What Is a Mocktail?

All the flavor and fun of cocktail but without the alcohol — mocktails are the perfect mixed drink for a zero-proof night out.

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You may have seen the term "mocktail" while perusing a bar or restaurant drinks menu. This fairly new term can be confusing if you've never encountered it before, but it's a blend of the words "mock" and "cocktail," meaning a “faux” cocktail. But what exactly does that mean, and what goes into a good mocktail?

Mocktail vs. Cocktail

In the simplest terms, the significant difference between a mocktail and a cocktail is that a mocktail doesn't contain alcohol. They're mixed drinks that you'd find at a bar and contain many of the same ingredients as their boozy counterparts, just not the alcoholic component. Though the term "mocktail" is relatively new, these types of drinks have always been served alongside classic cocktails, and were historically called “Temperance Drinks.”

What's In a Mocktail?

Mocktails are specially crafted mixed drinks, usually by the bar program at restaurants or bars themselves, to be similar to cocktails but without liquor and other alcohol-based components. They usually include many of the same ingredients as cocktails on the menu — like freshly squeezed juice, infused syrups, shrubs, flavored sugars or salts, and more.

Related:18 Best Mocktails for Sober Summer Sipping

Mocktails are more than just a cup of juice or a cocktail, hold the alcohol; they are specialty concoctions with their own complex and diverse flavor profiles. Just as some cocktails are experimental in their ingredients, pairing elements like herbs or traditionally savory ingredients, mocktails do as well. Some mocktails feature zero-proof spirits with flavor profiles similar to their alcoholic counterparts, but sans the alcohol. That way, bartenders can make a mocktail version of, say, a Negroni and just swap in a non-alcoholic aperitif meant for Negroni mocktails.

What Is a Virgin Drink?

A virgin drink is similar to a mocktail, but is more commonly how you would order a cocktail without the alcohol, whereas a mocktail is a drink intentionally crafted without alcohol to achieve a specific flavor profile. Some places use these terms interchangeably, and they're similar enough that anyone will know you mean a non-alcoholic mixed drink if you use either term. Virgin drinks just omit the alcohol, and in some cases, the flavor is very different from the original, as some cocktails require the flavors in the alcohol to achieve their specific flavor profile — for example, drinks that call for botanical gin or smoky mezcal. Mocktails never contained alcohol, so they're not missing any key flavors by not including it.

Mocktail Examples

Most bars and restaurants that offer mocktails will likely have their own specially crafted drinks that will fit the cuisine or vibe of the establishment and are usually quite similar to the cocktails they offer. If you know you like more classic drinks, you can order virgin versions of classic cocktails like a mojito, pina colada, or Bloody Mary.

Related:15 Cocktails and Mocktails Just Right for Spring Brunches

If you're a fan of non-alcoholic spirits and you know the bar carries them, try ordering a classic cocktail like a zero-proof gin and tonic if the bar carries zero-proof gin. If a bar has a mocktail menu, try whichever specialty mocktails sound best to you, but if they don't, or they don't align with your tastes, there are a few tried and true combos that most bars will be able to make for you.

Some delicious mocktail combos that most bars will have the ingredients to make include:

  • cola with lime, cranberry, and orange juice

  • ginger beer with lime and mint

  • flavored simple syrup with club soda

  • orange juice and grenadine for a virgin tequila sunrise