What’s a social occasion without a drink? It’s more common than you think. Many individuals are foregoing heavy drinking in favor of little or no alcohol. Indeed, the phrase “sober curious” is sprinting across the Internet with superstars including Kim Kardashian slowing their drinking to a crawl.
Luckily for us, Tampa Bay bar and restaurant pros are onto the trend, coming up with ideas for sophisticated low-alcohol and no-alcohol drinks infused with a startling array of creative ingredients — and allowing health-conscious foodies the chance to enjoy a good meal with a tasty beverage whose liquor level won’t haunt them the next day.
Katie Bland, bar manager of Rooster & the Till, spilled the beans on how they mimic hard-liquor drinks without adding the hangover.
The Rooster operates under a “Low Alcohol by Volume” (ABV) license, which restricts them from selling distilled liquors. To make the leap between simple wine and beer to complicated, traditional cocktails, her shop stretches the boundaries of taste and imagination to both imitate hard liquors and build entirely new flavor profiles.
At her restaurant on Florida Avenue in Tampa’s Seminole Heights area, bartenders use loose-leaf teas steeped in sake, vermouth or sherry to add a tannic acidity that offers the bite, color and flavors of stronger alcohols.
Their “Backwards Peat” sherry wine steeped with Lapsang Souchong, a smoky-flavored tea, replicates bourbon’s stronger taste profile, while the “Imposta-Groni” cocktail features Gruner Veltliner, a white wine varietal, infused with gin botanicals such as juniper berries, cardamom and Persian limes. Cappelletti and sweet vermouth finish the drink, ultimately modeling a traditional Negroni.
For customers seeking to skip alcohol completely, The Rooster’s “Strawberry Creamsicle” made with a strawberry shrub fusion of immersed fruit, vinegar and sugar, then topped with coconut milk and sparkling water, brings a sweet, sharp taste with the bite of kombucha and the look of an old-fashioned soda fountain drink.
Their translucent “Cucumber Cooler” presents fresh-pressed cucumber juice, serrano chilies, Thai basil syrup and a little lemon juice served in a martini glass. Originally combined with sake, Bland says its martini supermodel looks attracted moms-to-be who asked to ditch the rice wine and keep the flavor. It is one of the house’s most popular drinks.
Noel Cruz is chef and owner of a trio of Tampa Bay’s favorite ramen houses: Ichicoro Ramen on Florida, Ichicoro Imoto at Armature Works and Ichicoro Ane in St. Petersburg. He says customers are often pleased to learn that the restaurants’ Japanese-inspired cocktails contain less than half the proof of vodka while still offering the classic combo of a traditional mixed drink: something sour, something sweet, a bit of bitters and a spirit.
The shop’s Mimosa is a fragrant blend of orange juice, peach liqueur, apricot syrup and yuzu, a tart Asian citrus renowned for its aromatic quality, mixed with sparkling wine.
Sake acts as the base to their “Ochu,” which Cruz describes as having the drinkability of a sangria with the heart and soul of a cocktail. The medley includes apricot tea syrup, orange juice, lemon juice, yuzu and elderflower liqueur.
Over at Tampa’s Champagne Bar in the Oxford Exchange, customers indulge in a highly curated selection of champagne, rosés and sparkling wines along with full-liquor champagne cocktails. Yet, even in this specialized corner of OE’s comfy bookstore boutique, there are offerings for the underaged, the teetotalers, and, yes, even the pregnant.
According to Jess Anderson, retail and media manager for the Oxford Exchange, the “Cranberry Spritz,” a mixture of Martinelli’s Gold Medal Sparkling Cider and cranberry juice, is both non-alcoholic yet refreshingly complicated. Dressed as it is with a lovely paper straw and finished in a classic glass, it fits the definition and desire of many of today’s drinkers – just enough taste and Insta-perfect looks!
The Cucumber Cooler from Rooster & the Till
1.5 oz cucumber juice
1 oz Thai Basil Syrup *
1 oz water
.5 oz lemon juice
2 slices of Serrano chilies
* Thai Basil Syrup: Boil equal parts sugar and water with Thai basil leaves until mixture is similar to the consistency of syrup. Remove basil leaves once syrup is at room temperature. Use as needed; store extra syrup in refrigerator.