Conversation with Toronto bartender Jess Morton

Toronto bartender Jess Morton talks about the alcohol-free cocktail trend and shares her tips for making tasty non-alcoholic drinks at home.

How has the non-alcoholic cocktail scene evolved over the past few years?

The trend has been moving into non-alcoholic in terms of what we see in cocktail development over the last couple of years. I've definitely seen more of a push for non-alcoholic products.

My generation in particular I'm almost 30 we grow up and we're like ‘we don't want to be super irresponsible anymore’. We have things to do and being hungover the next day doesn't make you a very productive human.

For bartenders especially, we're so used to thinking it's not a drink if it doesn't have alcohol, but we have to reframe the way we look at that. I think that’s the biggest challenge and we're getting better about it. This section of the industry is not slowing down as far as I'm concerned.

Has the movement changed since the pandemic began?

At the beginning of the pandemic, I think we were like ‘we have nothing to do, let's just drink all the time’ because every day was like a Saturday night.’ Now, I’m definitely seeing a lot of people saying ‘I'm so tired of drinking all the time, but I like the experience of drinking.’

That’s where products like Sobrii come in. They’re filling that gap for folks who don't want to be drunk but they still want to have the experience of drinking and having a good time. There are other choices. You don’t have to be drinking all the time.

What do you like about Sobrii?

The alternative, Seedlip, can be very intimidating. Seedlip Spice, for example, sounds super cool but how do you use it? That’s a big hurdle, not so much for bartenders, but for the consumer. Sobrii is good because it's clear that it’s a gin alternative and all of the botanicals in the bottle are for gin drinkers. That makes it so much easier for people who are trying to recreate cocktails they know but make them non-alcoholic.

I think we're all becoming a lot more health-conscious and a lot of the alternatives to alcohol are so sugary. I think if you're going to be doing the sobriety thing for health reasons, you're probably going to be looking at calorie counting too. [Sobrii is sugar-free and has 0 calories].

How would you describe the taste of Sobrii?

It fools your brain because you know you're not drinking alcohol but it has the same mouthfeel. For a lot of folks who are huge drinkers, we need that weight to it. If it just tastes like flavoured water, you’re not getting that experience.

But with Sobrii, it has that weight so if I'm making a drink out of it, it doesn’t feel watered down. All the gin flavours are there, but you don’t have that ethanol flavour at the back of your throat.

What’s your favourite cocktail to make with Sobrii?

One of them is a French 75, which is super easy to make at home. It’s Sobrii plus non-alcoholic sparkling wine, which you can easily find in the store, and elderflower syrup, which is also easy to get your hands on. It's very light and refreshing. I love French 75s because they're celebratory. It makes you feel excited about something.

The other one that I really enjoy is The Hound, which is sugar-free. It’s based on a Greyhound cocktail, which has grapefruit juice but I use grapefruit-flavoured soda water as a cheat to avoid adding sugar.

What are your alcohol-free home bar cart essentials?

If you're open to it, it’s great to have a selection of bitters on your bar. There are non-alcoholic bitters if that’s a concern for you. Any kind of good-quality syrup is good if you want to make something more flavoured or exciting.

This is just my personal thing, but there’s a product called Ms. Better's Bitters Miraculous Foamer that I love. It’s a vegan foamer and it’s shelf-stable. It’s good for non-alcoholic drinkers as well. If you’re going to make a non-alcoholic egg white cocktail, for example, now it’s accessible to everyone because it's vegan. If you want to get a little more creative, definitely have something like that on your bar. 

Sobrii is great with Double Dutch tonic waters and I think their products are really good too. Maybe have a couple of their products on hand as well so you can make some fun highballs at home.

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