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In Defense of the Mocktail

Did the idea of a dry January sneak up on you?

Dry January - the practice of abstaining from alcohol during the month of January - may be older than you realize. The first instance of it can be traced back to Finland, of all places, when in 1942 the Finnish government, wanting to focus the country’s attention on increasing output during World War 2, started a campaign encouraging its citizens from drinking. (If you’ve met any Finns, you may be well aware of how difficult this must have been for them.)

Dry January as we know it now goes back to 2014 when a charity in Great Britain jump-started the idea. The concept of giving our bodies a bit of a rest from alcohol is understandable; most folks who drink do so more in December than in other months (to say nothing of increased consumption due to the Coronavirus pandemic.)

This trend has begun to slowly reintroduce the mocktail into popular culture. Fortunately, gone are the days when a mocktail meant either a neon-bright Shirley Temple or a cloying Roy Rogers made by the restaurant bartender for children wanting to imitate dad’s Manhattan. Bartenders have, for years, been quietly working to reclaim the mocktail as a family of complex, surprising, and thought-provoking drinks on their own and have abandoned the belief that they are merely alcohol-free imitations of common drinks.


Mocktails can also pay homage to an often-overlooked part of drinking culture. Take a moment to acknowledge the ceremony or ritual that comes with making a drink - the sounds of the ice going into the shaker that provides an auditory signal that the workday is done and relaxation can begin, for example. If you’ve ever seen an accomplished bartender spend 5 minutes making a drink, you’ve seen this ceremony in action and hopefully noticed the subtle but profound differences time and attention can make to any kind of beverage.

There are many who argue that this sense of occasion should be embraced as part of the mocktail. Accomplished Chef and Bartender Jeff Kawakami knows this remarkably well. Kawakami, who was a finalist on Season 2 of ABC’s The Taste and is also a trained bartender, has seen first-hand the importance of such rituals. He served for a time as the chef at a residential rehabilitation center for recovering alcoholics and saw firsthand the intersection of recovery and the occasion of making a drink. “Most of the time, addicts just can’t stop doing something immediately,” Kawakami says - “think of the smoker that quits; they often have to replace those smoke breaks with a walk around the block or some other activity. Many recovering alcoholics that are accustomed to alcohol before or with dinner replace that ritual with making a dry cocktail rather than abandoning the act completely.”

Whether you’re looking for new ideas, have undertaken a dry January, or are looking for more information about how to spruce up your mocktail game, here are some suggestions on where to invest your time and knowledge.

  • Shrub Syrups. A shrub is a cocktail made with a fruit base combined with sugar and vinegar. Shrub syrups, which typically are diluted with sparkling water, are astoundingly versatile, great fun to make, and available at many stores. The inclusion of acidic notes from the vinegar often gives an adult complexity that can elevate such drinks profoundly. (See our Apple-Ginger Shrub recipe here)

  • Non-alcoholic Spirits. These products are relatively new on the market but are made now by several companies like Seedlip, Kin, and Monday. Many do a great job of replicating the herbal or floral notes found in some spirits like gins and rums.

  • Fruit and fruit slices. Regardless of your finished drink, fresh ingredients like fruit slices can add to the sense of occasion as well as add a punch of flavor. Citrus - particularly exotic varieties like Budda’s Hand - are great for this purpose.

  • Sparkling waters. These backbones of the bar are even more important when alcohol is removed from what we drink. Splurge a bit and go for exotic flavors, which are everywhere these days. Don’t shy away from bitter or acidic flavors, which add complexity.

  • Traditional mixers. Certain drinks lean heavily on their component mixers - Margaritas and Bloody Marys lose very, very little when made with good base mixers and a bit of love and attention. This is another way that splurging can bring great satisfaction to your glass.

So in observance of Dry January, consider adding shippable Mocktail Kits to your Virtual Corporate Event with Executive Chef Events. Our Mocktail kits can be shipped nationwide, so no matter where your team is, everyone will be able to join in the fun.

For those who only have a short time to gather, we have Virtual Happy Hours. These can be alcohol-free or spirit-based depending on your preference. For kits containing alcohol, delivery is available in the Bay Area and shipping throughout California and most other states.

If your team is in California, we have a California Whiskey Tasting Experience with the Whiskey Maker himself. Each kit comes with a variety of small format spirits, tasting cards, and a logo tasting glass.

Contact us here to learn more about what Executive Chef Events have to offer for you and your team this New Year!


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