Adam Greenberg // Photo: courtesy of Coconut Club

Coconut Club & Other Local Spots Explore Zero-Proof Drinks

Every year since my friends and I have turned 21, any given one of us may have opted to participate in Dry January: a month long act of abstinence from alcohol.  It’s traditionally thought of as a way to reset after higher-than-usual levels of reveling that, for many, kick off around Halloween and don’t relent until New Year’s, after which many of us lay in bed waiting for UberEats, waxing poetic on how nice it is to NOT be hungover and how we never want to feel like this again.

As a January birthday, I’ve bumped many a birthday dinner to early February to accommodate my loved ones who may be participating in dry January, or because I’ve pressed pause on drinking myself. But as whisperings of “I’m taking a break as soon as the holidays end” popped up in my social circles late last year, I realized many of us had already taken steps to cut back or take a dry month regardless of seasonal partying.

 There’s been a cultural shift around how we drink and why, from books like Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington exploring the realistic ins and outs of sobriety while maintaining a sparkling social life, or the rise of beverage manufacturers like Seedlip Spirits, who make “the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits,” becoming a staple in booze-free drinks. Bartenders themselves increasingly opt for sobriety, deciding not to sacrifice their health or their craft in the process.

Reasons to not drink are vast and personal. Sobriety or just scaling back alcohol consumption surely exist en masse outside of the arbitrary post-holiday resets. But socializing over a drink still remains the often opted-for way to catch up with old friends, celebrate a milestone or unwind after you’ve had a week. In light of more and more people sobering up long term, we spoke to the acclaimed chef Adam Greenberg, who will be one of many local heavy hitters participating in Un-Plated’s Zero Proof event on February 24 at his Union Market spot Coconut Club

Greenberg walked us through the rise of the trend on a local and national level, removing the stigma around choosing not to drink (hint: take “mocktail” out of your lexicon), how Coconut Club is responding to the demand for well made, alcohol free libations and the pioneers of this movement who excite him and are paving the way for booze free options that are just as exciting as spirits the DC food and beverage world.

On Tap: The sobriety/sober curious movement has grown significantly over the years nationally. Why do you think that is?
Adam Greenberg: Outside the obvious reasons younger generations (thanks millennials) continue to be more health conscious. Staying sober whether full time, part of the week, dry January, etc., allows people to stay on target with their goals and have more balance. According to the World Health Organization the total amount of drinkers has decreased by about 5 percent since 2000.

OT: Why do you think this movement is picking up steam in DC?
AG: DC is one of the fittest cities in the U.S., so I think it’s a natural fit. Arlington ranked first and DC third in the annual survey conducted the American Fitness Index. This is just a personal observation, but the increasing legalization and usage of marijuana allows DC residents to experiment with things that might be a better fit for their lifestyle. Also, [I] see a shift in going out culture: there is less of a stigma to not drink while out.

OT: How often would you say customers ask for alcohol-free drinks beyond just soda or sparkling water?
AG: Multiple times per evening – I’d say one out of every five tables. Just like the vegetarian trend years ago, restaurants can’t just serve grilled veggies with balsamic. You have to have strong vegetarian options. Now customers are requesting/expecting an “NA Bev Menu.”

OT: How do you think restaurant and bar owners and staff can better cater to this growing lifestyle choice?
AG: Taking it seriously, first of all. Offering a plethora of options for sober guests is key and also making it both fun and high quality.

OT: Can you tell me what drew you to participating in Zero-Proof?
AG: Working with sober bartenders and seeing people sober on social media made our team realize that there is a huge group of people we could be better serving. We’ve partnered with Un-Plated to host a zero-proof cocktail event with some of the best bartenders in the city at Coconut Club on February 24. Participating bars include Compass Rose, Doi Moi, Beuchert’s Saloon, Espita Mezcaleria, Tiger Fork, Schillings Canning Company, Bourbon Steak, Columbia Room, Chaplin’s and Zeppelin. 15 percent of ticket sales will benefit Ben’s Friends, an organization aimed at creating a safe space for hospitality professionals to pursue and maintain sobriety in the number one industry that struggles with substance abuse.

OT: I know you’ve long offered the cracked coconut, which I’ve definitely ordered at happy hours when I’m taking a break from drinking, but do you have plans to incorporate more non alcoholic options to the menu?
AG: Yes! We are working with Chris our bar manager to develop more zero proof cocktails.

OT: How are you able to rework your cocktail menu to exclude alcohol? What stand ins take the place of booze in some of your drinks when one is requested?
AG: We’ve already designed zero-proof cocktails that are meant to be without alcohol. Our preference is to craft something intentionally that is delicious vs. changing the balance of a spirit based drink.

OT: Will the drink you’re making as part of Zero-Proof be available to order after the event?
AG: Yes we will keep [the Gin-Ger and Juice] on our menu!

OT: Can you tell me more about crafting the drink you’ll be featuring at the event?
AG: Gin-Ger and Juice [is] guava, lime, ginger, honey, mint and club soda. It’s like a tropical version of a spirit-free mojito, which people always love and enjoy when on beach time.

OT: What ingredients do you like to highlight in alcohol-free drinks?
AG: Fresh herbs and juices, house made syrups, and other high quality ingredients that we make. Example: Gin-ger and juice is an example of a zero proof cocktail we are serving right now.

