Why I Hate The Word "Mocktail"


Going out for dinner or drinks can be a minefield for the teetotaler. Lots of restaurants and bars offer nothing nonalcoholic beyond cola, and even the ones who do sell house-made nonalcoholic beverages don’t always list them on the menu. If you're out with a buddy who drinks, a tall glass of water can seem pretty sad compared to her nifty negroni. 

For this reason, I am always grateful for a “mocktail” section of the drinks list. It shows a restaurant is aware of the one-third of the adult population that chooses to avoid alcohol. They realize we too have money and tastebuds. But I do wish we could simply do away with the word itself. Mocktail. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  


Well, first of all it strikes me incorrect. Mock is a word that means “not authentic or real.” An appropriate use of this word is “Mock Apple Pie” for a pie made with the same warm spices but Ritz crackers instead of apples. Mock means fake. 

A delicious drink that is made by combining ingredients in a complex, balanced, interesting way is not a fake cocktail just because it lacks alcohol. The word cocktail means:

a :  a usually iced drink of wine or distilled liquor mixed with flavoring ingredients

b :  something resembling or suggesting such a drink as being a mixture of often diverse elements or ingredients

I would say what is usually called a mocktail fits this second definition very well. It does resemble a drink of liquor mixed with flavoring ingredients. It is usually a mixture of diverse ingredients. 

There is nothing “mock” about a nonalcoholic cocktail. And if we feel OK about calling the combination of cancer drugs a patient gets during treatment a chemo cocktail, then I think a nonalcoholic mixed drink is fair game under the definition, too. 

When I was first getting fired up about all this, a friend sent me a drinks menu from somewhere in Los Angeles (of course) and the alcohol-free drinks weren’t sequestered into their own corner of the menu. Instead the drinks were divided in categories by flavor profile (with fruitier drinks in one section, more bitter concoctions in a group, etc.) and then after the drink’s name and description, in parenthesis, was printed A or N/A. That is something we could use a whole lot more of in the way we frame our beverage choices. 

Additionally, having to say the word “mocktail” out loud is infantilizing. Mock’s first definition is to tease of laugh at in a scornful or contemptuous manner. The kinds of words we use to talk about a thing set a tone about that thing, and precision matters. Nonalcoholic drinks aren't a joke.

Mocktails, as a beverage category label, does more to separate alcohol-free types from the “normal” drinkers than it needs to. I can’t speak for everyone, but this nondrinker wants to hang out with others who choose to imbibe and I want as little distinction drawn between us a possible. I want ordering a beverage without alcohol to become normal everywhere drinks are sold.  

A mocktails list is a first step to welcoming everyone into your restaurant or bar or even your home. But giving those drinks a less patronizing, more correct name, or better yet, treating your booze free and boozy drinks equally on the menu, goes a long way to encourage us to buy another round. 

joy manning