The booze-free bar scene is gaining traction in larger cities like New York, but local bar owner Ashley Tipper thinks Wilmington is ready to start exploring mocktails as well. She was watching the news one night when she saw a special about the insurgence of mocktail pop-ups in the Big Apple. While she was skeptical at first, she came around to the idea. Now, folks can sip a delicious, thoughtful, alcohol-free concoction at the Blind Elephant.
“I started going through my mind and thinking of all the times someone has ordered something from me [without] alcohol, and how they ordered it,” Tipper explains. “The approach they took made it seem like they were embarrassed.”
It’s quite a quagmire when you considering The Blind Elephant’s motif is a speakeasy. Whispering nonalcoholic drinks to a bartender seems backward.
National trends suggest people are leaning away from a nightlife solely rooted in booze. So many are focused more on a health-conscious lifestyle, therefore, it makes sense for cocktail bars to match their pace with an increasing number of mocktail programs. The Blind Elephant won’t be handing over their ABC license any time soon, but definitely wants sober people to have more options than the classic soda water with lime or cranberry.
The bar rotates their cocktail list every two months, and with it moving forward, a mocktail list will join the shift. For now they’re featuring two mocktails per rotation, but Tipper anticipates its expansion in the future.
She leaves it up to her bartenders to build the list each month. It’s a fun way to create friendly competition and encourage creativity. They use ingredients, teas and tinctures to tickle the tastebuds. To create the mocktails, Tipper looked at what ingredients would be in the bar for the duration of the current menu and built it from there. Right now they’re offering Bella’s Blues and Georgia Juice. The former is made of blueberries, orange blossom honey, lemon juice and house-made ginger beer. The latter comes with peaches, coconut creme, fresh orange juice, saffron and turmeric tea, with lemon juice. Drinks cost $7 each.
“Both are perfect for summertime,” bartender Kate Branagh says. “They’re great because they’re more complex than just a juice. And that’s what we’re going for with the mocktails. Ours are more of an experience.”
Mocktail sales haven’t been sky-rocketing, but Tipper has faith that, as the trend grows stronger, patrons will catch on. She’s already looking to source more ingredients to keep the libations fresh and interesting. There are rumblings of apricot compote in one of the fall mocktails.
“Something tells me the other bars will be following suit on this soon,” speculates Tipper. “But it’s nice to be the first.”
Any of the beverages on The Blind Elephant’s list could, in theory, be made without alcohol and supplemented with soda water. Having a separate list is much more hospitable, which is the name of the game.
“We didn’t want to take a lazy approach,” she explains. “We took time. We tested them, moved them, changed them, gave them names. Bella’s Blues is actually named after our bar manager’s daughter who’s got the most beautiful blue eyes.”
Tipper also notes she’s noticed the bar scene shifting toward a more “sophisticated atmosphere.” With fewer people going out just to catch a buzz, she finds bar patrons want a place where they can sit down and have a conversation.
The Blind Elephant doesn’t have plans to go full-mocktail, but Tipper does hope her program catches on and anticipates an uptick in mocktail lists around the city. Even for patrons who are down to booze in the evenings, the alcohol-free mixed drinks offer an option to keep the party going, keep it delicious, and steer it away from a hangover the next morning.
“I can’t speak to all of the other bars,” she explains, “but I’ve noticed there aren’t as many shots being ordered. The number of dance bars where drinks like vodka and Red Bull dominate are dwindling. If you look at our busy times, by midnight we’re relatively slow, which speaks to the kind of drinkers who are going out.”
Fans of the The Blind Elephant’s cocktails will be able to join them on August 11 for a Craft Cocktail Bartenders Competition. Mixologists from The Blind Elephant, Tails, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Varnish, Penthouse and KGB will battle it out per skill and Absolut Vodka. Tickets are $10 at the door and come with samples of all of the contenders’ cocktails. Participants also decide who walks away the victor. The Blind Elephant can’t disclose what cocktail they’re planning to bring the heat with at the competition, but folks on the fence of attending can rest assured because these people are professionals who take their craft seriously.
Once more bars in the city churn up their own mocktail menu, who knows? A competition may be hot the heels for them, too.
Craft Cocktail Bartenders’ Competition
August 11, 7 p.m. • $10
Absolut Vodka shake off between mixologists from The Blind Elephant, Tails, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, KGB, Varnish and Penthouse
The Blind Elephant, 21 N. Front St., F
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