refined cocktail alternatives, the culinary world is embracing the trend, according to Distill Ventures. The London-based venture capital firm, which invests in spirits startups, said 55% of the most influential bartenders in London, Los Angeles, and New York City believe the “no and low ABV trend will grow in the next 12 months.”

This trend is particularly on fire in Los Angeles, where over 40% of restaurants now offer a non-alcoholic specific drinks menu, Distill Ventures reports.

Mixologist Lynnette Marrero prepares a low-ABV drink, Matador Swizzle, during a beverage presentation at the NRA food show. The drink is made with honey, lemon, and Amontillado Sherry. Photo Credit: Nancy Luna for The Prep

More than 'elevated lemonades'

During a beverage demonstration at the food show, mixologist Lynnette Marrero said low-alcohol drinks “have come into fashion more.”

But Marrero, the award-winning mixologist behind Jennifer Lopez’s ready-to-drink, low-ABV Delola cocktails, was quick to point out that the era of simple, “elevated lemonades” is fading.

Today's consumers are seeking bold, low-ABV drinks that not only tantalize the palate but also complement their culinary experiences.

“They want to have the same experience as everyone else,” said Marrero, known for creating award-winning cocktail programs for high-end restaurants.

At the show, she prepared a Matador Swizzle made with Amontillado Sherry, honey, and lemon. The wine-based sherry makes the drink, garnished with seasonal fruits and mint, low in alcohol, Marrero said.

“It’s an overly lavish cocktail,” she said, adding that it pairs nicely with brunch foods and grilled meats.

Multiple beverage vendors at the NRA food show were hawking mocktails and low-ABV drinks. Credit: Nancy Luna for The Prep

Gen-Z wants alcohol-free options

The demand for other ready-to-drink low-ABV beverages was evident throughout the show with multiple vendors like Owl’s Brew showcasing skinny tequila margaritas, vodka seltzers, and “boozy” teas with ABVs ranging from 4.5% to 5%.

Tractor Beverage Co., whose organic fruit-based beverages can be found in fast-casual chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, was another vendor at the show that discussed the mocktail movement. In response, the company recently launched the “Purpose-Infused Mixology” program, an initiative that helps restaurants build innovative beverage programs, including spirit-free recipes, using Tractor products.

Kelleigh Gamble, senior marketing director at Tractor Beverage, gave a beverage presentation focused on winning Gen Z with bold-flavored drinks. She said the young cohort is looking for flavorful, spirit-free beverages because they are more “conscious” as to what they put in their bodies.

“They have a cocktail, and the second one is non-alcohol,” she said.

Joshua James, another beverage expert presenting at the show, bet on the spirit-free movement more than three years ago when he opened the non-alcoholic bar, Ocean Beach Cafe, in San Francisco.

“Society-wide, people are cutting back on drinking,” the career bartender said during a discussion on the growing shift towards spirit-free beverages in today’s drinking culture.

Like Marrero, James emphasized that people don’t want poor-quality alternatives that taste bad. They crave creativity and boldness in their zero-proof drinks.

Both Marrero and James said they rely on adaptogens, functional ingredients, teas, and aromatic gins to create their low-ABV and spirit-free cocktails.

James said people are gravitating towards non-alcoholic drinks to bring more “wellness” into their lives.

At Ocean Beach Cafe, James said he uses spirit-free products such as bonbuz, dealcoholized wine by Zeronimo, Aplós Calme, and Aplós Arise. During his presentation, James made an Aplos Champagne Sour made with 2 ounces of Aplós Calme, a hemp-infused non-alcoholic spirit.

James noted that most of his patrons are alcohol drinkers. But similar to the flexitarian movement, where meat-eaters look for ways to reduce their intake of animal proteins, more people are looking to cut their alcohol consumption.

“They are coming to see if they can drink less – if they can find something they like,” James said of guests who visit Ocean Beach Cafe for the first time.

When James manages to dazzle them, the excitement is palpable.

“Everyone is so happy,” he said. “There are so many people who don't know they desire an adult non-alcoholic drink until they know it's a possibility.”

Nancy Luna is a freelance writer based in Southern California. She can be reached at

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