Over the past few years, Portland has become one of the centers of the growing craft nonalcoholic scene, from zero-proof cocktails at Portland restaurants and bars to locally made alcohol-free spirits. Spurred by a larger trend toward sobriety and the growing “sober curious” movement — cutting back on drinking for wellness or health reasons while not giving it up entirely — bartenders bring creative flair to new options. This means a more inclusive and welcoming nightlife scene for all. Here are some ways to join the party.
Hosting Zero-Proof Celebrations
“You need to cater to people,” says Andy McMillan, who broke ground in 2020 with Portland’s first zero-proof bar, Suckerpunch. The business — which completed a temporary residency in Southeast Portland in 2022 and has plans to do pop-ups until it reopens in a permanent space in 2023 — created a popular social gathering place. Avoiding the term “bar” out of respect to those in recovery, it created “a calm, considered space with flavorful drinks, where you could spend genuine time with someone,” McMillan says.
Suckerpunch isn’t the only zero-proof game in town. Chef Gregory Gourdet, known for his decade at Portland’s Departure and his appearance on television’s “Top Chef,” has long been a champion of sobriety. Naturally, the jewel-toned, subterranean bar Sousòl, situated in the basement of his Haitian restaurant Kann, features pan-Caribbean flavors, spices and fruits. Try the bright green Konkonm, made with ginger-and-black-pepper syrup, mint and lots of cucumber juice — take a sip and you’ll see why the cocktail’s name is the Haitian creole word for cucumber.
At Takibi in Northwest Portland, earthy zero-proof drinks are the perfect complement to the restaurant’s Japanese-inspired, season-centered fare. Try the Call of the Wilderton, which features a base of Wilderton Lustre, an alcohol-free spirit made by Hood River-based Wilderton Botanical Spirit that’s bursting with orange, tarragon and lavender. The cocktail comes alive with koucha black tea, mango vinegar, orange, turmeric and black pepper.
If you’re craving Southeast Asian cuisine in a fun-loving party atmosphere, both Eem in Northeast Portland and Southeast’s Oma’s Hideaway bring the funky vibes and fruity, alcohol-free cocktail options, like the punny Jean-Claude Pandan at Oma’s and Eem’s strawberry-almond refresher, Napping on an Island.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is one of Portland’s most renowned mixologists, and one of the earliest involved in the craft-cocktail movement in the early aughts. Formerly at the now-shuttered Clyde Common, his newest outfit, Pacific Standard at the KEX Hotel in Northeast Portland, is another tasteful spot for nonalcoholic cocktails. For those who enjoy the road less traveled, order a Wandering Path, a concoction made with a hemp-based, zero-proof spirit from Seattle called The Pathfinder, as well as lemon, grapefruit and egg whites.
Complex and Creative Alcohol Alternatives
Once upon a time, requesting a nonalcoholic drink at a bar meant getting a glass of water, a boring soda or a saccharine virgin version. Mocktails were, well, mocked. But sober bartenders like McMillan view zero-proof drinks as uncharted territory, a chance to create something entirely new. “What’s the point of making nonalcoholic cocktails if it’s a parody of something else?” he says. “You can have something really thoughtful, considered…complex and creative.”
Instead of comparing a zero-proof cocktail to a certain type of spirit or a popular libation like an Old Fashioned, bartenders highlight the distinct flavors and characteristics in the drink. Bartenders have an ever-expanding tool kit of zero-proof spirits, mixers and ingredients in their arsenal for this purpose.
It isn’t just local bars and restaurants that are helping drive this movement; there’s a cottage industry of artisanal zero-proof beverage companies and products popping up as well. Two of the biggest names on the scene are also Oregon companies. Besides Wilderton Botanical Spirit — known for its bold, bittersweet aperitivo and clear-spirit substitutes with differing profiles — there’s Portland’s For Bitter For Worse. From the tart and tannic Saskatoon to the woodsy, campfire-esque Smoky No. 56, this business serves up effervescent spritzes, sipped straight or mixed into cocktails. You can buy them in either wine bottles or canned form. Other brands you’ll see include Ghia and Seedlip.
For the base of a nonalcoholic cocktail, tea and kombucha are two of the most versatile options, giving zero-proof cocktails a nuanced foundation. Portland-based Steven Smith Teamaker and Brew Dr. Kombucha are popular choices. Some bars also like to use flavoring syrups from local companies like Portland Syrups or whip up their own house-made concoctions.
Mixing Your Own at Home
If you’re looking to purchase nonalcoholic drinks for gifts, parties or your at-home zero-proof bar, you’re in luck. In Portland, Wellspent Market and John’s Marketplace have fantastic selections of nonalcoholic spirits, beer, wine and mixers, and some are carried in various Market of Choice grocery stores along the Interstate 5 corridor from Portland to Ashland.