Brian DuBois, assistant general manager of Charlotte, North Carolina’s Billy Sunday, argues that all people are health-conscious in one way or another. “Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or just getting in shape, people have their reasons for wanting to eat and drink more healthfully,” he says. “Some may choose to not drink as the solution, but that cuts out the social aspect of going out to the bar or hanging with friends. The response from a bartending standpoint is to make drinks approachable for those looking for a healthier option.”
Thankfully for those seeking cocktails aligned with their health goals, bartenders today have more options than ever. “There’s many great-tasting healthy ingredients out there,” notes Mariena Mercer Boarini, master mixologist for North America for Wynn Resorts. “When there are delicious ingredients that are also good for you, it makes the choice easy.”
Mercer Boarini adds that education is also driving the trend of more healthful imbibing. “People are more educated when it comes to adaptogens, fresh juices, herbs, and teas, and incorporating those into their everyday lives,” she says. Amir Babayoff, bar director at Ophelia in New York City, believes the pandemic only furthered consumers’ education and awareness of what they put in their bodies. “As more people stayed home during the pandemic—reading, cooking, researching, and taking creative initiatives due to circumstances and boredom—we’ve seen a surge in culinary awareness, health, and creativity.” Babyoff adds that the trends he’s seeing include drinks with lower calories, sugar, and carbs, as well as the rise of low-abv drinks and mocktails.
But even health-conscious guests still want to be wowed at the bar, DuBois points out. “People don’t want to miss out on the experience of an upscale, Instagrammable cocktail just because they want to be healthy, which means we have to be more creative as bartenders,” he says. “Just like there are so many diet options out there, there are endless options for how to cater your cocktail to your journey—low-sugar drinks have come a long way from the Skinny Margarita and spirit-free options have come a long way from the Shirley Temple.”
Fresh Is Best
For years now, the preference for fresh ingredients over pre-packaged bottles with artificial flavoring has been a driving trend behind the bar, and this is perhaps the simplest way to make a cocktail stand out to a health-conscious consumer. “Ultimately what seems healthy will be healthy, so fresh juices, natural syrups, and higher quality ingredients will always be king,” DuBois says. “The emphasis on fresh ingredients is sweeping the cocktail world—the number of bars using sour mix is dwindling by the day.” His Chef’s Kiss ($12) features Lunazul Reposado Tequila, Yellow Chartreuse liqueur, lemon juice, and a green juice comprising cucumber, green apple, kale, spinach, fennel, and lemon, while his The Resolution ($12) blends Tito’s vodka, Cardamaro amaro, honey yogurt, and passion fruit nectar.
Similarly featuring yogurt and fresh passion fruit, the Expat In Peru ($14) at Jaja in Cleveland mixes Bauer’s Obstler Apple & Pear brandy, lime juice, house-made passion fruit syrup, honey syrup, and Greek yogurt. The drink was created by bar consultant Jeremy Owen Barrett, who also made the fruit- and vegetable-forward She Only Wears Green ($15), comprising St. George Terroir gin, Green Chartreuse liqueur, house-made cucumber syrup, honeydew and lime juices, and fresh mint.
“I do believe that consumers are leaning more into health-conscious consumption, and the information available through the internet and knowledgeable bartenders is shifting the industry toward a more health-conscious lifestyle,” says Miranda Densford, beverage director at Barn8 Farm Restaurant & Bourbon Bar in Goshen, Kentucky. “Using fresh juices from root vegetables definitely makes consumers feel good about what they’re consuming.” Bartender Zack Staten’s Bourbon, Beets, Battlestar Galactica ($13) features Old Forester 100-Proof Bourbon, house-made ginger and thyme syrup, lemon juice, and purple beet juice. “Ginger is another ingredient that’s great for a healthier cocktail,” Densford adds. “There are so many health benefits to ginger and it really works well in drinks in a multitude of ways.” At Carrie’s Conservatory in The Hamilton hotel in Alpharetta, Georgia, the Bears Beats Beets ($17) comprises WhistlePig PiggyBack 6-year-old rye, Giffard Lichi-Li lychee liqueur, house-made beet and ginger shrub, lemon juice, Angostura Cocoa bitters, and soda water.
“When it comes to healthier alternatives I usually go based on spirit,” says Gerardo Ramirez, bartender at Proper Grit restaurant at The Ben hotel in West Palm Beach, Florida. “This includes researching which brands lack additives in the flavor or coloring of the spirit. In my experience, being well versed in these areas and helping guide guests to make better choices has made a great impact on having loyal customers.” His Agave Punch ($16) has a base of reposado and blanco Tequilas from Volcan De Mi Tierra—a certified additive-free brand—plus Grand Marnier orange liqueur, pineapple and lime juices, house-made orgeat, and Angostura bitters.
Densford takes a similar approach. “In my opinion, being conscious about what goes into the spirits that you consume is important because you’re able to avoid unwanted chemicals,” she says. “This might mean opting for the more expensive brands but if you’re going to drink, you should drink the good stuff.”
