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Fake drinks that don't taste fake: The rise of the mocktail

A growing and sophisticated variety of alcohol-free beverages are hitting bars, restaurants and grocery stores as mocktails become more popular.
America's Test Kitchen
A growing and sophisticated variety of alcohol-free beverages are hitting bars, restaurants and grocery stores as mocktails become more popular.

Alcohol isn't just something to drink. It's a social experience that's deeply fermented into the culture. Think James Bond and his shaken, not stirred martini, along with countless songs about booze, good times and regrets.

Some people, however, don't like alcohol. Some worry after reading the latest study on the health effects of drinking. Some are just trying to cut back and may feel left out when friends and family gather for drinks. That's why mocktails, alcohol-free mixed drinks, are becoming increasingly popular.

"It's a really exciting time in the world of nonalcoholic beverages," Jack Bishop of the PBS Television Show America's Test Kitchen tells NPR. He says sales of nonalcoholic drinks doubled last year and a growing number of bars are expanding their booze-free menus. Recent technological breakthroughs have helped to make fake drinks taste, well, less fake.

"The things that give tequila or gin their flavor are herbs or spices. And maybe 10 years ago, the first companies were inventing the technology to make alcohol-free cocktails by using the alcohol as a solvent for removing those flavor compounds to make these super flavorful drinks."

America's Test Kitchen has some tips for finding a new favorite among alcohol-free beverages. Here are a few:

Be open to experimenting.

Bars and restaurants are offering more complex nonalcoholic drink options than ever before. For a sweeter option, or something a bit more bitter, ask the bartender to create something in a preferred flavor profile, sans alcohol.

Don't be sticker-shocked.

Nonalcoholic drinks can cost as much as the real thing. Why so much for what's essentially a glass of fruit juice? Bishop says the drinks are not easy to create.

"The technology is actually pretty complicated to extract the flavors from the botanicals. I mean, it's the distillation, the manufacturing process. And what happens to those ingredients? It's expensive."

Don't compare spirit-free cocktails to alcoholic beverages.

Some mocktails do a better job than others of mimicking booze, so stop worrying about how they stack up to their alcoholic counterparts. Instead, simply consider whether or not it tastes good.

Bottoms up!

Jan Johnson and Ally Schweitzer edited this story. contributed to this story

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Barry Gordemer is an award-winning producer, editor, and director for NPR's Morning Edition. He's helped produce and direct NPR coverage of two Persian Gulf wars, eight presidential elections, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. He's also produced numerous profiles of actors, musicians, and writers.