In response to recent trends, local establishments are serving up plenty of alcohol-free drinks, perfect for summer sipping with friends.
By Sharael Kolberg and Laguna Beach Magazine Staff
When heading out to meet friends for happy hour at a favorite Laguna Beach bar or restaurant this summer, some may feel uneasy if they’ve chosen not to indulge in alcoholic beverages—either permanently or temporarily—as it may seem difficult to join in the festivities while everyone else is drinking.
There are many reasons people don’t drink beer, wine or spirits. For some, it’s addiction, pregnancy, a health issue or a desire to cut calories to lose weight. Others may be training for an athletic event, don’t want to drink and drive or would simply like to ensure they wake up without a hangover.
Luckily, abstaining from alcohol no longer needs to be boring. And going liquor free is becoming more popular as new, zero-proof brands continue to hit the market. Forget the childish Shirley Temples and sugary virgin daiquiris. There are several creative nonalcoholic options available at bars and restaurants in Laguna Beach. Here are a few of our favorites to enjoy this season.
Lobby Lounge, Montage Laguna Beach
This mocktail is described as “piney, piquant and refreshingly complex.” Made with Amass Riverine distilled nonalcoholic spirit, lemon and Tippleman’s ginger honey, it’s served straight up and garnished with a candied ginger peel.
The Lobby Lounge has three mocktails on the menu: Bee’s Keys, Sans 77 and Avant Garden, as well as an alcohol-free Bitburger Drive beer and Fre sparkling brut wine.
Mixologist Michael Kemmer invites the challenge to make mocktails that have in-depth flavor profiles.
“These days, people want to drink responsibly, not to excess, but still want to be part of the party scene,” Kemmer says. “I love to be imaginative behind the bar and experiment with our variety of NA—[nonalcoholic] spirits. I also love creating an NA take on a classic cocktail.”
Rum Social Kitchen & Cocktails
A variety of rum-based libations and other island-inspired drinks are featured at the newly opened Rum Social Kitchen & Cocktails, giving visitors the feeling of being on a tropical escape. The restaurant carries zero-proof rum, spiced rum, tequila and Aperol to provide teetotalers with the same experience as alcohol-imbibing guests.
Among the liquor substitutes is Lyre’s white cane spirit. “We can make any of our specialty rum cocktails NA by substituting … this spirit in them,” says lead bartender Shawn Abbey. “We can also modify classic, well-known rum cocktails using it.”
A drink called El Pimentero, when made without alcohol, incorporates the Lyre’s agave blanco spirit plus freshly muddled Fresno chiles, house-made coconut simple syrup, prickly pear juice and fresh lime juice, all topped with Q Club Soda.
Rum Social also offers the Pacific Paloma as another liquor-free libation, with fresh oranges muddled into the drink as a substitute for Cointreau as well as coconut puree, lime juice and aquafaba to build froth, topped off with Q Sparkling Grapefruit soda. Other nonalcoholic options include the Tundy Spritz, made with Lyre’s Apéritif Rosso, and the Mojito Smash, using Lyre’s white cane spirit.
“We wanted to ensure that our guests that choose not to drink are able to have fresh, handcrafted and high-quality drink options to enjoy with their dinner,” Abbey says.
Harvest Green Juice
The Ranch at Laguna Beach
This refreshing mocktail, an alcohol-free version of the Green Bogey cocktail, is house-made with cilantro, pineapple juice, celery and jalapeno. Served in a tall Collins glass with a Tajín rim, the drink is topped off with ginger beer and garnished with a celery stick and pineapple leaves. Harvest also offers the Laguna Sunset mocktail with mint, Fresno chile and, of course, passion fruit, all topped off with ginger beer. Elsewhere at the resort, The Porch eatery serves a Bellini Mocktail that combines nonalcoholic sparkling wine and guava puree infused with honey.
The Ranch utilizes fresh ingredients grown on the property, such as rosemary, mint, grapefruit and guava, to make its flavorful seasonal cocktails and mocktails. Carlos Suarez Roberto, lead bartender at Harvest restaurant, enjoys making mocktails that have texture and utilize both homemade syrups and locally grown fruits and herbs.
“We like to support people that aren’t drinking alcohol, to give them options and make it more interesting than just drinking soda water,” Suirez says. “Plus, kids want to have a nice-looking drink too.”