Ophelia’s Babayoff says that one of the reasons he’s been able to determine that his guests are growing more health-conscious in their cocktail choices is based on the types of questions they’re asking at the bar. “For example, many people are now inquiring whether we’re using fresh ingredients instead of store-bought syrups or processed mixers and they also ask for low-calorie or low-sugar options, such as agave nectar, cane, or brown sugar, rather than traditional sugar,” he says. “Another thing I’ve noticed is an interest in health-promoting ingredients like turmeric, ginger, and green tea, which are believed to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making them popular among those looking for a healthier drink option.” Babyoff’s A La Española ($20) has been washed with organic unsweetened soy milk and comprises white ginger pear tea-infused Fords gin, Bénédictine herbal liqueur, Rockey’s botanical liqueur, lemon juice, and house-made ginger syrup and cardamom tincture, topped with Fever-Tree tonic. His Indi Sour ($24) blends New Riff rye, Linie aquavit, Boulard VSOP Calvados Rye Cask Finish Cognac, St-Germain liqueur, Apologue Saffron liqueur, lemon juice, house-made turmeric and ginger syrups, saline, and egg white.
Ginger, turmeric, and tea are indeed trending in cocktails right now. At The House of Marigold in Louisville, Kentucky, general manager Kortney Bowman’s Morning Glory ($11) features Effen vodka, turmeric-infused pineapple juice, orange and lime juices, and Goslings ginger beer. At Jaja, Barrett’s It’s Pronounced How-Stun ($15) mixes George Dickel rye, yerba mate-infused Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Montenegro amaro, and Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters. And at Overstory in New York City, bar director Harrison Ginsberg’s Matcha Shakerato ($24) blends Haku vodka, house-made green tea liqueur, matcha powder, oat milk, honey syrup, and saline.
“I like to incorporate teas that are both flavor and health champions into both cocktails and zero-proof beverages in a myriad of ways—for instance, blue matcha is a beautiful color-changing tisane that is stunning and also helps in detoxification and inflammation,” Wynn Resorts’ Mercer Boarini says. “I also like using schisandra berry, which is known as the ‘five-flavor berry’ and is an adaptogen that increases energy and liver function.” At the Wynn’s Chinese restaurant Wing Lei, Mercer Boarini’s Three Treasures ($19) comprises Patrón Sherry Cask Aged Añejo Tequila, Giffard Vanille de Madagascar vanilla liqueur, John D. Taylor’s velvet falernum, house-made Chinese five spice syrup, pineapple and lime juices, and schisandra berry extract.
Less Is More
Shauntea Casey, drinksmith at Tortoise Supper Club in Chicago, points out that while a simple spirit and club soda is arguably the healthiest type of cocktail, health-conscious guests are looking for more interesting craft cocktail experiences. “In an effort to meet this demand, we look to create drinks with fewer but higher quality ingredients,” she says. “Infused spirits with all natural ingredients add a lovely dimension to a craft cocktail and infusing our own vodka is time-consuming and requires a lot of space we don’t have.” Her The Corner of Töst & Pine ($15) features Ketel One Botanical Peach & Orange Blossom—a vodka distilled with all natural fruit and botanical flavors and no added sugar—pineapple juice, and Töst Rosé, a non-alcoholic sparkling beverage containing white tea, ginger, and elderberry.
“I would say the most health-conscious trend we’re seeing now is the spirit-free movement,” Jaja’s Barrett says. “Non-alcoholic drinks have become much more widely accessible. Before this trend really took off, most people could only get mocktails with some basic juices and syrups, or just some sort of soda or tonic option. Nowadays you can walk into most serious craft cocktail bars and receive a well-thought-out non-alcoholic cocktail with the same amount of complexity as a traditional cocktail—it helps that we definitely have more options to work with in regard to non-alcoholic distilled ‘spirits,’ with Seedlip being one of the first.”
At Barn8, Densford’s Pink Derby ($12) blends NKD LDY Whiskey Alternative non-alcoholic spirit, house-made grapefruit jam, lemon juice, salted honey syrup, and fresh basil. “The non-alcoholic products available today provide an inclusive way for everyone to enjoy the creativity of a cocktail menu without indulging in alcohol consumption,” she notes. At the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica, California, the Lobby Lounge recently introduced a new ‘free-spirited’ beverage menu spearheaded by mixologist Gianna Jones. It features zero-proof options like the Rhubarb Spritz ($16), a take on the Aperol Spritz made with Dhõs Bittersweet Rhubarb, Seedlip Citrus, and soda water; the Spice & Everything Nice ($16), a Margarita variation mixing Seedlip Herbal, muddled jalapeños and rosemary, pineapple and lemon juices, and a Tajín rim; and the Garden Party ($16), a blend of Seedlip Herbal, house-made hibiscus syrup, and rosemary.
At the Wynn, as part of the resort’s Living Well program, the Drinking Well program includes zero-proof craft cocktails created by Mercer Boarini that are available throughout the resort’s dining spaces. “This program is inspired by balance for the mind, body, and soul and I feel that drinking well and feeling well don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Mercer Boarini says. “It’s exciting to incorporate interesting and healthy ingredients in a way that doesn’t feel compromised, but elevated.” At the Wynn’s Overlook Lounge, Mercer Boarini’s Ava ($9) features Lyre’s Italian Orange non-alcoholic aperitif, Fever-Tree ginger beer, and sparkling water, and as part of the Wynn’s poolside menu, Mercer Boarini’s Solar Power ($19) comprises La Colombe cold brew coffee, almond milk, house-made vanilla syrup, and Sunwink Cacao Clarity, a “superfood” powder of maca root with lion’s mane and reishi mushrooms. “The Solar Power is my favorite healthful beverage to make—with its heart-healthy and adaptogenic ingredients, it’s such a natural boost to energy levels and is helpful for focus and mental clarity,” she adds. “I think the way we think about consumption and the ingredients that we put in our bodies is here to stay, and certainly the future path of drinking.”