OT: What do you think the future of the sober cocktail movement is in DC and the restaurant world as a whole?
AG: I think it’s becoming more of a staple in every restaurant and bar. Hopefully, it will be catered to more, less stigmatized. Also seeing more zero proof alcohol coming from some of the bigger suppliers.

OT: Are there any beverage directors or mixologists that are on your radar for great alcohol-free elixirs, or that you’re excited to work with during Zero-Proof and beyond?
AG: Allegory with Paul Gonzalez & Deke Dunne, [and for] low/no ABV [drinks,] Andy Bixby of Dram & Grain.

Zero-Proof will be held at Coconut Club on Monday, February 24 from 7-9 p.m. For a full list of participants, food and drink offerings and more, click here. 

Coconut Club: 540 Penn St. NE, DC;

Sober in the City
Planning an outing but not planning to drink? Fear not: the bars below feature zero-proof options that are just as good and Instaworthy as a traditional cocktail.

Buzzed-about Bresca has been a welcome addition to the dining scene on 14th Street and to our Instagram feeds since its opening in 2017. The Michelin-starred restaurant is frequently visited for both their food and incredible drink selections. A spot as well loved and innovative as Bresca wouldn’t be the same without equally creative alcohol-free options. Their “Boissons” menu features refreshing juice-based options that pair perfectly with their menu. And at $8 a pop, your wallet will thank you for staying sober. 1906 14th St. NW, DC;

Columbia Room
Derek Brown’s Drink Company empire had been at the forefront of innovation in the cocktail world both locally and nationally, so it’s no wonder his outpost Columbia Room in the cozy, creative Blagden Alley included no-proof cocktails long before the trend truly took off. As cutting edge cocktails are this bar’s signature, you can expect uncommon pairings like lime and allspice maple or bay leaf soda with citrus ash in these spirit free drinks. 124 Blagden Alley NW, DC;

Dos Mamis
Since its opening in 2019, this Petworth bar has been buzzed about nonstop. Believe the hype, especially when it comes to the self described “good vibes” spot’s emphasis on booze-free concoctions. Anna Bran-Leis and Carlie Steiner took great care to include a menu dubbed “Sobrio” as one of their regular offerings, which features three alcohol free cocktails made with the same care you’d expect from a craft drink made with the highest shelf liquors. 819 Upshur St. NW, DC;

The Imperial
This highly anticipated, newly opened U Street Corridor destination also incorporated dry drinks into their regular cocktail menu. The beautiful, bright and airy spot by the team that brought you Jack Rose Dining Saloon is the perfect place to enjoy booze free bubbles (the rotating seasonal offering is infused with CO2 for a little something extra) and a bite at the raw bar without ruining your new year’s resolution or being tempted by alcohol. 2001 18th St. NW, DC;

For Virginians (or those crossing the river) looking for zero-proof drink options, Salt is the place to be. This brand-new Rosslyn spot, located in the JBG Central Place building, also incorporated spirit free options into their menu. Salt’s options include unexpected and exciting ingredients like egg whites paired with rosewater or salted cucumber with ginger. Dining companions who are drinking might even want to skip booze for the evening to give one of their enticing dry options a try. 1201 Wilson Blvd G113, Arlington, VA;

Booze-Free Best Bets 
Stock your fridge or bar cart with these dry drinks that are zero booze but all deliciousness. 

Blue Ridge Bucha
Just because you’re off booze doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice lazy weekend afternoons spent at a brewery. Take the scenic drive to Waynesboro, VA to enjoy some of the region’s best kombucha, fresh from their taproom, or get your growler filled to take some home. They also have seasonal releases that rival the taste and excitement that comes with those of local breweries. 1809 E Main St. Waynesboro, VA;

LaCroix LaCola
I’m picking this specific LaCroix flavor because it’s a dual purpose habit kicker: its cola flavors will make you forget you ever relied on Diet Coke or other Splenda-laden sodas for a cola fix, and its unique, bitey flavor is a great booze substitute to keep on hand when the craving for sugar, booze or both hits you. Available at most Whole Foods locations.

If you’re craving something sweet, Mingle Sparkling Mocktails offer an elevated, spirit free sipping option with their lightly carbonated drinks flavored with natural botanicals. If you’re throwing a party and want to truly include friends and family who’ve chosen not to drink, or maybe you’re staying sober yourself, placing bottles of Mingle’s fun flavors on your bar cart are an excellent way to make those guests feel included in drinking fun, creative and sweet concoctions. My personal favorite is the blood orange elderflower flavor, whose gorgeous orange color looks great in a highball glass with a little extra sparkling water poured on top, garnished with a lime wedge.

Seedlip Spirits
At most of the aforementioned spots with alcohol free cocktails, you’ll find Seedlip present in lieu of a traditional clear spirit. Their herbal flavors – think those that come to mind with the words “spice,” “grove” and “garden” – pair beautifully with a simple tonic or sparkling water, and their website provides plenty of inspiration for dry cocktails. Grab a few of their bottles for your bar cart and let the sober mixologist in you run wild.

Similar to my LaCroix mention, this is a very utilitarian approach to keeping your house booze free, and comes with the added benefit of not even having to purchase a case of sparkling waters or other booze free drinks. Sodastream lets you carbonate your water at home, from a light bubble to a Topo Chico level, throat burning fizz (the only way to do it, in my humble opinion). Plus you’ll generate less waste from bottles and cans, you can add fun flavors to your bubbles for maximum experimentation, and many retailers offer CO2 canister exchanges that reduce the price and footprint of owning one of these nifty devices.