The dining and nightlife scene in and near the Brew City can unsurprisingly be an alcohol-centric world. But not everyone wants to live up to Wisconsin’s reputation as the drunkest state in America.
More and more Wisconsin restaurants and bars are taking inclusive dietary options beyond the food menu.
“Alcohol has become this pervasive element of our lives,” said Ryan Castelaz “If I’m going out to eat I’m going to get a cocktail, a beer, a wine. Even if you don’t want that thing, even if the alcohol is not what you’re going for, it’s become an almost knee-jerk reaction to being out.”
Owner of Discourse Coffee, Ryan Castelaz is a barista and mixologist. He says that although non-alcoholic beverages are important options for people who strictly avoid alcohol, they’re not the largest customer base for the distillers of non-alcoholic spirits.
“Sober people are probably 10 to 15 percent of the market share,” said Castelaz. “Really the people that these companies are marketing to is people who have chosen sobriety for a round, or an evening, or a week, or a month.”
And as for the term, “mocktail”: “It is the most damaging and deleterious word in this space. To call something a mocktail is literally saying it’s mocking cocktails, it’s making fun of a cocktail.”
Restaurants in the Milwaukee area are making efforts to be inclusive of the decision to be sober, whether it’s a permanent lifestyle or a choice for the day, or the week.
“I’ve been fortunate to help create awareness, promote and highlight what it means to normalize not drinking,” said Erik Kennedy.
Kennedy chose to stop drinking about 8 years ago, and he’s since been on a quest to find the best non-alcoholic options for beer, wine and cocktails in Milwaukee. Kennedy helps Visit Milwaukee keep track of which restaurants and bars are offering more than a juice or a Shirley Temple as alternatives.
“Those N/A distilled spirits to me, they still taste like a bourbon, or they have hints of a tequila or whiskey.”
Kennedy says the places with the best non-alcoholic options use high-quality ingredients and feature non-alcoholic options just as prominently as alcohol on a menu.
“Unfortunately we’re still in that space of if I don’t see it on the menu, I’m going to potentially be nervous to ask about it because I don’t want to get called out or I don’t want to have a potentially intrusive conversation about why are you not drinking,” said Kennedy.
One place you will definitely not encounter that question is Inmoxicated. The dry bar, or as manager Jeff Gustin calls it, a “Sobar” is 100% alcohol free.
“Our top three drinks would probably be the smoked old-fashioned; which is your Wisconsin classic — we put a smoke top on and smoke it with oak chips right before it’s served, a blackberry sage refresher and a prickly pear margarita.”
The Sobar is also a safe place for someone who might be sober-curious or is struggling with a form of alcoholism but doesn’t feel ready to try a program like Alcoholics Anonymous.
“They can get back to the fun things they used to do without having to worry about alcohol being present,” said Gustin “We say a no regrets nightlife because you’re going to remember everything.”
This winter, a new bar concept called Equal Parts in coming to the Discourse coffee shop in downtown Milwaukee. Castelaz says the bar will offer over a dozen specialty cocktails that are identical in every way but the alcohol content.
“You’re going to be handed the same menu, receive the same glassware, the same garnish, the drinks are going to look very similar. Really the only difference is going to be whether or not your drink contains or does not contain alcohol.”
Kennedy, Gustin and Castelaz all agree that alcohol is not the ingredient that defines a cocktail.
“The cocktail is a thoughtful composition of two or more ingredients that create a sum that is better than its parts,” said Castelaz.
Cheers, to a more inclusive bar scene in Milwaukee.