Happy eleventh birthday, Dry January! In 2012, British charity Alcohol Change UK launched the month-long challenge to encourage people to kick off the new year with a break from alcohol. Since then, mocktails have been increasingly showing up on menus, and liquor stores have added more variety to the no-alcohol spirits on their shelves.
Going dry, or semi-dry, no longer means pretending that your sparkling water with lime is a vodka soda. Many San Diego bars serve sophisticated alcohol-free and low-ABV cocktails that are as creative and tasty as their boozy brethren.
“For a good alcohol-free drink, I like to approach them the same way I would if I was making a cocktail,” says David Kinsey, beverage director at Kindred and the recently opened Mothership, both in South Park. “It needs to be balanced, have a good nose, solid presentation, and unfold on the palate.”
At Mothership, you’ll inevitably see several guests enjoying an eye-catching Homing Beacon. The alcohol-free version is equally stunning, made with coconut cream, coconut water, lime, and hibiscus syrup.
Kindred’s Kiss of Steel is a pick-me-up with holiday flair, made with cold-brew coffee, oat milk, cinnamon, coconut, and an orange twist.
At downtown speakeasy Prohibition, beverage manager Ryan Andrews says he’s been getting more requests for low-ABV drinks. He’s a fan of Martini & Rossi’s Fiero—a lightly sweet blood-orange vermouth—and uses it in a twist on a South Side Ricky.
At Campfire in Carlsbad, lead bartender Mireya Aguilar’s alcohol-free cocktails are culinary creations with the same visual appeal and depth of flavor as spirited beverages. Bar manager Nick Sinutko recommends “Thank You, Please,” made with yellow corn, jicama, hoja santa (a popular Mexican herb), lime, and koji.
At Acid Vault, located under Amplified Ale Works in East Village, “liquid artist” Anna Lynn’s cocktails complement creative director Aubree Miller’s murals. Try the “Free Spirited Beverages” section of the menu, where you’ll find the Teen Spirit, a healing tonic made with spirulina, orange bitters, elderflower tonic, and lime.
Polite Provisions in North Park has a “Sans Alcohol” section of its expansive menu that includes cocktails like Daisy’s Soda Pop, made with apple spice, pomegranate, lime, and soda, and Gabe’s Painless Killer, a twist on a classic Painkiller, made with passionfruit, coconut, pineapple, and lime.
At Golden Hill’s Kingfisher, general manager David Tye swaps in non-alcoholic spirits, like Lyre’s, in three cocktails on the regular menu. “Lyre’s makes quality stuff, and it allowed us to be able to do a quick change but keep the original idea of the cocktail intact,” he says. Try the papaya margarita, made with alcohol-free tequila, papaya, lime, agave, and black lava sea salt. For a low-ABV option, grab a Vietnamese Spritz, made with Aperol, jujube, lychee, orange, lemon, and prosecco.
Del Mar’s Understory includes three alcohol-free offerings on its ecology-themed menu, including Boisduval’s Marble, made with blue lavender, black tea, fresh lemon, kava, non- alcoholic Creole bitters, and, for texture, aquafaba fizz.