With all the recent chatter about non-alcoholic cocktails—the breathless articles on the subject, the countless bar menu addenda, the raft of new spiritless spirits flooding the market and the attendant booze-free bottle shops—you’d think the idea was a novel one, a eureka notion that has gripped the bar world for only the first time.
Not so. As long as there have been cocktails, there have been mocktails. Of course, nobody called them that in the 1800s (though the term “mocktail,” like “mixologist,” is much older than you might think, dating to 1916, according to Merriam-Webster). “Temperance drinks” was the original nomenclature. Page through Jerry Thomas’ seminal 1862 volume, The Bar-Tender’s Guide, and you will eventually land on a short section by this name devoted to booze-less refreshments. The 15-recipe chapter begins with a fruit-studded lemonade and ends with ginger wine, and, along the way, elucidates unusual numbers like the Drink for Dog Days, in which a bottle of soda water is poured over lemon ice, and the Soda Nectar, comprising lemon, water and sugar finished with a small amount of carbonate of soda, which caused it to foam up. (Bartender and author Harry Johnson later called the latter “an excellent morning drink to regulate the bowels.”)
Just as the current cocktail revival has been called the Second Golden Age of Cocktails, the new surge of non-alcoholic drinks could well be termed the Second Golden Age of Mocktails. The drink selection in Thomas’ book, after all, was mirrored in the bars of the era. A July 19, 1892, article in the Journal and Tribune of Knoxville, Tennessee, observed that “temperance drinks are almost as infinite in variety as intemperate drinks, and the greatest variety is to be found at a first-class bar.”
Across the ocean, a writer at the Courier and Argus in Dundee, Scotland, was so overwhelmed by the vast selection that when confronted with a request from a temperance association for a new non-alcoholic drink, the reporter wailed in an article printed on April 7, 1884, “What! Are there not temperance drinks [enough], as it is?... Have we not ginger ‘pop,’ ginger ale, Persian sherbet, milk, lemonade, saloop, coffee, chocolate, cocoa, toast-and-water, Spanish licorice water, molasses-and-water, and thin oatmeal gruel.” (Who, exactly, was ordering non-alcoholic drinks at bars is hard to say, but there are accounts of teetotaling men in the 1800s compelled to conduct business in bars. Moreover, temperance drinks seem to have been favored in the summer for their lighter qualities.)
“As long as there have been cocktails, there have been mocktails.”
The Knoxville report noted the presence of “lots of lemonades” in local bars. Indeed, lemonade and its many variants appear to have been king of temperance drinks. Nearly every cocktail book printed up until Prohibition’s arrival included a formula not just for basic lemonade, but also for orgeat lemonade, orangeade, limeade, ginger lemonade and egg lemonade (made with a whole egg; think of it as a lemonade flip). San Francisco bartender William Boothby’s 1891 book The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them contained no fewer than 16 recipes for lemonade—though there were a few spiked ones among them.
Much like the non-alcoholic drinks of today, these formulas could get quite intricate. Jerry Thomas’ recipe for plain lemonade, for example, does not skimp on creativity. To the usual lemon, water and sugar, Thomas added pieces of orange, raspberry or strawberry syrup, crushed ice, ample fruit garnishes and a dash of Port. (Given the number of N/A drinks loaded up with fruit in the 19th century, one can easily see how the words “fruit” and “cocktail” became attached in the 20th century as a popular pre-dinner appetizer.)
In addition to lemonades, several popular non-alcoholic drinks fell under the category of “cooler.” This included the Saratoga Cooler, a possible predecessor to the Shirley Temple, that called for ginger ale, lemon juice and sugar, and sometimes bitters. The mixture was occasionally called a Brunswick Cooler, and when an egg was involved, it became a Rocky Mountain Cooler. Similar in flavor was the Horse’s Neck, which enjoyed name recognition well into the 20th century, long after the Saratoga and Brunswick had faded from memory, likely owing to the cocktail’s remarkable garnish, a long curling lemon twist that spiraled down the length of the glass—as well as the fact that an alcoholic version evolved over time.
As Prohibition threatened, desperate bartenders wagered, quite reasonably, that lemonade and coolers weren’t going to cut it anymore. They began to attempt non-alcoholic versions of the cocktails that they were about to lose in the hopes of keeping their audience. A widely circulated July 2, 1919, article told of virgin Bronx cocktails being sampled in New York City. They were composed of non-alcoholic gin, two kinds of non-alcoholic vermouth and orange bitters. The mock Bronx cost 15 cents—a bit of a hard sell considering that a real Bronx cocktail cost roughly the same.
By the time the United States shed Prohibition, the situation for non-alcoholic cocktails had changed, just as it had for their boozy cousins. Much expertise and many recipes had been forgotten. Cocktail books published after Repeal, like the Mr. Boston series and David A. Embury’s influential The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, still gave a nod to lemonades of various types, but that was about it. If you were looking for a kickless drink in a bar, you were limited to soda brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Dr Pepper, or “kiddie cocktails” like the Shirley Temple or Roy Rogers, syrupy drinks laced with grenadine and cherries bearing the name of Depression era film stars.
Just as with the cocktail revival, today’s non-alcoholic drinks are infinitely more ornate and complex than those in the 1800s, drawing on a bevy of unusual syrups, juices, spices and infusions. Moreover, bartenders now have access to dozens of non-alcoholic “spirits” and modifiers, like Seedlip, Proteau and Haus extending the N/A arsenal to arrive on par with its alcoholic counterpart.
Some things, however, haven’t changed. If nothing on the menu appeals, you can always order lemonade.