All across the country, people are choosing to start the new year by taking a break from alcohol. Dry January is here, and Houston bars and restaurants have created a number of tempting options to make the experience a delicious one.
Reasons for participating in Dry January vary. Some see it as a way to atone for excessive revelry during the holiday season; others simply like the idea of starting the year off on a healthier note. Increasingly, bartenders and other beverage professionals are joining the movement. They also see creating a Dry January menu as something of a professional challenge.
“It’s an important way to start the new year by not losing industry habits and palates, but still able to try new ways of creating drinks,” Coltivare bar manager Abner Barrientos says. “It’s also a way to get bartenders out of their comfort zones by being able to create drinks like a cocktail, just without booze. It’s something challenging both intellectually, physically, and mentally.”
While the term “mocktails” typically refers to too sweet concoctions, the new generation of non-alcoholic cocktails offer the same complexity and balance as their full proof cousins; it certain helps that some of the city’s top cocktails minds are creating them. Still, making drinks without alcohol means having to account for more than just a missing flavor component.
“When you are dealing with alcohol you have something that provides a backbone to the cocktail and tannins which both provide bitter or bracing flavors,” Monkey’s Tail beverage director Lainey Collum explains. “Without this quality, cocktails can easily lean towards overly sweet, flabby, or just plain boring drinks. I am always looking to what other ingredients I can utilize such as tea, spices, and salt.”
Others take a more pragmatic view when creating non-alcoholic cocktails.
“Does it have a bite,” Present Company beverage director Rex Nielsen asks. “Why am I drinking this instead of tequila?”
Credit for part of the growth in non-alcoholic cocktails goes to products like Seedlip and Kentucky 74 that recreate some of the flavors of spirits like gin and whiskey. They don’t have all of the qualities of their alcoholic cousins but are a useful starting point for making drinks.
“It's been very exciting coming up with non-alcoholic cocktails, and all the new zero-proof spirits make it even more fun by providing familiar flavors to build off of,” affirms Rosie Cannonball bar manager Christian Tellez.
Below are a list of restaurants and bars offering non-alcoholic options for Dry January and, in many instances, beyond.
Part of the Asch Building retail complex in The Heights, this patio bar always serves non-alcoholic cocktails alongside natural wine, craft beer, and CBD beverages. Afuera’s current menu takes inspiration from Peru. Some of the selections include a Pisco Sour made with non-alcoholic gin, the Don Alfredo with elderflower tonic and lime juice, and the Chicha Morada that combines purple corn, pineapple, green apple, and spices.
The downtown bar that donates a portion of its proceeds to a different charity each month has five non-alcoholic drinks on its menu. They include the Spicy Daisy, a margarita riff that gets a spicy kick from Tabasco sauce, and the Immaculate Conception, which is inspired by both the gimlet and mojito.
With six zero-proof cocktails and an extensive selection of non-alcoholic beer, non-drinkers have plenty of options at this Midtown spot. Lounge in a hammock while enjoying a spicy paloma or the Michel-nada that swaps in Topo Chico for beer. Whiskey drinkers can try a zero proof Old Fashioned.
Better Luck Tomorrow
Head bartender Sarah Crowl earned a reputation for creative non-alcoholic cocktails at places like Coltivare and Rosie Cannonball, and she’s continued that practice at her latest posting. Crowl tells CultureMap that BLT’s current offerings are only the beginning of its non-alcoholic selections. “Down the road this month and beyond we will have more free-spirited drinks available that are unique originals, much like the house cocktails we already create,” she writes. “Beverages with layers of flavors and textures and aromas within the season, with or without alcohol.”
For now, look for options like the Sin & Tonic (a non-alcoholic gin and tonic made with Seedlip Grove, yerba matte, and grapefruit), the Phony-groni made with Kentucky 74, and the Jungle Birdie, which is garnished with an origami bird that Crowl folds by hand.
Brennan’s of Houston
Known for its first-rate service, the Houston classic’s bar team seeks to accommodate diners with both a couple of drinks on the menu and a willingness to make off-menu specials to suit a person’s taste. On the menu, drinks may opt for zero proof versions of a blackberry lemon drop and a mojito. Three of the more popular off menu options are the Sweet Mercy (lime and grapefruit juices, prickly pear syrup), the Simply Peachy (sparkling cider with peach syrup), and the OJ Smash (orange juice with muddled blueberries and mint).
In honor of Dry January, the bar team at this Italian-inspired restaurant in The Heights has rolled out a menu of seven non-alcoholic cocktails and added some non-alcoholic beers to the menu. Examples include the Falling Fox (Seedlip Spice, pineapple, lemon), the Not & Tonic (Lyre’s gin, elderflower tonic, etc.), and the Walks Like a Duck (Lyre’s Ameretti, lemon, egg white).
