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A Move Toward Inclusivity In Beverage Offerings

An Inconvenient Booth

As you sit down your server hands you a beverage menu. You scan its pages and you notice an assemblage of craft beers, handmade cocktails, wine by the bottle, wine by the glass. You do not see what you’re looking for, and you are not surprised. This has happened to you before. 

You’re staying away from alcohol right now. You might have decided to take some time off to focus on your health; perhaps you simply don’t care for the effects of alcohol; maybe you’ve struggled with alcohol consumption in the past. But why you’ve chosen not to drink today is not important in this interaction, and you have resigned yourself to the whims of whichever house of American sodas this establishment subscribes to. You absently discard your menu on the table and move on to scanning the appetizers. 

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Your server is back and is eager to take your drink order. You can tell they are a kind person, but you can feel a familiar awkwardness as you prepare to ask what applies to your so-called restrictions. This once-inviting space has become a lot less accommodating, and that realization hits your brain like a pile of unused menus. 

No Looking Back 

Scenarios like this used to play out in restaurants and bars wherever doors were open, but we are no longer at the mercy of the soda gun’s limited options. Owners and operators have started to reserve their creative talents–and real estate on their menus–for low-octane and/or no-octane fare. N/A beer options are no longer a secret–they’re on the menu right next to their alcohol-bearing cousins, and some bars even offer them on draft. Remorsefully asking the bartender to accommodate your desire for a “mocktail,” hoping that you aren’t being too much of a pill, is a thing of the past–they are eager to help, and they can direct you to the two or three great options listed on their menu for you to navigate on your own. You can even find an N/A wine on some menus. 

A New Wave of Temperance?

This movement toward more non-boozy options has less to do with New Year’s resolutions, and a lot more to do with normalization. In the same way that “Sober-Curious” months like “Dry January,” “Feb Fast,” “Dry July,” and “Sober October” have forced us to be more conscious and intentional with our habits, they have also forced the industry to take a sober look at their beverage menus. But there is more going on than establishments struggling to keep the public interested during these months. There is a sincere drive for inclusivity in beverage options.

Krysti Kokot, manager at Red Feather Lounge, which currently sports two no-liquor cocktails in a section on their cocktail menu, cheekily titled “Not To Be Mocked,” is one of the many conscientious imbibers who feel especially passionate about this. “It’s something that I thought about a lot when I’ve taken breaks from drinking in the past,” Kokot says. “Back then, I would go out with my friends and have a cranberry & soda–or something like it–when I really wished that I could have a cocktail and still hang out.” Drinking establishments used to be just that–a place to get a drink–but this familiar awkwardness has inspired Krysti and other beverage managers to show what they can do to accept anyone who might walk into their doors. 

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

It isn’t just bartenders and managers who have recognized a need for inclusive beverages. Beverage producers have taken a hard look at their softer offerings too. Melissa Nodzu co-founded Boise’s Free Spirits Beverage Co. with supertaster culinarian Bri Beford in October 2019. They specialize in shrub-based, non-alcoholic cocktails. “We started out as a bitters company,” says Nodzu. “But we found that most of the time we were explaining to people how to use our products. We quickly realized that bitters weren’t where we really wanted to be.” Many people would ask Melissa and Bri how to make fun non-alcoholic drinks at home, and they decided to go for it. “We thought, ‘Why can’t we just make really great, quality drinks, without alcohol, and just blow peoples’ minds?’” 

“We thought, ‘Why can’t we just make really great, quality drinks, without alcohol, and just blow peoples’ minds?’” 

Indeed, why can’t you? And cocktail programmers agree. Kokot remarks, “I’d rather have something that is ready to go, on a menu that I can order from just like everyone else.” She goes even further, adding, “I believe that every bar should have zero-proof cocktails on their menus. It’s really important. It’s a way for us to say, ‘Hey, we offer cool cocktails for everyone to experience.’ A lot of these zero-proof bars that are opening in bigger cities–they still feel like bars! Some of them are only 21 and up in order to reinforce that.” 

On where the current trend is headed, Nodzu says, “Some people say that Boise is 3-5 years behind in some ways, but we’re seeing more and more of a need. And, ultimately, that’s all we did. We just saw a need. We saw it in 2019, and it’s only grown from there. Sober people find us, but we’re for everyone.” And that is true. You can take a Free Spirits product and sip it as is or add a little something to it. And at Red Feather you’re more than welcome to add a spirit to your booze-free cocktail.

It’s Not About The “Why.”

“I don’t want people to have to explain their ‘why,’” says Nodzu. “It’s not my business. People choose not to drink for all kinds of reasons; they can share that with me if that’s important to them, and I will always listen. But I recognize that it’s for them to decide.” 

That sentiment calls for a hearty “cheers” and a steady raising of the glasses, whether those glasses contain an alcoholic beverage or not, for it is wonderfully clear that we’re all at the same table, enjoying the same company, celebrating the same inclusion. 

Cody Meurer
Cody Meurer
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Cody Meurer has spent more than a decade working in restaurants, bars, and breweries in the Boise area. He has a particular fondness for beverage, once serving as the beer buyer for Bittercreek Alehouse. When not enjoying a good drink with friends, he enjoys reading a good book and spinning vinyl records. You might even see him DJing an event at one of your favorite local spots. Ask him about his reading goal for this year or what he’s reading right now.