When Kerry Benson is looking for the perfect dinner drink, she pages through her mocktail recipes. Becoming sober-curious over the past year, the University of Delaware grad finds her nonalcoholic libations more exciting than her previous choices of wine and cocktails.
“I don’t view it as a limitation,” she says. “I view it actually as I have more options than I ever would have had.”
Part of Benson’s journey to becoming sober-curious, or mindfully choosing an alcohol-free lifestyle, is attributed to her work with Diana Licalzi on their mocktail recipe books.
The two dietitians released their second title, Mocktail Party, in May, featuring 75 nonalcoholic and plant-based recipes. The book is aimed toward people living an alcohol-free lifestyle or lessening their intake of alcoholic drinks, and who are also interested in plant-based eating, health and fitness.
Mocktail Party follows the pair’s first recipe book, Drinking for Two, which focuses on mocktails with health benefits for expectant mothers. The authors found themselves increasingly living a sober lifestyle as they did research for the newest book. Benson says she’s found personal benefits from the change, including no urge to drink alcohol and healthier-feeling skin.
“It’s really been this interesting evolution of the first book inspiring the second book, but then that also really influenced our lives, and now Diana and I have become so passionate about alcohol-free living and making it more accessible and also normalizing it,” Benson says.
Some of the mocktails from the book Benson makes on repeat are the Pal-No-Ma (grapefruit juice, coconut water and agave nectar or honey are the key flavors) and the mockaritas (frozen fruits and agave give each a unique taste).
The pair also launched an online platform called The Sober Dietitians. Through their blog and social media channels, the two women explore their relationship with alcohol and alcohol-free living.
And the mocktail’s popularity is growing in more places than the home kitchen: Delaware restaurants are expanding their mocktail menus as more patrons seek out alcohol-free options.
“There are people that cannot enjoy alcohol because maybe pregnancy or medications or they’re in recovery,” says Gary Papp, the owner of Harbour Restaurant at Canal Square. “They’d like to have a tasty beverage and feel comfortable.”
Papp started abstaining from alcohol in 2019 due to a health condition. When he and his wife began working on the opening of the Lewes restaurant in 2020, he made a nonalcoholic drink menu a priority.
Papp brought in Rob Bagley as Harbour’s mixologist to create a unique selection. Bagley focused on making standout drinks with seasonal flavors and fresh ingredients. This way, guests ordering mocktails didn’t feel like they were just getting a cocktail sans spirits but instead something unique.
“We wanted the experience to be, this is a cocktail in its own right. It’s made thoughtfully with specific ingredients to match and pair with nonalcoholic spirits,” he explains.
Harbour’s best-selling drinks include their riffs on the cosmopolitan and the margarita. Outside of the restaurant, Bagley also makes DeStijl Elixers, mixers for nonalcoholic or alcoholic drinks made from local seasonal ingredients. Previous flavors include honey from various Delaware farmers and lavender from Lavender Fields in Milton.
Bagley says social media is the best way to stay up to date with DeStijl Elixers, currently available at Paul’s Kitchen and Cullen-ary Company in Lewes and other pop-up locations.
At Home Grown Cafe in Newark, executive chef Andrew Thorne flexes his bartending muscles to create seasonal nonalcoholic drinks for the menu. Owner Sasha Aber says the café is already inclusive with its meal options, offering vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and more, so it made sense to complement the food with a selection of zero-proof cocktails.
“We have such a great culinary team, there’s no reason [customers] shouldn’t be able to have that same experience with a drink,” she says.
For spring and summer, Home Grown is offering a piña colada made with dragon fruit purée, pineapple juice, lime juice and a pineapple garnish. The chef’s garden fizz includes egg whites, lemon juice, powdered sugar and lemonade, all garnished with a Meyer lemon. Those who don’t eat eggs can enjoy the drink with an aquafaba substitute (leftover liquid from cooked chickpeas whipped to appear like egg whites).
“The mocktail’s popularity is growing in more places than the home kitchen: Delaware restaurants are expanding their mocktail menus as more patrons seek out alcohol-free options.”
Benson, who recently moved back to Pennsylvania from Cincinnati, Ohio, says she’s excited to see Delaware restaurants offering more alcohol-free drink options.
“I really hope that continues and I strongly believe that it will,” she says. “I don’t think these are trends, I think these are movements.”
Harbour Restaurant at Canal Square; 134 W. Market St., Lewes; 200-9522; harbourlewes.com
Home Grown Cafe; 126 E. Main St., Newark; 266-6993; homegrowncafe.com