Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Mocksie focuses on booze-free bevs, opens in Soda Pop District this week

A mocktail of ginger beer, muddled with cranberries and cinnamon. (Courtesy Mocksie)

WILMINGTON — As younger generations steer health-conscious trends beyond mere “Sober October” and “Dry January,” there is rising demand in the mocktail and nonalcoholic beverage industry. Carter Jewell Hamerski is leaning into it to launch a new bartending business and retail space, Mocksie.

Friday, she will open her “tiny tasting room” at 713 Princess St. featuring non-alcoholic products for sale. Her main focus is building packages and services Mocksie will provide for those looking for zero-proof cocktails, wine and beer at events.

CATCH UP: Other Brews & Bites news

“To be clear, we are not a bar,” Hamerski told Port City Daily.

It’s part of her long-term goal, though: growing into a nonalcoholic bottle shop.

“Right now, we are taking clients who maybe want to offer something other than sodas, water and juice at their weddings, baby showers or parties,” she said. “I’m hoping to do tastings and pop-up events for now — starting small and seeing where it will grow.”

However, she is also selling products to the public for those who want to give something new and booze-free a try. Seeing as Mocksie is serving either low-alcohol — nothing over 0.5% — or no-alcohol products, it isn’t regulated by the state ABC controlled commission.

Hamerski began researching the business idea earlier in the year after she made the choice to cut back on libations. She read “Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol,” by Holly Whitaker, essentially a “roadmap” to cutting back on alcohol.

“It addresses toxic alcohol culture and especially how it relates to women,” she said. “It particularly talks about ‘mommy juice’ — not great things to say in front of your children.” 

It wasn’t until November, after election season wrapped, Hamerski said she began seriously considering Mocksie’s viability. She was the campaign manager for Amy DeLoach Block and volunteered as a bartender at political fundraisers. She noticed the request for nonalcoholic beverages ticking up, which also was happening at Junior League functions she attended as a member.

“Recently, when I’ve hosted events, people really flocked toward some of the nonalcoholic items,” Hamerski said, referring not only to those who have committed to being sober but for people who maybe cannot drink, such as pregnant women or those facing health issues.

“I started realizing there was potentially a market for it,” she said, noting it was different from 10 years ago when she bartended at her family’s then-owned live music venue, Ted’s Fun on the River. 

According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 60% of Americans drink alcohol, a 5% drop from 2019. Gen Zers are a big driver of the market. Compared to Millennials, they drink 40% less alcohol, data source Numerator reported. It also stated the generation is more cognizant “about alcohol’s impact on their mood, level of alertness, and even their image on social media.”

Hamerski said she looked at NielsenIQ stats while researching a business plan for Mocksie and found in October 2022 that nonalcoholic sales increased by 20% from last year, accounting for a $395-million industry. Nonalcoholic beer made up 85.3% of the sales, while wine and spirits accounted for 13.4% and 1.3%, respectively.

Many nonalcoholic establishments — often referred to as “dry bars” or wellness lounges — are popping up nationwide in larger cities: Sans Bar in Austin, Ocean Beach Cafe in San Francisco, Awake in Denver, and Listen Bar in New York. Laura Silverman’s Zero Proof Nation blog tracks bars and bottle shops that serve sober and health-conscious customers. It also lists the newest nonalcoholic beverages and products that hit the market. 

De Soi is one, co-founded by pop artist Katy Perry. The brand sells nonalcoholic aperitifs and even adds natural adaptogens, like Reishi mushroom, ashwagandha (Ayurvedic herbs), bergamot, L-theanine (amino acid component), to products for added health benefits.

“Their product Champignon Dreams is delicious,” Hamerski said. “It’s super earthy.”

The tea consists of maple syrup, passion flower and Reishi mushroom, and has hints of sweet strawberries and bitter grapefruit notes. 

“There’s also a company called Busty Lush; they’ve got some really great beers,” Hamerski said.

Founder Laurel Harrop, whose husband is a brewer, started the company last year as she found few options existed when she was pregnant.

“I thought there was room for more nonalcoholic beers in the market with well-developed, full-flavor profiles,” Harrop told Port City Daily. “Busty Lush is meant to be unapologetically female in the world of beer, which has always felt very male-dominated to me. … Each style of beer features a different female portrait by Charleston based artist Chambers Austelle.”

