A gourmet alternative to alcohol
Words by Jessa Smout + PHOTOGRAPHY BY Lindley Rust

Booze-free shindig options are no longer reserved for only pregnant ladies and your religious Aunt Zelda. In fact, more and more people are choosing not to drink alcohol for a wide variety of reasons. Maybe you have health-conscious guests or those who feel empowered by the awareness that comes with a sober lifestyle. Either way, alcohol-free no longer means fun-free, and this growing trend is shaping cocktail menus, alcohol-free bars, and fresh bottled delights. It’s a detail to approach with just as much creativity, thoughtfulness, and intention as any other aspect of your wedding.

As a private beverage caterer with 20 years of experience, I find it impossible not to add a foodie flare to my creative process. I place equal importance on what goes into a drink as to why and when a guest is drinking it. The most extraordinary events I’ve helped design are those that feature a menu as fresh and authentic as the hosts. I have had the pleasure of pouring incredibly expensive and rare wines, whiskey made for a queen, and, as of late, “free spirits”—my term for beverages with no alcohol—made with flower essences and wild foraged flowers. 

Make sure your beverage caterer is aware that you would like free spirit alternatives. You don’t want to run out of a given mixer that she is also using for cocktails. And don’t forget to include free spirits on your beverage menu so people know there’s an option; use wording like “no ABV” or “low ABV” to be subtle and tactful.

Have you noticed the number of drink choices in your local grocery store’s cooler? Healthy drink options are a trend on par with those choosing not to drink alcohol. People want healthy choices alongside the, perhaps, not-so-healthy ones. Think organic ketchup with french fries as a prime example. This is true for bar choices as well. For instance, a delicious free spirit made with fresh-pressed juice and honey simple syrup, topped with sparkling water with a sprig of fresh garden mint can also pair great with locally made gin.  

Photo by Lindley Rust

Don't forget to provide the most important free spirit: WATER. Surprisingly, this detail is often overlooked. Plus, a water station can be a decorative and intentional part of the reception festivities.

There are many ways to accommodate booze-free guests. First, make sure your planner or beverage caterer knows that providing free spirits or low-ABV (alcohol-by-volume) drinks is important to you, and extrapolate what that might look like. If you are happy with guests getting their typical choice of bar mixers, like Coke, Diet Coke, ginger ale, or lemonade, then go for it. But you can think outside of the traditional offerings by incorporating beverages like CBD drinks, drinks that include flower essences, and kombucha. Opt for mixers with fresh ingredients that create one-of-a-kind alcoholic cocktails but that can also double as a free spirit.  

You can make the simplest beverages pop with the right garnish. Edible flowers, dried citrus, and herbs are a few of my favorites—served in colorful glasses, of course.

Photo by Lindley Rust

Healthy food and beverage choices make guests feel cared for. Use welcome baskets with fresh juice blended specifically to combat dry skin and altitude sickness, or to help conquer a rehearsal dinner hangover. For a pre-wedding scenic float trip, pack coolers full of locally crafted beer and a free spirit that mixes perfectly with rum. Imagination and creativity are memorable characteristics of any occasion and will leave your guests wanting more. And don’t forget that alcohol can be one of the more expensive aspects to your event, depending on your audience, so giving people fewer alcoholic options may work better with your budget.  

There are many extraordinary offerings that can be incorporated into an unparalleled event. Be intentional and true to yourself, and you will certainly please your attending tribe. Making sure that everyone has something delicious to drink is an important part of any event, and healthy choices need no longer be relegated to the salad bar—they can now can be at the bar. 

Photo by Jamye Chrisman
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