Have you ever found yourself wondering "what's the difference between cocktail and mocktail?" You aren't alone! As the Sober Curious movement gains steam, more people are interested in learning the main differences.
In this article, I explore cocktails and mocktails and provide a helpful infographic comparing the two. I also share a bit of history, popular cocktails and mocktails, and examples of drinks enjoyed by celebrities.
So let's get into it!
Summary of Difference between cocktail and mocktail
The differences between cocktail and mocktail are:
- Cocktails have the addition of alcohol and mocktails do not.
- When it comes to price, cocktails are typically a bit more expensive than mocktails.
- Cocktails have an age requirement of 21 and up in the United States and mocktails do not have an age requirement.
And some similarities!
- Both cocktails and mocktails are typically included on the drink menu at restaurants and bars and come in a wide variety of flavors.
- They taste similar because of the use of many of the same ingredients such as juices, sodas, herbs, infused syrups, and spices or bitters.
Cocktail and Mocktail Defined
To really understand the differences between a mocktail and cocktail, it's helpful to have a bit more insight on the history of each.
Cocktails are alcoholic drinks made with a spirit (such as vodka, whiskey, tequila, or rum), or a combination of spirits mixed with other ingredients like fruit juice, herbs, sugar syrup, bitters, soda water, tonic water, or soft drinks.
Cocktails are alcoholic beverages and are sometimes referred to as a mixed drink. The taste of a cocktail depends on: 1. spirit base (base liquor), 2. how much alcohol is added, and 3.the flavor of additional ingredients. They range from a sour taste to a bitter or sweet taste.
The alcoholic content of a cocktail also varies depending on how much of a spirit is added. As you may have guessed, cocktails taste stronger when there is a significant portion of alcohol.
The Six Basic Cocktails
When making popular cocktails, bartenders use a standard procedure to get the right proportions of ingredients. In 1948, David Embury wrote his book, "The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks." In it, he defined the six basic cocktails. This will give you an idea of what a classic cocktail is and what type of alcohol they contain.
- Martini - gin + dry vermouth, often with a dash of bitters, olive, or lemon twist garnish.
- Manhattan - bourbon or rye whiskey + sweet vermouth with a dash of aromatic bitters.
- Old-Fashioned - whiskey + bitters with simple syrup and fruit (usually an orange slice or maraschino cherry).
- Daquiri - light rum + freshly squeezed lime juice + simple syrup.
- Sidecar - brandy + triple sec with freshly squeezed lime juice and a lemon or orange twist to garnish.
- Jack Rose - applejack + freshly squeeze lemon juice + grenadine and lemon twist for garnish.
Some other popular cocktails include the classic Bloody Mary, Piña Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri, Long Island Iced Tea, Lime Rickey and a Paloma (grapefruit juice mixed with tequila).
A mocktail is a non-alcoholic drink that mimics the flavors of a cocktail. They are designed to look and taste similar to a cocktail but the main difference is they are made without spirits and are alcohol free. Essentially, they are a non-alcoholic cocktail, so named because they "mock" cocktails. They are sometimes also referred to as a virgin cocktail or virgin drink.
Just like a standard cocktail, mocktails have different flavor profiles depending on the non-alcoholic spirits, fresh ingredients, or mixture of fruit juices or other ingredients that are used. Fun mocktails are a great choice at social gatherings for pregnant women, those below the age limit to drink, or people who want to avoid alcohol intake for another reason.
Similar to their alcoholic counterparts, mocktails are often also served out of the same glassware as cocktails. In addition, they often use the same ingredients including different fruit juices, bitters and aromatics, infused sodas, herbs, citrus, and fruits for garnish.
With the increase in sober curiosity, mocktails are increasing in popularity. People are excited to experiment with different flavor combinations, sans-booze. Mocktails are now served at many bars and restaurants as part of their drink offerings. And in some cities, alcohol-free bars are gaining popularity. These are places where you can pull a seat up at the countertop, cheers your friends with a cold (alcohol-free) beverage, listen to live music, and unwind.
Some popular mocktails include a Virgin Mary or Virgin Pina Colada, Roy Rogers, Shirley Temple, Italian Cream Soda, Lemon Basil Soda, Cucumber Lime Refresher, Ginger Beer Mocktail (similar to the cocktail called a Moscow Mule), and my favorite: a Sparkling Apple Crisp Mocktail that you can make right at home!