Booze-free products will be offered through Mocksie, located on Princess Street and opening this Friday. (Courtesy photo)

Since launching, Busty Lush went from zero distribution to having its product shipped to hotels, bottle shops and breweries in California, Washington, South Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, Maine and Illinois. It’s in Whole Foods, Sprouts, Vevmo and Total Wine.

Harrop’s next goal is nationwide distribution, finding a place for the product on airlines and in sports venues, and adding more flavors.

“I really love She’s Golden,” Hamerski said of the Busty Lush brand.

It’s a blonde ale, made of water, malted barley, citrus hops and yeast. It is dry with a moderate bitter bite and flavors of tropical fruit.

In addition, Hamerski said Athletic Brewing Co., as well as Petal seltzers, have tasty selections. Athletic — founded by JJ Watt, the Arizona Cardinals defensive end — brews with all-natural ingredients in items like the Brut IPA and a “light copper cerveza.”

The seltzers, each only 19 calories, are made with a mix of botanicals and herbs.

To start, Mocksie will have about 15 varieties of nonalcoholic beers, five different nonalcoholic wine products, and 10 zero-proof spirits, including Seedlip, Spiritless and Lyre’s.

“Lyre’s has some really neat Italian flavors — almost like a Campari to make a good spritz,” Hamerski said. “And Ceder’s has a great pink gin.”

Ceder’s started in 2017 and distills booze-free spirits with classic juniper but also exotic botanicals like rooibos and buchu, from the South African Cederberg Mountains (from where Ceder’s name hails).

“I really love Ceder’s rose and mixing it with grapefruit and fake bubbles — it is a nice little Paloma-type drink.”

However, some bold spirits, she found, cannot be replicated — yet.

“I have not found a bourbon on the rocks that tastes like you would expect,” she said.

Spiritless 74’s take on whiskey includes a smokiness Hamerski highlights in mixed drinks, such as an apple Old Fashioned.

One of the biggest challenges she faces is pricing out the product and keeping it affordable. Unlike spirited alcohol that provides $10 bottles of well varieties, zero-proof items tend to cost more. For example, Seedlip bottles range from $28 to $90, while Lyre’s is $29 and up.

“There aren’t cheap versions available yet,” Hamerski said. 

In her bartending packages, she is also offering totally spirit-free mocktail selections to help consumers who may not have a large budget or don’t want any drop of alcohol in their drinks. A spiced autumn punch, made with ginger beer and muddled with cranberries and cinnamon, tracked high at a local tasting Hamerski hosted.

The hardest flavors to create balance, she said, have come in the sweeter cocktail offerings — like dessert martinis.

“I had a couple of creamy pumpkin drinks that I thought people would like, but it has been back to the cutting board on those,” she said. “It’s definitely a learning experience.”

While some restaurants and bars in town have begun paying closer attention to creating alcohol-free menus — Arboretum West, The Green House, and Dram & Draught, for instance — Hamerski said there’s a long way to go for Wilmington to catch up with a growing trend. Watering holes and bottle shops are falling behind the curve, barely offering O’Doul’s and nonalcoholic Heineken.

“Guinness is getting into the game and Sam Adams has a great nonalcoholic beer now,” Hamerski said. “So the bigger the industry becomes, the more companies are getting into it. I’ve noticed that in grocery stores, there’s not even a nonalcoholic section yet — unless you’re at Total Wine. It’s thrown in together and you have to wander the aisles. Mocksie will be unlike another place in town.”

Her business currently is in phase one. Hamerski is consulting clients on event packages, starting as low as $50, to supplement an alcohol-serving bar or to offer solely. An old office building on Princess Street, located three blocks from the Coca-Cola building in the Soda Pop District, will have limited inventory on hand to sell via retail at first.

“We can make five or six package options depending on budget, but if that’s not feasible, we can help you get some canned drinks,” she said. “Or you can just buy a beer or some wine to take home.”

Hamerski will host an open house Friday at 713 Princess St. from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be tastings, hors d’oeuvres and products for sale.

[Ed. note: The article has been updated to correct the name of the book “Quit Like a Woman” — PCD regrets the error.]

Have comments or tips? Email info@portcitydaily.com

Want to read more from PCD? Subscribe now and then sign up for our newsletter, Wilmington Wire, and get the headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.

Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

Related Articles