By Spencer Thomas
My wife and I celebrated our 6th anniversary in Two Harbors, Minn., about 20 miles north of Duluth. If you have not been, it’s a lot of big lake-ness, seagulls, trees and people being polite.
Every meal on the trip, including lunch at Le’s Banh Mi in Fargo on our way out of town, was just excellent. They were all “Holy crap, you try a bite of this” meals. It was either really well done versions of familiar things or exotic food that was made even more exotic with interesting choices and great preparation.
I’ll spare you the meal by meal breakdown; suffice it to say we went from Quale to breakfast burritos to wood-fire pizza to steak and there was something memorable and great about everything.
I like to say “You can taste the give-a-shit.” This is a thing I say about places that clearly care about what they make and express that by being attentive, interesting and creative. Having read that sentence you can see why I have boiled it down to “ you can taste the Give-a-shit.”
But the figurative icing on the cake (BTW the actual icing on the Italian wedding cake we split was also pretty great) was the fact that two of the restaurants we went to that had bars, had not only non-alcoholic options, but interesting, well made, sophisticated non-alcoholic options that you would want to tell people about the next day. And I’m not just talking about a Robert Palmer or a Cranberry and Club Soda. Both of which are great.
I’m talking about full-on creations. They usually have names like Nohito, Nada Rita, Shrub & Soda. I’ve been sober for over 20 years and I’m a little surprised and also, very excited to learn that the hospitality industry is figuring out that people who don’t drink alcohol for any number of reasons, would like to have something more interesting than a diet coke or a glass of water from the rail gun.
“So we went to dinner last night and I had the most amazing coffee braised steak with these fingerling potatoes that blew my mind, and then to drink I had a glass of ice water that tasted like stale soda syrup, served to me in a giant red plastic cup like I was 11 year old celebrating my birthday at a Pizza Hut.”
I was going to say “The worst is…” But there are plenty of things worse, I don’t want to be dramatic. Having said that, It’s not “The worst” BUT it IS hard to feel like a part of your group if you are at a professional or social function and every one has a some kind mixed, muddled, strained-through-a-filter of upper Himalayan (which is the better Himalayan) sea salt or some kind of one-of-a-kind Micro Brew that apparently tastes like Waffles and The Television show “Barry”....but in a good way, (you’d get it if you tried it, oh, right, you can’t, uuurrgggg, sorry) in their hand. Meanwhile, you have been served a Sprite in a sippy cup.
It’s life on life’s terms, I get it. But sober people have money, and if they’ve been sober for a while, they might have a fair amount of it. So, I’m happy to see that somebody spent the time to go “Why don’t we make something refreshing and awesome that people can order to enhance the experience of this restaurant, since it is an eating and drinking establishment where people gather to take part in life.”
Sober people like to do stuff and they have money. And you probably won’t have to pour them into an Uber and hope they get home okay while they go “no, you don’t get it, we’re friiiieeeenndddssss restaurant guy” if they have one too many Cucumber juice, ginger and club sodas.
But Spencer, there has been non alcoholic beer forever. True. And I’m going to admit to something: I had never tried it. Until that trip. That’s right, I had my first NA beer in July of 2022. It wasn’t an accident, but I was under the impression that I was ordering something like a ginger beer, which is pop. But a local brewery's version of NA beer is a Cream Ale Style.
I’m not addicted to the FLAVOR of beer, I’m addicted to the alcohol in beer. I don’t drink NA beer for 2 reasons, 1. I just assumed it wouldn’t be very good and 2. If it was good, it would taste like beer and I don’t just drink beer for the taste, I drink beer because it helps keep me emotionally insulated, internally. That’s a longer story for a different day.
So I got the NA beer and was like “You know what, let’s give it a shot” and the trouble is, it was really good. It not only tasted like beer, it tasted like good beer. And the little monster from the past stirred a little and was like “Is it on?....wait, what kind of nonsense is this?”
That’s the reason I don’t think I’ll be making a habit of NA beer. I don’t want to start associating the flavor of good beer with happiness and good food and enjoying time with my wife who I have done an okay job of maintaining a relationship with longer than I have with anyone I’ve ever been romantically involved with. I don’t want to pick that scab. Which brings us back to Mock Tales.
The Mock Tales I had didn’t taste boozy. Diet Coke and 3 shots of the sugar free vanilla syrup they have at the coffee island in gas stations tastes boozy. It’s not booze. But it tastes like it. Anyway, The Mock Tales aren’t doing a cheap (or really good, for that matter) impression of something I used to drink when I was drinking alcohol.
I’m a beer and a shot guy. I didn’t really do mixed drinks and if I did they certainly didn’t taste like a bubbly cranberry with a splash of jalapeno simple syrup, or whatever that was, so the Mock Tales I had didn’t push any buttons or stir up any demons. I realize, that’s not the case for everybody, but you can’t alcoholic-trigger-proof the world. Like I said, Diet Coke and Sugar Free Vanilla taste boozy to me. Should I stop going to the gas station, just in case?
To be honest, I would be happier if you didn’t call them Mock Tales. Then you wouldn’t have the “I’m pretend-drinking” connotation at all. These seemed kind of healthy, they weren’t particularly sugary, although I’m sure they can be amazingly sugary if that’s what you want. They were definitely healthier than soda and in a situation where you didn’t want to explain why you have a big, red plastic cup in your hand instead of a lowball, they would easily get you through the event without you having Phil from Akron start crying in his 6th Manhattan “my Friend’s mom was a drunk, But I tell you what, Hot.Hoooooooooooot (blerp)”
Instead of calling them mock tails they should call them Beverages and call boozy drinks “Puke-on-Your-Shoes” or “I-Made The-Kids-Cry-Again.”
There, how’s that feel? Not great? Didn’t think so.
I had three different Mock Tales and I would gladly pay for another round of each. Like the “You-can-really-taste-the-give-a-shit” food they were served with, they were mature, sophisticated and interesting on their own. You could really taste the “Give-a-Shit” They didn’t need to be thought of as a consolation prize.
“Since you're not doing eight shots of rumplemintz, how about a Shirley Temple?” Don’t get me wrong, I actually love Shirley Temples and always have, but if you think I’m ordering one as an adult, from an adult, in front of other adults, you are goofy in the noggin.
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