‘Mindful Mixology’ author to tout alcohol-free and low-alcohol beverages at event

Non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks are gaining ground – or maybe they’re accepted.

The author of a new book on the subject will be in Milwaukee for an event on Aug. 8 where six bartenders will mix competing drinks and attendees can sample the cocktails.

Derek Brown, the influential bartender from Washington, DC, will sign copies of his “Mindful Mixology: A Complete Guide to Alcohol-Free and Low-Alcohol Cocktails” at Waterford Wine and Spirits on the east side. The event opens with Milwaukee-area bartenders mixing their own non-alcoholic and low-alcohol cocktails.

“It’s not a trend in the sense that it’s brand new,” Brown said of those looking for alcohol-free or low-alcohol beverages. For years, people have avoided alcohol for reasons like general health or pregnancy in particular, out of piety or to be in good shape for a meeting the next morning, he noted.

“They just didn’t feel welcome at the bar,” he said, adding, “It’s been here a long time; it’s just an underserved group of people.”

At the event, attendees can sample drinks made by Milwaukee bartenders and vote for their favorites, and a panel of experts including Brown will judge the drinks on factors such as creativity and taste. The winning bartender will be featured in an advertising campaign to promote their recipe and conscious drinking, said Patrick Miller, head of spirits at Waterford.

Bartenders from Balzac, Birch, the Elephant Room at the Milwaukee Athletic Club, Morel, the Sugar Maple and Vino from the Third Ward will face off on Monday.

What makes a good zero-proof drink?

Making a good zero-proof drink isn’t as simple as skipping the booze. A Tom Collins without gin is basically just lemonade, Brown noted.

Like a cocktail, Brown said, a good soft drink will have four attributes he describes in his book: flavor intensity (alcohol, solvent, flavor concentrates); pungent or biting; length or volume; and texture – alcohol has a weight that can be felt on the tongue.

Using distilled alternatives to alcohol is one solution, either whole or in “half seasons,” but home bartenders can replicate the feel of a cocktail in other ways, Brown said. “It’s something you can do with common household ingredients,” he noted.

For example, ginger syrup, homemade or purchased, adds spice; the same goes for a teaspoon of cider, either apple cider or some other kind. Vinegar is a byproduct of alcohol, Brown observed, and just a little will increase flavor intensity and bite.

And a few drops of tincture of salt — one part salt dissolved in four parts water — goes a long way for a cocktail, too, he said.

Brown’s name has long been synonymous with craft cocktails. His Columbia Room bar in Washington, DC was named America’s Best Cocktail Bar in 2017 by the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. Washingtonian magazine called Columbia Room “one of the most ambitious and revered cocktail bars in DC and the country” when Brown closed it in February.

He is now director of education at Spiritless, a maker of non-alcoholic distilled bourbon and tequila founded by three Louisville women who wanted an alternative for non-drinkers at events they hosted. The number of non-alcoholic distilled spirits has increased in recent years and now includes alternatives to cordial and vermouth in addition to alternatives to basic spirits.

Also attending Monday’s event are Wisconsin soft drink producers: Layne Cozzolino and Mindy McCord of Siren Shrub Co. of Stevens Point; Guy Rehorst of Great Lakes Distillery and the new non-alcoholic spirits brand Sans, producer of an alternative to gin; and Top Note Tonic.

Brown likened the growth of no- or low-strength alternatives to the growing culinary emphasis on vegetables instead of primarily meat.

“It’s about creating something really delicious and special that isn’t alcohol-centric,” he said, adding, “It’s all just a matter of choice.”

How to get tickets

The event will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Admission is $10, which includes drink samples. $40 VIP tickets include 6 p.m. admission to meet the author, a signed copy of the book, and freebies from Siren Shrub — samples of their naturally flavored sipping vinegars and a shrub recipe book.

Tickets are available at waterfordwine.com.

Waterford is at 2120 N. Farwell Ave.; parking is available behind the store.

The event is part of the new group Drink Mindful MKE, which promotes alcohol-free and low-alcohol cocktails in bars and restaurants. The new group’s sponsors include Siren, Waterford, Sand, Spiritless and Top Note, among others.

After:Festivals, Odd Duck, Chef Paz 10+ Events in Milwaukee

After:Chef Adam Pawlak to lead more cooking classes at Milwaukee Public Market

Contact Carol Deptolla at [email protected] or (414) 224-2841, or via Sentinel Food Journal & Facebook Homepage. Follow her on Twitter at @mkediner or Instagram at @mke_diner.

Lola R. McClure