WITH ZERO-PROOF COCKTAILS, THE MIXOLOGY REQUIRES AS MUCH, IF NOT MORE, ARTISTRY AND IMAGINATION.
Bitter Birdhouse at Salita. PHOTO: BY HANNAH CURRAN
Lights Out at Oak at Fourteenth. PHOTO: BY LUCY BEAUGARD
Ube-Bae at Foraged. PHOTO: BY ANNA MILLS
Spiced Hibiscus at Sunset Lounge. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SUNSET LOUNGE
JAMES BOND’S MARTINI, Carrie Bradshaw’s cosmopolitan and Chris Stapleton crooning about Tennessee whiskey—alcohol thrives as its own character in pop culture. Creative cocktails with equally creative monikers are on drink menus everywhere, appealing to both the palate and the Instagram palette. But for those who are sober, sober-curious or simply don’t like the taste of alcohol, sodas and the standard Shirley Temple have long been the only alternatives. Today, that’s changing as restaurateurs see a growing desire for inventive libations, minus the booze.
“When you go to a cocktail bar, the cocktails are strong,” says Frank Bonanno, chef mastermind behind a dynasty of Denver’s epicurean concepts, including Denver Milk Market. “You can’t really drink three of them. So, why not experience a nice cocktail for a little buzz, then switch to something without alcohol that is still crafted for you?”
Bonanno, who is sober, creates his own alcohol-free whiskey, tequila, mezcal and gin by figuring out what the spirits smell like and experimenting with ingredients to replicate that sense. “It’s roasting bananas or charring pineapple skin or using smoked wood chips,” he says. “It’s figuring out what the composition of rum is without saying it tastes like rum.”
At Bonanno’s newest concept, Salita (salitadenver.com), a Denver coffee shop and cocktail bar, the “free-spirited” menu includes the Bitter Birdhouse with his nonalcoholic rum and bitters recipes, pineapple, lime and sugar. “People want some kind of alternative,” Bonanno says. “It’s fun and adds to the experience.” Restaurants across the state are offering innovative takes on traditionally alcoholic beverages. In Boulder, Oak at Fourteenth’s (oakatfourteenth.com) zero-proof menu features the Lights Out, a combination of Three Spirit Livener (an elixir of guayusa, guava leaf and berries), housemade blackberry thyme simple syrup, Dram Apothecary palo santo bitters, Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters and soda water, garnished with blackberries and fresh thyme leaves. Inside the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa (marriott.com) in Avon, sip the Colorado Sunset—a fusion of Seedlip Spice, blood orange, simple syrup, Angostura bitters and soda water. Denver sushi hot spot Foraged (foragedrestaurant.com) offers the vibrant Ube-Bae with Ube simple syrup, coconut cream, pineapple juice, lychee juice and a pretty flower garnish. And at Sunset Lounge (theelizabethcolorado.com), a rooftop bar in The Elizabeth Hotel in Fort Collins, the Spiced Hibiscus is crafted from Seedlip Spice, Happy Lucky’s hibiscus spiced tea, agave and lime.