In today’s wellness-obsessed culture, what once may have been a wedding faux pas—a dry bar, as in, one which does not stock alcohol—could now serve as a welcome oasis of hydration for thirsty guests not looking to get smashed. (Yes, this is *probably* a thing.) Whether you’re aiming to replace or simply supplement traditional alcoholic offerings, it’s important to think outside of the non-boozy box, however—a.k.a. serve something other than soda.
“The key to any bar is making a good drink—booze or no booze,” says Sunna Yassin, founder of West Coast-based event-planning company Bash Please. Duh, but also... how? Isn’t the best drink at a wedding the one which loosens you up enough to re-enact the Dirty Dancing routine with your new spouse centerstage while your friends capture the moment on iPhone videos they’ll later use to humiliate you in front of your children? Not necessarily, says Yassin and other event-planning experts (though obviously, you should have the time of your life either way).
Below, find tips for creating dry drinks your guests will actually crave as well as for making your non-alcoholic bar one of the most unforgettable—and Instagram-worthy, of course—features of the night.
Mix Up Mocktails
When it comes to that “good drink,” says Yassin, it’s all about fresh ingredients. She suggests taking inspiration from the non-alcoholic components of trendy cocktails as well as from your favorite pressed-juice menu to make mouth-watering mashups. “Get creative with the mocktails, like a Mango Mule, Elderflower Fizz, or Coconut Mint Cooler,” she says. Bonus points for a signature creation or two with names and flavors which play off the personality of you and your to-be, too.
Ben Branson, founder of botanical (read: non-alcoholic) spirits company Seedlip, tells me that if done right, your guests won’t even miss the booze. “Spirits with high alcohol-by-volume content aren’t necessary to create nuanced and delicious drinks,” he says. To help keep partiers energized, he recommends the following recipe—from Lunetta All Day’s beverage director Kristine Cocchino—for a coffee-infused, cocktail-inspired beverage.
Do One Better Than (Non-Alcoholic) Beer
You can certainly serve O’Doul's or any other non-alcoholic beer, but Whitney Wing Drake, founder of Wish Wonder Dream, suggests adding a wellness-oriented substitute to your bar menu. “Kombucha cocktails are always a yummy and fun treat—they can also be mixed with alcohol, but they certainly don't have to be,” she says. “The refreshing bubbles from kombucha on-tap paired with a fun garnish—such as a wild cherry (not the maraschino kind), blueberries, raspberries, and/or a sprig of rosemary or lavender—offers a refreshing and unique twist your guests won't be able to get enough of.”
According to Wing Drake, you can (and should) also provide a non-alcoholic cider, which she says is delicious when mixed with cranberry and blackberry juices. “The combination makes for a slightly tart, seriously crisp treat, which can be served in a tall glass with foam at the top,” she explains. “It has most of the qualities of a beer, but I'd argue that it tastes so much better.” As with the kombucha cocktail, she recommends serving this cider on tap.
If you’re looking for a trend-forward addition to your bar area, try a pressed-juice station, which guests may appreciate whether alcohol is otherwise served or not. “A fresh pressed juice station or an elevated lemonade station offering a variety of unusual flavors is another alternative for a colorful specialty bar,” says LA-based wedding planner Kristin Banta. This is a no-brainer for post-ceremony brunch events, too.
Make Soda Stylish
If you’re not prepared to nix sodas altogether—they are, after all a go-to for teetotalers—Banta recommends creating an interactive experience around them. “A custom soda station can be created wherein attendees can make their own favors with a variety of fruit-infused syrups and bitters,” she says.
Add Flavorful Flair
Customization doesn’t have to begin and end with cherry-vanilla Coke, either. “Another option that is both beautiful and interactive is a fresh garnish bar offering guests the opportunity to pick from selections such as basil, mint, rosemary, berries, melon, citrus, fresh ginger, chilis, cucumber, lychee, and even honey, lavender and rose petals,” says Banta.
Branson offers even more options for your garnish area, which he says is a great conversation starter. “[Think] beautiful vintage or ceramic bowls filled with garnishes such as dried blood orange, edible flowers, bell peppers, pink peppercorn, and house-made syrups (e.g. vanilla, cardamom, etcetera),” Branson says.
Looking for specific herb-infused drink recommendations to help your guests along? “We love a lavender-infused sparkling lemonade with local honey, a julep with ginger ale, mint, and lemon juice, or a tangerine dreamsicle with peach preserves, cream soda, cold-pressed tangerine juice, and a rosemary sprig garnish,” Wing Drake says.
Use Proper Glassware
Nothing is less cool for teetotaling partygoers than holding a drink that looks as though it should belong to a child. To best mimic the experience of a “real” bar, Wing Drake recommends serving mocktails in the same glasses in which you’d present their alcoholic counterparts. “If you're serving mint julep mocktails, use a classic mint julep glass. Serve non-alcoholic cider in a beer glass. We also love a good margarita glass and an old-fashioned glass, if you can dream up a mocktail befitting them,” she says.
Serve It Up With a Twist
If you don’t necessarily relish the idea of being the center of attention for the entire night, Branson has another suggestion, one which may put your dry bar at center stage instead. “Have bartenders throw bottles, spin them in the air, and perform all their go-to tricks as they craft these special beverages,” he says. “Just because there isn't alcohol in the mocktails doesn't mean your guests won't love a good show.” Especially as a warm-up to your “No-one-puts-baby-in-the-corner”-climax, right?