Mocktail Bars At Weddings Are On The Rise & They're Anything But Boring

Booze-free spirits for the win.

how to do a sober bar

Some might say alcohol is a key pillar to having a successful wedding party, but Gen Z and millennials are increasingly straying away from alcohol-infused weddings. A 2018 Berenberg Research study found more than 56% of millennials consider themselves “mindful drinkers” and Gen Zers drink 20% even less than their millennial counterparts. Paired with the most successful Dry January in 2022, these newer generations are becoming sober and curious for wellness and financial reasons, supported by movements like Yellow Life and the rise of non-alcoholic brands like Ghia and Kin Euphorics. So it comes as no surprise that the trend has many newlyweds ditching the booze completely or partially at their weddings. (I personally had a non-alcoholic bar at my wedding not only to be conscious of those who are sober, but also for those who are looking for a healthier alternative to sip.)

“More and more, millennials and Gen Z individuals are questioning, rethinking, and taking account of what they're consuming — whether that's social media, job stress, food — and especially alcoholic beverages,” says Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge. “The abstinence from alcohol has so many positive effects on the brain and body, including more energy, financial savings, zero hangovers, and less anxiety, so it's no wonder that people of these generations are opting out of drinking — or drinking less alcohol — to achieve benefits. In turn, when those partaking in a dry or sober curious lifestyle are celebrating big, commemorative, milestone events, like graduations, weddings, birthdays and other celebrations, they're doing so with non-alcoholic options.”

Sheinbaum finds that many weddings now — whether those involved are affiliated with dry lifestyles or not — stock their bars with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to be more inclusive, but also to provide options that won't make their wedding attendees feel the aftermath of an open-bar binge. “The point of a wedding is to celebrate a couple’s love for one another — it’s not for the couple and their guests to get wasted,” she says. “Some of my favorite [non-alcoholic] brands that replace alcoholic ones are the Free Spirits Co. (replacements for tequila, bourbon, and gin drinks), Betera (for ready-to-drink alcohol-free cocktails), and Starla Wines (for red, sparkling rosé, and white wines). Cheers to many memories — no blackouts — and zero embarrassing, alcohol-induced slurred speeches!”

Celebrity wedding and event planner Melissa Andre started seeing a shift in more sober-friendly offerings being requested by her clients about five years ago, and that has only increased over the years. “I always do some form of mocktails and juice bars at weddings with the option to make it hard,” she shares. “I also like to include things like coconut water as part of our soft bar, which people sometimes add alcohol to, but I think the idea is that it’s rehydrating at the same time. If I have signature cocktail recipes available, I always include at least one mocktail so that everyone at the event can try something new and we style the mocktail in a gorgeous glass with garnishes so it gives the same visual payoff and experience.”

The wedding pro explains that she doesn’t believe mocktails should be seen as an afterthought. “It’s a must-have at weddings,” she says. “As there are pregnant guests, sober guests, guests choosing not to consume alcohol, and underage guests. I always try to work with the couple to better understand the guests attending and then figure out what we can offer that still gives guests a celebratory experience without the alcohol.”

The Rise Of Sober-Curious Spirits

Chris Becker of non-alcoholic marketplace and wholesaler Better Rhodes has seen a greater consciousness around alcohol consumption with weddings and parties coming out of the pandemic. “We’ve seen this really pick up with the re-opening of events but mainly around people who are sourcing products themselves for their weddings, and we have also seen more vendors wholesaling alcohol-free options that are more sophisticated than a lemonade or soft drink,” shares Becker.

One of the more popular non-alcoholic spirit brands that Sheinbaum mentioned, the Free Spirits Co., has made it much easier to make signature cocktails that still look and have the mouth feel of traditional cocktails. Milan Martin, the founder of the brand, believes no one should have to sacrifice their behavior, health, or their next morning to have a great celebration. (I personally used the brand’s Spirit of Gin, Tequila, and Bourbon at my wedding, and they were a big hit. My bartender even switched out Casamigos for the Spirit of Tequila for guests who had a little too much to drink, and they didn’t even notice!)

But mocktails aren’t the only popular non-alcoholic drinks making a big splash at weddings. Alcohol-removed wine brands like Starla are rising in the ranks as top options for sober-curious wedding menus. In the same vein, buzzy canned spritzes have also gained popularity for ease of serving and variety at special events. Melanie Masarin, CEO and founder of Ghia, has found the non-alcoholic aperitif Ghia Le Spritz is often served alongside alcoholic drinks. “Since more and more people are drinking less and more consciously, wedding hosts want to make sure they’re offering a variety of drink options to their guests. From what we know, Ghia is a part of the offering, but it’s not the only drink on the menu. It's great to see hosts trying to be inclusive even at highly celebratory occasions like a wedding.”

With the abundance of non-alcoholic spirits, wines, mixers, and canned beverages, it has become more accessible to offer a sober-conscious bar than ever before. For my June 2022 nuptials, I decided to go with a hybrid bar at my wedding as I have become extremely sensitive to alcohol and tend to have negative side effects after drinking. My partner and I went with signature non-alcoholic cocktails and Champagne in addition to a full bar, as many of our friends and family also couldn’t drink alcohol for health, wellness, or religious reasons. It turned out to be a huge success — many attendees who usually can’t partake in celebratory libations felt included and really enjoyed having options besides the usual tea, lemonade, and soda to enjoy. We also noticed many guests doing half and half or switching it up every other drink to keep in celebration without getting too drunk.

Interested in incorporating non-alcoholic drinks into your big day in a unique way? Take a page from one of these couples' books!

100% Alcohol-Free

Engaged couple Brand and Aleia decided are planning an alcohol-free wedding for a few reasons, the first and main one being religious. “Given the background of many of our guests, some of which have histories of alcoholism, we want our wedding to be a night where they could experience joy with us,” says Aleia. “We could not imagine ourselves or our guests celebrating our special day and becoming drunk to the point where they do not remember many of the special moments. Along with this, we look forward to our wedding setting a moral standard for how our family will celebrate occasions moving forward. Based on these reasons, my fiancée and I will be offering non-alcoholic beverages only. We're looking forward to the endless Shirley Temples and apple cider!”

THC-Infused Treats

Wedding planner Melissa Andre says CBD or THC bars have become more popular offerings at events. For their nuptials, Dallas and Joshua are swapping out the alcoholic beverages for THC-infused treats, claiming they’ve never seen someone angry or out of control from cannabis. They are opting to have a “chiller” wedding with the treats served alongside with water, tea, and soda.

Boba Milk Tea Bar

Joycelyn and Elliot aren’t big drinkers, and half of their guests do not drink for religious reasons, so they decided to have a boba milk tea bar alongside a smaller alcoholic bar. “We're doing boba milk tea from Loose Leaf Tea Co. We took a poll to see who was interested in ordering a cup of boba, and everyone except for two guests wanted a cup. It will be more popular than the actual bar,” the couple predicts. Guests will be able to choose from Assam milk tea and jasmine milk tea with the option of customizing ice level, sweetness level, dairy/nondairy options, and toppings at the wedding.

Hybrid Bar

Similar to the bar at my own wedding, Josh and Carrie went with a hybrid bar offering two non-alcoholic signature drinks: a spin on the Kentucky mule and mint cucumber lemonade. “It was very important to us to have options that catered to everyone. To be honest, it was great for those that didn't want to drink but still wanted something more festive. However, we did have a full open bar for those that opted into alcoholic options. It felt like the best of both worlds.”