Foraged ingredients and craft bitters for sober-curious consumers

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It was a few months back that JoAnne Pearce was feeling the Ice-Olation Blues.

Tired of pandemic lassitude and the ensuing uptick in drinking, the Edmonton-based graphic designer and marketing consultant became entranced with mocktails, non-alcoholic takes on classic cocktails. She began inventing booze-free, Halloween-themed drinks to entertain herself. Pleased with her results, she began uploading the photos onto social media, giving her the dopamine hit she once got from a glass of wine or a highball.

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“Getting all of those ‘likes’ on Instagram was my transfer addiction,” jokes Pearce, author of the just-released recipe collection Mock-Ups: Mocktails for Grown-Ups. “I was making these spooky drinks like a Vampire Bloody Mary, or one with a white grape made to look like an eyeball with fennel simple syrup. It hit the point where I was waiting for the work day to end so I could go try the next idea.”

New Year’s Day rager

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Egged on by friends, the idea for Mock-Ups came together very quickly after those initial experiments, moving beyond the spooky subject matter and opening up her imagination with creative drinks like The Forest Bather and the Scurvy Sour. She completed the writing and photography in a few months, wrapping up with an all-night, booze-free rager on New Year’s Day. After a bit more editing and other chores, the book was released in the middle of March.

“The passion just came out full force,” she marvels. “I was just caught up in it.”

Pearce uses the term “sober curious” to describe her current arms-length relationship with alcohol, acknowledging she’d tried and failed a few alcohol-free challenges in the past year. Never a heavy drinker, she still noticed the beneficial effects that abstaining for even for a few days had on her body. But there was also the matter of the social aspect of drinking, as well as the stigma attached to those who decline to imbibe.

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It’s a problem for the growing demographic of non-drinkers who choose not to partake for a myriad of reasons. The current options for abstainers are generally water, soda pop or sugary approximations of alcoholic beverages. Not much fun for those who hanker for the taste of an Amaro Manhattan or Gin Fizz, but without the resulting buzz.

The Scurvy Sour is one of the beautifully crafted grown-up mocktails JoAnne Pearce’ concocted for Mock-Ups: Cocktails for Grown-Ups.
The Scurvy Sour is one of the beautifully crafted grown-up mocktails JoAnne Pearce’ concocted for Mock-Ups: Cocktails for Grown-Ups. Andrew Paul

“It’s important, if you’re not drinking, to know that there’s a seat for you at the grown-ups table,” Pearce points out. “You’re not just going to be handed a juice box at the wedding if you’re not having wine. That’s not fun for anyone.”

Mock-Ups creatively addresses one of the biggest issues facing non-drinkers in a social situation: the often unpalatable sweetness of traditional mocktails.

“Sweet isn’t really my jam,” Pearce acknowledges who, as a forager, often uses ingredients she’s sourced herself. “Most mocktails tend to be just fancy pops with lots of sugar. I have a version of the Negroni called the Phoney Negroni that’s made with dandelion root as a base, plus orange peels and a hint of liquorice to add a very subtle sweetness. I’ve also been playing with bitter melon and black cardamom, which is very peaty and smoky like a scotch. These drinks don’t taste exactly like what they represent, but the flavour notes are similar.”

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Read, watch, learn

Things are moving fast for Pearce. The book has picked up orders in Canada, the United States and Europe, hooking into the growing appetite for alcohol-free beers and zero-proof spirits. With assistance from her partner, Andrew Paul, she’s branched out into doing mocktail tutorials and classes on Zoom for those apprehensive about the skill level in constructing these drinks.

They’ve made videos with Kindred Orchards and experimented with its haskaps, looping in Rosy Farms in the process. Noting the culinary implications of her mocktails, Pearce is hoping to hook up with local chefs to put together a tasting menu, pairing her drinks with dishes.  

“What I’ve learned through the pandemic,” she says, “is that, if you take the time to pursue a passion you’ll create a calling card to talk to all of these magical people, and that’s what’s happening.”

Email: [email protected]

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