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'People are just cutting down': An insider guide to Dublin's growing no-alcohol cocktail scene

The days of the sugary mocktail are over, according to the capital’s best mixologists.

Image: MVP

IF THE WORD ‘mocktail’ leaves a sickly-sweet taste in your mouth, you’re not alone.

As non-alcoholic alternatives to the traditional cocktail, ‘mocktails’ can conjure images of syrupy, sugar-laden drinks. But this is a perception that more and more mixologists are now actively challenging.

Thanks in part to a growing focus on health, more Irish people are consciously seeking non-alcoholic, low-sugar alternatives on nights out – which means drinks which don’t look (and taste) like they should only be served to the tune of Wham’s Club Tropicana.

The Journal.ie chatted to those at the helm of Dublin’s bar scene about the growing interest in innovative non-alcoholic cocktails – and where to look if you’re in the market for a hold-the-hangover drinks menu.

“There’s a ton of different reasons as to why people are cutting down or cutting out alcohol completely,” Billie Johnson, bar manager of MVP, tells us. 

Lots of our customers, who come in looking for the non-alcohol menu, aren’t abstaining 24/7 either. In fact, quite a few of them are simply cutting down their alcohol intake, not drinking for a few weeks, or they’re driving and just want to come into the bar for half an hour for a catch-up with a friend in the evening. 

Similarly, Drop Dead Twice, a BYOB cocktail bar on Dublin’s Francis Street, tells us that each group they cater to will generally include one or two people who have chosen to go alcohol-free.

While they say it’s rare to encounter an entirely alcohol-free group, they’re well versed in  creating alcohol-free mixed drinks.

“More often than not, this is due to pregnancy or having a dry month,” they explained.

We have had ladies, who are very early on in their pregnancy, call ahead and ask us to discreetly make them ‘mocktails’ that look the same as everyone else’s drinks so as not to raise any red flags with the rest of the group, as they aren’t ready to announce their pregnancy.

With more and more establishments acknowledging the value in investing in the alcohol-free section of their menu, the days where non-drinkers are forced to deliberate between a soft drink or the bar’s token alcohol-free beer are on the decline.

“For a very long time, the only non-alcoholic option was a bottled carbonated soda of some kind, or a sickly combination of syrups and juices that left the consumer with a sugar rush and the inevitable crash,” says Pat Thomas of The Little Pig Speakeasy. 

Another trailblazer in Dublin’s no-alcohol scene is Vaughan Yates. He wondered what the city’s alcohol-free community could be offered in terms of venue – a musing which led to the establishment of Dublin’s first ever alcohol-free bar; The Virgin Mary on Capel Street.

“They can go to hotels possibly, or existing bars, but they might not want to be in those types of environments, especially if they get quite loud and they’re not drinking,” he explains.

So that’s where the idea stemmed from; to offer people who didn’t want to be around alcohol a venue to go to that still has all the same cues as those venues that do have alcohol.

“With The Virgin Mary, we are simply offering a different way to drink,” head bartender Anna Walsh tells us.

With the menu, we’ve ticked all boxes. Some drinks are light and delicate, more of a Martini-style in a delicate glass. Or if you want a more punchy Tiki-style drink, we tick that box too. If you feel like a certain style of drink, you can have that.

“It’s a serious alternative, with similar taste profiles, but a lot better for you,” Vaughn says of the bar’s drink selection.

Indeed, the intricacy involved in creating these profiles cannot be overstated. “One of the key aspects to a really good mixed drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic!) is the ability to balance out the different flavours whilst still being able to taste all the elements – sweet, sour, herbal, bitter, floral, et cetera,” Billie says of MVP’s approach to their menu.

And like Billie, Anna believes the growing interest in the zero-alcohol drink scene is reflective of a more health-conscious nation. A customer’s desire to skip alcohol shouldn’t mean sacrificing taste or quality, she says.

If you’re in a cocktail bar in a group of people, you’d like your drink to be of the same quality as the ones with alcohol in. 

“As a nation, we are extremely social,” she adds. “We are naturally good humoured and I really do believe that we can have the craic with or without booze.”

Interested in this ever-growing arena of the Dublin bar scene? Sounds like it’s time for a pub crawl.

MVP

Located on Upper Clanbrassil St, MVP is a member of the Bodytonic family and well known for its Sober Sundays.

“My aim is to have a really rounded non-alcoholic cocktail list to rival our standard cocktail list, covering different flavour profiles to suit different tastes,” bar manager Billie tells us.

 

 Drop Dead Twice

With a team of dedicated mixologists at its helm, this Francis St BYOB bar caters to large groups keen to create their own customised mixed drinks.

“We are always very happy to create ‘mocktails’ and generally have a few peeps in each week joining us as part of a wider group!”

The Little Pig Speakeasy

A throwback to the Prohibition era, customers of the Little Pig Speakeasy enjoy the semi-clandestine nature of the place.

While known for its traditional cocktails, the hidden bar definitely delivers on the no-alcohol front. Watch out for the Wicklow Street Spritz and the bar’s riff on the traditional Whiskey Sour.

777

A hugely popular spot on Dublin’s South Great George’s Street, 777′s menu features a Designated Driver section, aimed at anyone who has no intention of entertaining a hangover the morning after the night before. Pro-tip: Try their non-alcoholic margaritas.

The Bernard Shaw

The Bernard Shaw is another example of Bodytonic’s contribution to the alcohol-free scene in the capital.

With an extensive low ABV and non-alcoholic selection, this South Richmond St bar is a must.

The Virgin Mary

Dublin’s first ever alcohol-free bar will be opening its doors in the not-too-distant future, and looks set to impress on a number of levels.

“All of our ingredients are homemade and we’re keeping it on the lower-sugar level as well. Our cocktail menu is fully vegan, and our wines are also vegan which means anyone can drink them!”

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About the author:

Niamh McClelland

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