Timeline of the Cocktail vs Mocktail
The history of the word cocktail is not clear and has been debated. However, the first historical mention of a cocktail as a beverage appeared in The Farmers Cabinet, 1803 in the United States. 3 years later, in 1806, The Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, New York, defined a cocktail as we know it to be today: “a stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water and bitters". Before this, alcohol spirits were mostly medicinal and served by doctors and pharmacists.
Fast forward about 220 years and the cocktail industry is massive and the consumption of cocktails has become more common. Alcohol drink revenues are estimated at around $283.8 billion in 2023 in the US alone.
In the early to mid-2000s, craft cocktail culture started to become more intricate as bartenders experimented with different ingredients and mixology methods. These include infused spirits and modified versions of traditional cocktails like the martini, old-fashioned, and margarita.
When White Claw and other hard seltzer brands became a popular choice in the summer of 2019, the cocktail industry shifted a bit and the rise of canned cocktails became a rapidly growing industry.
The first time a Mocktail was cited was about 100 years after the origins of a cocktail. Merriam Webster cites the first use of the term "mocktail" in 1916.
The very first mocktail was a Shirley Temple which is a delicious combination of grenadine, ginger ale or lemon-lime soda, and lime juice. Shirley Temple's are still popular today.
Over the years, mocktails have become a more elevated experience similar to the craft cocktail trend.
Are mocktails healthy?
It depends! In general, alcohol contains empty calories which means they are calories without nutrients. By skipping the alcohol and choosing a mocktail instead, you cut down on the empty calories. There are several other health reasons to join the Sober Curious Movement and cut back on alcohol, too. Some of these reasons are that are decrease in alcohol can lead to improved mental clarity, a decreased risk of cancer, and decreased risk of obesity.
But there is a significant difference in the nutrition of a mocktail loaded with a combination of juice or sodas and one made with more natural ingredients. And they can quickly turn into a sugary drink.
I suggest to make mocktails healthier by trying different combinations of calorie-free, low sugar or natural beverages such as different flavors of sparkling water, fresh fruit juice from the squeeze of a lemon, lime, or orange, and fruit or herbs for more flavor. I love using Zero Calorie Ginger Beer in my mocktails!
Celebrity Cocktails and Mocktails of Choice
Just for fun, here are some celeb favorites when it comes to cocktails and mocktails!
Celebrity favorite cocktails
Between James Bond's "shaken not stirred" vodka martini , Don Draper's Old Fashioned, and Carrie Bradshaw's Cosmopolitan, celebs and movies characters often influence what drinks are popular.
- Oprah Winfrey drinks a Moscow Mule which is a combo of vodka, lime, and ginger beer.
- Jennifer Anniston likes a margarita made with Don Julio 1942, lime juice, and a splash of Cointreau.
- Kate Hudson sips on Espresso Martinis.
- Taylor Swift told Vogue her drink of choice a Vodka + Diet Coke.
- Mindy Kaling loves a Dark & Stormy which is dark rum & ginger beer on the rocks garnished with a lime wedge.
Celebrity favorite mocktails
Although it may always look like celebs are sipping on cocktails at award shows and after parties, often they are opting for an alcohol-free version, the mocktail!
Many celebs are alcohol-free for various reasons.
- Blake Lively loves a Betty Buzz Sparkling Grapefruit Mocktail. Betty Buzz is Blake Lively's very own non-alcoholic drink business.
- Courteney Cox sips on a Cinco de Mayo Ginger Lime Cocktail. It's made with freshly juiced ginger, agave, sparkling water, lime juice, and fresh mint leaves. Yum!!
- Jennifer Garner switched from a glass of wine in the evenings to sparkling water with blueberry juice most evenings and opts for a wine just once a week.
- Drew Barrymore has given up drinking and now orders a spicy margarita, hold the tequila!
- Chef Giada drinks Virgin Pomegranate and Cranberry Bellinis made with simple syrup, unsweetened pomegranate and cranberry juice, sparkling water, limes, and mint.
To sum it up
The most important difference between a cocktail and mocktail is that a cocktail has alcohol while a mocktail is non-alcoholic. If you want to take a weekend off from drinking, can't afford a hangover the next day, or are avoiding alcohol for your physical or mental health, mocktails are a great booze-free alternative.
So whether you are going for a cocktail or a mocktail, stay safe and enjoy some well-deserved R&R, friends! 🙂
References: Vinepair.com, Tastingtable.com, statista.com, Merriam Webster, themixer.com, Thrillest, Spruce Eats,The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury, Advanced Mixology, Collider, Eat This, Riahealth.com
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