Guard & Grace
The ultra-stylish downtown steakhouse has five different Dry January options, including watermelon-basil lemonade, a spicy watermelon-mint agua fresca, and a Moscow Mule-inspired sip that includes cucumber, honey syrup, and mango puree.
This plant-based restaurant in the Energy Corridor doesn’t have a special Dry January menu, but its selection of juice-based “spritzers” make for a refreshing, non-alcoholic alternative to a cocktail. Options include: the Golden Glow (orange, carrots, ginger, lemon), We’ve Got the Beet (beets, carrots, ginger, lemon), and the Kale Mint Spritz (Fresh-pressed kale, mint, celery, green apple, finished with lemon & ginger, sparkling water).
“We are here to provide welcoming hospitality and take care of people,” says H-Town Restaurant Group beverage director Sean Beck. “If they want zero alcohol drinks, things that go beyond just a juice or a soda, then we owe it to them to provide options, and not just for one month, but year-round.”
Towards that end, diners will find options like the Mango Margarita-ish, made with mango, orange juice, passionfruit, habanero shrub, lime, thyme, and salt; the Decades In Wait, a Dark and Stormy-inspired cocktail of ginger beer, tamarind syrup, Tajin, and more; and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that comes Topo Chico, Ruby Red grapefruit juice, guava, lime, and smoked rosemary.
Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse
This restaurant in The Woodlands has five non-alcoholic cocktails, including the Tia Mema’s Mocktail Mule, the Cilantro Lime Fizzer, and the Spremuta D'Arancia Sicilian Sunrise, a twist on a Tequila Sunrise made with orange juice, grenadine, and a rosemary stick that’s garnished with an orange wedge.
Local Foods Market
This Rice Village spot stock a number of canned non-alcoholic beverages that can be consumed on its patio or taken to-go. Options include the Ghia La Spritz, an aperitif that’s spiced with botanicals; Le Naturel Zero Zero, a white wine alternative; and non-alcoholic beer from craft favorite Lagunitas.
As noted above, beverage director Lainey Collum has a commitment to offering “free-spirited” selections. Her menu offers eight selections, including the Penichill’n (Spiritless Kentucky 74, ginger syrup, salted honey, lemon, spritz of lapsang souchong tea), Frozen Hawt Chocolate, Toronjajaja (grapefruit, strawberry, lime, firewater, club soda), and the Viva Maracuya (passion fruit, mango, tiki spices, lime, salt, club soda).
As part of its commitment to being welcoming to all, the East End hot spot has a few non-alcoholic options. Patrons always have the option of an agua fresca made by chef Danny Leal as well as a non-alcoholic paloma and cream soda. The current menu also includes the Bishop’s Brew, an Old Fashioned alternative made with Seedlip Spice and alcohol-removed red wine, and the Clothed and Normal, a non-alcoholic spin on a Naked and Famous made with Seedlip Grove, a non-alcoholic aperitif, and mandarin-kumquat syrup.
The Original Ninfa’s
Both locations of the Tex-Mex favorite have options for people abstaining from Ninfaritas. They include both a virgin pineapple mojito and a virgin daiquiri made with Lyre’s White Cane Spirit (a non-alcoholic alternative to rum) as well as a tamarind cocktail made with pineapple juice and bitters that gets a spicy kick from chile de arbol.
Piggy’s Kitchen & Bar
The River Oaks-area spot has a few zero proof options, including the Nada Lada, a Michelada made with Heineken 00; the Toddy Oddy Oddy; and the spicy Oh My Gato (mango, jalapeño, agave syrup, and lime juice).
In keeping with his philosophy of offering compelling, non-alcoholic alternatives to tequila, beverage director Rex Nielsen’s menu include bold, full-flavor drinks. Choose from options like the Stranger Danger (Watermelon-Kiwi La Croix, lime juice, basil, topped with Topo Chico), the Principal Kisses Alligator (Blackberry-Cucumber La Croix, lime juice, fresh blackberries), and the Beet, Pray, Love (Organic beet juice, non-alcoholic aperol, aloe vera, orange marmalade, fermented chamomile syrup, topped with sparkling water).
Bar manager Christian Tellez has created some new, non-alcoholic sips for the acclaimed Montrose restaurant. Consider the Safe and Sound, a tropical-inspired cocktail made with Lyre's Dark Cane Spirit, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and peach syrup; the A Pantomime a highball-style drink that combines Lyre's Dry London Spirit, chamomile tea, cinnamon syrup, and lemon juice; or the Top Five!, a Collins-style drink of hibiscus and mint tea, spiced cranberry syrup, lime juice, and grapefruit juice. Menu staples like the NoGroni and Pina’Hot’A also remain available.