A mocktail on the menu at Sapphire, Cellar-Craft-Cook changes seasonally, featuring the freshest ingredients each time.
“I have seen over the last five years that people want to experience fun flavors and delicious drinks but not have the booze,” notes Gabe Whorley, Sapphire’s beverage director and partner. “From young kids to pregnant women to my grandparents, it’s become a huge trend.”
For summer, the alcohol-free drink is made with apricot, cucumber, basil and lime, shaken in a tin with ice then poured into a tall glass and topped with sparkling lemon-lime drink. Served with a cucumber slice, mint and basil flower garnish, it tastes as beautiful as it looks. Enjoy it outside on the patio, taking in the ocean view or warming up by the fire.
“The inspiration behind making a seasonal mocktail is we always try to use what we have accessible from our garden at [sister restaurant] Vine in San Clemente,” Whorley says. “We also want to keep it light and refreshing. The apricot will give the sweetness, while the cucumber will balance out sweetness with a refreshing light mouthfeel. The basil lends the aroma and hint of herb.”
The restaurant also makes an alcohol-free bloody mary and carries a nonalcoholic Bitburger beer. “[It] is the best NA beer on the market—that’s why we carry it,” Whorley says.
The nonalcoholic Center Sage brings together lime, pineapple shrub (varies depending on season) and Fever-Tree ginger beer, served chilled in a copper mug and garnished with a thin slice of pineapple and a dehydrated lime slice. Take in the expansive ocean views from the bar as you sip your fancy zero-proof cocktail—no umbrella needed.
The recently renovated Hotel Laguna has a swanky vibe and mocktails to match. The bar team is dedicated to serving craft drinks—with or without alcohol—for those who wish to partake in the festive environment sans a hangover the next day.
Rather than having a long menu of alcohol-free libations, bar manager Neil Matchko and his team craft custom mocktails tailored to each guest, based on their personal preferences and desired flavor profile. It’s a great opportunity for Neil and his team to be thoughtful and creative on behalf of Hotel Laguna’s guests.
“Mocktails are a great alternative for people who want to go out, socialize with friends and be part of a group, but may not want to drink alcohol for whatever reason,” Matchko says. “There’s no reason that everyone shouldn’t be able to enjoy a delicious and creative beverage that’s expertly crafted. We want all of our guests to feel welcome and have a great time, every time they join us, whether they’re drinking alcohol or not.”
A Curated Collection
Local husband-and-wife team Jonny and Natalia Cummings are gearing up to develop their own line of nonalcoholic beer, wine and wellness products, as they wind down the alcohol-free bottle shop they opened in town in 2021.
BrightLife Beverage Co.’s shop, which will remain open until the end of June—and is offering 35% off inventory in these final days—carries a curated selection of more than 200 types of quality bottled drinks from artisan beverage makers around the globe. The store has a wide variety of nonalcoholic wines, beers and spirits, as well as premixed mocktails, functional beverages (with adaptogens, hemp, CBD or nootropics, which are reported to improve cognitive function) and essentials such as mixers, syrups, tonics, sodas, garnishes and salts.
Jonny and Natlia started the business to provide zero-proof alternatives after searching for better options when she was pregnant and they both wanted to take a break from drinking alcohol. “We were aware of the NA—[nonalcoholic]—beverage market in Europe and the vast range of products available and wanted to curate these and bring them to our hometown for people,” Jonny Cummings says. “We wanted to still have sophisticated beverages and to socialize without it being unhealthy.”
And they realized they weren’t the only ones seeking this option, so they established the store to fill the niche. But, after a year, the couple has decided to close down the time-consuming retail side of the business—which has been difficult to maintain while caring for their 6-month-old baby, Lucia Rose—to focus on their long-term goals of creating alcohol-free drinks and other products including a next-generation kids drink that helps prevent tooth decay. The store will soon be converted into their office and research-and-development space.
Until then, the shop is at 1854 S. Coast Highway, Unit 1, and offers free delivery within Laguna’s 92651 ZIP code for orders over $55. The business also donates 1% of gross sales to environmental nonprofits as a member of 1% for the Planet and offers carbon neutral shipping. (brightlifebeverages.com)