The Spirit Free Beverage and Inclusive Hospitality

By Sean Kenniff | Caroline Hatchett

By

Sean Kenniff
Caroline Hatchett
Bartender Julia Momose's Juniper Tonic
Bartender Julia Momose's Juniper Tonic

Bartender Julia Momose has been mixing cocktails for nearly a decade—from a rambunctious college bar in Ithaca, New York, to a more than two-year tenure at The Aviary and The Office, and now creating at Noah Sandoval’s Oriole. “Guests have always asked for something without alcohol, mocktails,” says Momose, with just the slightest hint of disgust for the word.
 
“I developed a different term last year. I don’t know if I’m the first person in the world to use it, but I’m hoping spirit free will catch on. It’s nice to know what to call something, and it’s fantastic for the guest to be able to ask for something confidently, not worried that the bartender isn’t prepared. I want to make spirit free cocktails a part of our culture and conversation, to normalize it so people can order what they want comfortably.”

The comfortable, confident guest is the goal of what Momose refers to as “inclusive hospitality.”
 
Curating and creating spirit free beverage pairings to complement Sandoval’s 18-course tasting menu is integral to that notion at Oriole. For Momose, the idea of inclusive hospitality originated with her parents, who as it turns out, are spirit free for life.
 
“I hope that one day my parents can walk into a place that I’m working in and not feel that they are in the way nor getting the full experience. When I started bartending, I didn’t tell my parents because they are very conservative. So, it’s important for me to have [the spirit free] option.”

From the welcome drink and beverage pairings to à la carte cocktails, Momose is serving spirit free every night. “Reception has been really wonderful.
 
Sometimes we’ll get a four-top who will all do spirit free, some break it up. Some friends will do a split and share, going back and forth between wine and spirit free pairings. Some go spirit free because they don’t want to overindulge. There are so many guests who don’t drink or cut down or are driving, but still want that social drinking experience.”
 
When creating a spirit free cocktail, Momose often thinks of a time of day or moment when a drink would be really delicious. Then she goes to a flavor profile and seeks out the ingredients she wants to play with. “It has deepened my bartending. It’s amazing the control you can have when mixing spirit free because you create your own ingredients, and there’s a lot of trial and error and rediscovering balance. A lot of us skipped the basics of balance when we were trained, and went right to cocktails. [With spirit free], you learn about flavor outside of alcohol.”
 
Momose tends to think of spirit free cocktails in three categories: aperitif, beverage paring, and digestif. When Kumiko opens later this year, Momose will continue to define and expand the category of spirit free itself. Kumiko refers to a style of Japanese woodworking, “in which perfectly cut pieces of wood are put together without glue, just with precision and care. The name Kumiko is an homage to the process and craft and a nod to natural elements that change over time and the idea that all these little components can be brought together to create a beautiful pattern of flavor,” says Momose.
            
As creative director and partner (with Cara and Noah Sandoval) in the omakase-style bar, there’s no doubt Momose will create both an environment in which her parents will feel supremely welcome and a bar that will be a landmark of spirit free drinking.

YOUR SPIRIT FREE STARTER KIT

ROUNDNESS: “Sugar is a great help. I rarely go 1:1 for a simple syrup. I use much less sugar for a hint of roundness, especially if there is no extra dilution. A pastry chef can be an incredible resource. Talk to them about sugar, and then branch off to create something new. There are so many different types of sugar and different grades of molasses and maple syrup.”
 
TEXTURE, TANNINS, AND BITTERNESS: “Teas, black teas, especially, are a great place to start. If you’re making syrups, you might as well try out some teas! Hibiscus is also fantastic. Remember that different teas have different levels of astringency. DO NOT oversteep your tea, then you’ll miss the softness.” Momose sources from Chicago-based Rare Tea Cellar.

MOUTHFEEL: Momose’s go-to is the peppercorn. “They all have their own dry mouthfeel after steeping; some have floral notes and others are even numbing, like Szechuan peppercorns, mimicking the feeling you might get from alcohol burn.”
  
BODY: Momose likes mushroom stocks, which also add an earthy dimension. 

VEGETALITY: Momose employs seaweeds, such as kombu, but all different types of dry seaweed may work. She also likes a hint of rosemary to add vegetal interest.
   
ACIDITY: Citrus is NOT Momose’s go-to for acid because, “citrus needs additional sugar to balance it, and you don’t want to overload people with sugar and dilute the drink with more water. I go to verjus and vinegar, and use citrus oil for brightness.” For acidity, Momose also likes green apples, Asian pears, cranberries, pomegranate, and pomegranate molasses.
 
PORTIONING: When pairing, “portion drinks to go exactly with a dish, so it doesn’t sit too long. Know how many bites are involved and how long guests will sit with that dish.”

WATER: For spirit free, you’re most often starting with a water-based main ingredient, rather than a base spirit. “So, water is a big part of the equation. Tonics and sodas become even more important. And there’s no need for water to open flavor.” Momose prefers Fever-Tree tonic for her Juniper Tonic.
  
DILUTION, ROCKS, AND CHILL:
“Depending on the drink, dilution is your friend or enemy. If you have a beautiful tea base that’s ready to drink, and it goes on ice and sits for longer than five minutes, it gets watered down rather than opening up. Most of my drinks are not served on ice unless the base has a higher concentration of flavor or a lot of citrus and water to balance. Chilling glasses extra-long is important, as is making sure bases are poured at their coolest.” Momose doesn’t stir or shake most of her spirit free drinks, unless citrus is involved, in which case she drops in one ice cube and shakes briefly to aerate and froth before straining. 

GARNISHES: “They should not only be beautiful but aromatic and flavorful; never something just dropped in. For Wholesome (lemon soda, juniper, coriander, mustard seed, Szechuan peppercorn, citrus zest), we’re using marigolds, gladiolas, and borage flowers.”

Get the recipe for Julia Momose's Juniper Tonic

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