Virgin Voyage

By Luke O'Neil | Boston Magazine |

Once upon a time, fine-dining teetotalers were second-class citizens. As sommeliers and bartenders lavished attention on hard-tippling patrons, the pregnant, the detoxing, and the designated-to-drive were left high and dry.

But these days more and more local restaurants—28 Degrees, Tamo, Estragon, and 33, to name a few—are turning out ambitious virgin beverages. At 606 Congress, the "Sip ‘n Slide" lunch menu lists a flight of three mocktails that includes the Cherry Bomb, a bubbly, old-school soda made with muddled Bing cherries. Simple, direct, and flavorful. And a far cry from flat soda-gun Diet Coke.

Mocktails can actually be harder to perfect than their boozy brethren, says Robert Kraemer, bar manager at Chez Henri. "Most cocktails tend to have one dominant spirit as the foundation; take that away, and I get a bit rudderless," he says. "You can’t just throw OJ and cranberry juice in a martini glass and call it a cocktail. But celery soda on the rocks with bitters and lime tastes like a real drink."

When a restaurant’s nonalcoholic offerings enhance the taste of the food, so much the better. The eclectic pan-Asian dishes at the South End’s Myers+Chang come packed with serious heat, but the cooling house-made sodas—like the palate-cleansing aloe-yuzu—can soothe tender tongues. L’Espalier boasts an entire menu of food-friendly "tonics" meant to pair harmoniously with its complexly layered French cuisine.

At Dante, you’ll find sprightly mocktails like the Grenada Grenada—a bracing blend of grenadine, granadilla (tart passion fruit) juice, and ginger beer—as well as sodas brewed by bartender Stephen Shellenberger using "a kind of scientific champagne-makers’ technique." The hibiscus-flavored concoction we sampled was crisp, fizzy, and dry with a strong yeasty nose. "You need something adult and intense, but, obviously, you can’t always drink booze," Shellenberger says. A sobering thought, indeed.

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