Frankie Solarik, co-owner of the pioneering Toronto cocktail bar "BarChef", talks about pivoting to virtual cocktail classes amid the pandemic, and shares why non-alcoholic alternatives like Sobrii are becoming a bar staple.
What inspired you to start BarChef’s virtual mixology workshops?
With everything that was happening with the second lockdown, we wanted to pivot to a virtual model and develop that engagement [with our customers] in an educational and entertaining way.
How do the events work?
We have essentially deconstructed the components that are used to prepare the cocktails for the attendees with the person that's leading the workshop. We've been doing a lot of corporate stuff. We did one last week for 600 people for a large financial firm. We’re running them almost every day — five to six days a week. We've incorporated Sobrii as the non-alcoholic option in those kits for attendees.
Why did you decide to offer an alcohol-free cocktail kit?
We have included non-alcoholic options [at BarChef] because we do have guests coming in requesting that. So, it’s the idea of utilizing the same philosophy that we take [at the bar] to build up the cocktail program. The team is able to work with liquid syrups and things like that and they're able to achieve a really complex non-alcoholic option incorporating something like Sobrii.
It’s about approachability. We want to make sure that our classes are inclusive for the people that aren't drinking alcohol. We want to make sure that we can achieve that same experience for those people, as far as the complexity and flavour profile. We even have a class coming up for 250 people that’s completely non-alcoholic.
What do you like about Sobrii as a non-alcoholic alternative to traditional spirits?
It's a good substitute. The flavour profile is nice and I like also that it achieves this really nice viscosity and texture to the liquid — that helps it hold up really well as far as the structure of the actual cocktail is concerned. As far as a substitute for an alcohol base, it works really nicely.
As well, the particular flavour profile works well because of the style of cocktail that we built with it, which has an emphasis on spices. It's also great for us to be able to support local, so we're happy to work with Sobrii. It's a delicious product and it works well, so it's a win-win.
Will you continue your virtual programming as restaurants and bars reopen?
Ideally, we'd love to keep them going. Even with the restrictions being lifted, we do see that there's still a demand coming in. It's definitely something we'd like to carry through. We’ve been very fortunate. It’s been very successful.
Do you see alcohol-free alternatives continuing to resonate with customers as bars reopen?
Absolutely. When you have products like Sobrii, I think mixologists are interested in using ingredients like that because it's a nice alternative to just using flavoured sodas or juices and simple syrups. It adds a little bit more complexity and structure to the drink.
Featured photo by: Leanne Neufeld Photography