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More Than Imitation

Mocktails that shine on their own

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Much inspires us to drink. We lift a glass in celebration or raise one in sympathy. We drink to ease social interactions, to find some liquid courage. We debrief at happy hour, bond at the bar and get giddy at brunch. To meet for a drink is how we do. For those of us whose minds go and go and go and go, a drink serves as a fast, effective way to shut off the worries, frustrations and endless counting of to-dos. No wonder people have been imbibing, according to NatGeo, for at least 9,000 years.

But — to chuck the obvious out there — booze comes with some downsides. Consistent drinking can do all kinds of damage to the body and mind. Traveling from Point A to Point B in Humboldt typically requires a car, so if Point A is where you've been drinking and Point B is home, a lot of risk lies in between.

So what's a fun-loving person to do? Is it possible to foster the intimacy of being in a bar in a healthier way? To stay sober without feeling deprived or dull? Can we find excitement in a cocktail glass if alcohol isn't among its ingredients? In short, yes. The "sober-curious" trend has been around for a couple years, typically driven by people who don't identify as alcoholics — props to those fighting the hard fight of recovery — and in July I noticed a couple Facebook posts by local bar owners promoting their new "mocktail" menus.

For those of you rocking Sober September, planning for Sober October or simply interested in healthier choices occasionally or always, this is great news. Sure, most bartenders will happily make you a non-alcoholic drink if you ask but having an actual menu with zero-proof drinks and descriptions eases and helps normalize ordering them. Unfortunately, finding local places with standing mocktail menus isn't easy. I used Google, Facebook and Yelp to few results. The good news is, the places that are doing it are doing it right.

Gold stars

The Jumanji at Richards' Goat, for karaoke pros. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER SAVAGE
  • Photo by Jennifer Savage
  • The Jumanji at Richards' Goat, for karaoke pros.

The Jumanji ($4.50) at Richards' Goat Tavern and Tea Room (401 I St., Arcata).

For the uninitiated, Richards' Goat includes the Miniplex, where the owners show various artsy flicks and host other forms of entertainment. We love the Goat. Especially with the addition of the mocktail menu. Several of the drinks use shrub (a wonderfully tart, syrupy combination of fruit, sugar and vinegar) as a base, including the sparkling persimmon-ginger Jumanji, my personal favorite. I asked co-owner Aimee Hennessey if people ordered from the mocktail menu much and, at the risk of sounding like a clickbait headline, the answer truly surprised me! The alcohol-free drinks are an especially big hit for karaoke night, she said. People who are serious about singing don't want to get sloppy. Go figure.

The Logger Bar's Sober Logger and Turmeric Tonic. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER SAVAGE
  • Photo by Jennifer Savage
  • The Logger Bar's Sober Logger and Turmeric Tonic.

The Sober Logger and Turmeric Tonic ($7, $8.50) at The Logger Bar (510 Railroad Ave., Blue Lake).

In the seven years since Kate Martin became the proprietress of the Logger Bar, she's kept it a neighborhood hangout and transformed it into a local treasure. With such a focus on community, adding standardized options for the non-drinkers in the crowd came naturally. "People are really stoked," Kate confirmed. "We've always told people we can make our regular drinks without alcohol but it's much better having them written down." She also noted that for the non-locals, Blue Lake is a drive and therefore another reason to promote the "sober curious" menu. I opted for the Sober Logger, a mash of watermelon and strawberries with lemon and soda that tasted like summer in a pint glass. My husband Bobby chose the Turmeric Tonic, a combination of turmeric (obv), lemon and ginger, which arrived served up in a glass rimmed with cayenne pepper — not for the meek. But it's delicious and a serious pick-me-up. How great is it to leave a cozy date refreshed instead of woozy? (Pretty great.)

The intriguing Free-da Kahlo at Phatsy Kline's. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER SAVAGE
  • Photo by Jennifer Savage
  • The intriguing Free-da Kahlo at Phatsy Kline's.

The Free-da Kahlo ($6) Phatsy Kline's Parlour Lounge (129 Second St., Eureka).

Phatsy's needs to advertise the existence of a mocktail menu better, especially one this delicious. The best mocktails are ones that you'd order a second round of and I could've downed Free-da Kahlos all night. The lapsang souchong tea provides a base that gives the drink a whiskey-like depth, while the lime, agave and bitters add a sour, spicy touch that eradicates any misplaced sense of missing out. Served up, the Free-da glows with sophistication.

Striving to be inclusive

The tropical Smooth Criminal at the Griffin. - PHOTO BY TK
  • Photo by TK
  • The tropical Smooth Criminal at the Griffin.

The Madeline ($5) at Five Eleven (511 Second St., Eureka).

They had me at Luxardo cherry syrup. Although I prefer my drinks on the tart side, I'm a sucker for Italy's Luxardo cherries. Do not confuse these fruits of the gods with the American maraschino, a practically plastic imitation. Mix the syrup with rose lemonade and fresh lemon, and you have the Madeline, a summery delight. Hopefully the bartenders at Five Eleven build on this success and add more "zero-proof" options to their cocktail menu. Perhaps a Luxardo-based drink for every season?

Life is a bowl of Luxardo cherries. The "zero-proof" Madeline at Five Eleven. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER SAVAGE
  • Photo by Jennifer Savage
  • Life is a bowl of Luxardo cherries. The "zero-proof" Madeline at Five Eleven.

The Smooth Criminal ($11) at The Griffin (937 10th St., Arcata).

A blend of pineapple, orange, coconut, nutmeg and a blend of "mojo essential oil," the Smooth Criminal reminded me of a creamsicle. While tasty, the drink's rich sweetness doesn't make it a candidate for repeated consumption, but I could imagine serving it as a sort of dessert after dinner out — one of those moments when the evening's winding down but you're enjoying the company of your friends and want to savor the closeness a little longer.

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