By Christopher Boan

Sushi Roku bar manager Sarah Ehrman found herself in a bit of a quandary earlier this year, and it resulted in a radical change to the restaurant’s drink menu. 

Ehrman, who runs the bar at the sushi eatery inside the W Scottsdale, says guests would ask her for nonalcoholic versions of iconic cocktails. 

Her problem was the bar did not have any preset menu for such drinks, leading her staff to develop a trio of “mocktails.”

The drinks have been a smashing success for the restaurant in the three months they’ve been offered, according to Ehrman. There’s been a rise in popularity for nonalcoholic takes on classic libations. 

“It definitely started because it’s not fair that people who don’t drink can’t have a fun beverage,” Ehrman says. “And we were just getting a lot of requests for our signature cocktails without alcohol, so much so that it’s like let’s cater to these guys a little bit more.

“And then, if we’re just all making up random mocktails on the fly at the different locations, that customer can’t depend on something between location to location. They might’ve really liked something and could never get it again.”

Mocktails have exploded in popularity, so much so that a Seattle woman named Marnie Ray created National Mocktail Week, January 12 to January 18, one year ago. 

“Throughout 2019 more restaurants and people entertaining at home began to serve up mocktails with greater frequency and flare, a trend we don’t see slowing down. We saw establishments make an effort to create and serve extraordinary alcohol-free drinks to patrons,” says Ray, who’s been sober for 17 years.  

“The mocktail movement is about so much more than the drink—it’s about making guests feel welcome at our establishments and included in the moment.”

With the number of Americans choosing not to drink alcohol but still socializing and enjoying going out for a meal, the need for better and more Mocktails on the menu is needed and encouraged.

Sushi Roku offers a trio of mocktails—Zen Garden, Lost in Paradise and Coco Loco. Zen Garden features cucumber, mint and a mixture of lime, lemon and Red Bull brand tonic water. Lost in Paradise has a spicy mix of serrano peppers and passion fruit puree, while Coco Loco is a newfound take on a beach favorite, with coconut water and syrup mixed with lime and pineapple juice with a splash of soda water. 

Ehrman says the trio of drinks has been in hot demand since finding its way on the menu at the sushi haunt, with the Zen Garden being a crowd favorite so far. 

Ehrman says the drinks have been a hit, in part because the clientele at the W Scottsdale wants the taste of a cocktail without the inebriation that comes from it. 

“This is an exciting development, because everyone should be able to turn up and still be able to drive home afterward if they want to,” she says. “And it’s just fun to be part of something that started here and is definitely branching out.” 

Ehrman’s statements are supported by global market research firm Mintel, who found in a 2019 study that 45% of Millennials would give up alcoholic beverages to improve their health. 

Ehrman is hopeful that the trend toward nonalcoholic drinks will continue and encourages more bars and restaurants to embrace the trend. 

She believes that Sushi Roku’s new menu items can serve as a step in the right direction in that regard, as customers will be able to order the same drinks at their locations. 

No longer are mocktails the on-the-spot creation of bartenders, as they’re the next big thing in the bar industry, at least if people like Ehrman have their way. 

“If I make 20 signature cocktails on a slow night, I’ll make at least two of these new mocktails. And it’s refreshing for people to see something that they can order that doesn’t have to have alcohol,” Ehrman says. “So, it’s nice for them to be able to have a nice drink and something fun that they can’t get just anywhere. And they don’t have to booze themselves up.”

Sushi Roku at W Scottsdale, 7277 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale, 480.970.2121, sushiroku.com.