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Shaken, stirred and alcohol-free. Two booze-less cocktail recipes to celebrate the season

A bar with warm lighting and black walls is full of people seated a tables, while rows of bottles line the walls and shelves.
Shelby Cross
Taylor Watts, a veteran of the food and beverage industry, moved from New York City to Vermont in 2021 and recently opened the lounge, Devil Takes A Holiday. The Burlington bar serves all kinds of drinks, including many creative "atonements" that are alcohol-free.

Sober-curious, abstaining or just don't like the taste of alcohol? Many drinks can still feel celebratory even without the booze.

The reasons to celebrate the season by foregoing an alcoholic beverage or spirit are many. Some folks abstain for religious or medical reasons. Others are in recovery from past alcohol misuse. And some people choose the booze-free path simply as a matter of taste or preference.

Recent data show that the "sober curious" movement — in which people actively consume less alcohol or go alcohol-free — is growing. As for the market of non-booze items, Nielsen IQ reported, in January of 2022, no-and low-alcohol sales totaled $106 million, with non-alcohol sales at $13.6 million.

Locally, many Vermont establishments offer a growing list of non-alcoholic beverages — or “mocktails” — as part of their regular menu. And they aren’t just dressed up sodas and juices.


At Devil Takes A Holiday in downtown Burlington, Taylor Watts and his staff create their own bases and flavors to build drinks, labeled as "atonements" on the menu.

These creative mixtures offer patrons palate-pleasing drinks to sip and celebrate the end of the work day or the biggest occasions without alcohol.

"I really want to develop a full menu that would be akin to a regular cocktail menu," Watts said.

Watts, who has worked in the food and beverage industry since his early teens, was general manager and beverage director for a large group of five bars in New York City.

There, he soaked up knowledge and ideas for drink flavor profiles. Coming to Vermont in 2021, he opened Devil Takes A Holiday, a cocktail lounge on St. Paul Street.

Watts on leaning in to creating low- and no-alcohol offerings at the bar

"I've been in this industry for a really long time, and unfortunately seen a lot of very talented people succumb to being around alcohol all the time."

"People in our industry, our lives revolve around this space, we spend a lot of time in it. And then when we leave, it tends to be to go to another restaurant or another bar. And particularly in America, there really isn't a really great third place option between home and work."

"And that's why I focus on the menu, giving lots of options. Having things in there, like adaptogens and herbs and tree barks and things that are going to make you feel invigorated or alive — teas, espresso, things that will awaken your senses have some bitterness, maybe increase appetite, maybe help with digestion. All these things that spirits can do, you can do with non-alcoholic drinks as well."

Watts on creating an inclusive bar space where everyone feels welcome, no matter what they drink

"I mean, we just want to be as inclusive as possible. And we know that everybody has, you know, even in very close friends, groups and families, everybody has different tastes, different needs. And you know, we want a group of eight people to come in here and every single one of them have their needs met; that they feel like they're taken care of."

"We feel like this is a place for them ... So nobody feels left out. Nobody has to answer a question of why you don't have a drink in your hand. You have one in your hand."

Two festive holiday beverages: A cranberry shrub & a 'hot liquid brownie'

For the cranberry shrub — that's the name for a combination of fruit, sugar and vinegar — take equal parts cranberries, sugar and water, boil, then simmer for a bit. Add in allspice and cinnamon and then cut that liquid with an equal amount of apple cider vinegar.

Let it cool, then pour it into a jar or container. This mixture will last in your fridge for a couple of months.

A mug of hot cocoa with marshmallows on top.
Taylor Watts, whose title a local lounge is 'Head Devil,' is passionate about mixing up creative no-alcohol and low-alcohol drinks for patrons. This cocoa-based concoction is perfect for a cold winter's day or night.

When you're ready to serve, use the mixture as a cocktail base and add club soda or non-alcoholic champagne. Drop in some ice cubes (you can even toss some white cranberries and ginger into the ice cube trays to freeze!) and a bit of lime juice, and toast the holidays!

Or, stir up what Watt's says is like "a hot, liquid brownie!" On their menu, it's called "Hot Buttered Yum."

Mix dark brown sugar, butter, salt, cinnamon and cocoa powder until it becomes like a sugar scrub consistency. This mixture will keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks.

Before serving, put a couple of spoonfuls of the brownie mixture into a mug, then pour hot water on it and stir. Toss in some marshmallows and enjoy!

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