Jackson Hole mixologists make sure no alcohol doesn’t mean no fun.
By Melissa Thomasma
Behind the bar at Trio Bistro, Forrest Jillson makes a Valley Breeze. He adds cranberry, lime, and grapefruit juice to a cocktail shaker, vigorously shakes, and then pours the frothy beverage into a glass garnished with a slice of fresh cucumber and a pinch of salt. A waiter quickly whisks it away into the buzzing dining room, delivering it to a diner in the middle of an animated conversation.
Jillson, who has been bartending since 2017, says he especially enjoys making Valley Breezes because the drink is interesting, but alcohol-free.
For Jillson, a professional skier with a bevy of sponsors, offering libations lacking booze is personal. His final heavy drinking session, with fellow fishermen in Soldotna, Alaska, ended with a tumble down a flight of stairs and a life-threatening head injury. He was life-flighted to Anchorage, and hospitalized for nearly a week. “I made it out really lucky,” he says, though he lost his senses of smell and taste for a full year. He hasn’t had a drink since.
“I think it’s awesome to have non-alcoholic drinks on the menu, and it’s deeply respectful of clientele to offer them,” he says. Being a non-drinker—regardless of the reason—can be tough, though, and Jillson sees well-crafted, zero-proof drinks as a way to alleviate social pressure and also offer an enjoyable drink to those avoiding alcohol. “It’s important for everyone to be able to enjoy a drink and feel at home,” he says.
An increasing number of people are opting to avoid alcohol, for reasons ranging from heart health to weight loss to cancer prevention to any number of other potential benefits. “Many people are becoming more intentional in their everyday lives,” says Jessa Smout, founder of Amrita Beverages, which offers cocktail and “free spirit” catering in the valley. “Whether that’s with alcohol consumption or healthier food choices, waste and recycling, or buying local versus online. This is just one part of the whole—why not make beverages healthier and delicious?”
Trio and Amrita are not the only drink purveyors in Jackson Hole to notice the trend. Mixologists and bartenders around the valley are crafting beverages with the stylish look and complex flavor profile of a cocktail, but lacking spirits. “Thoughtfully made non-alcoholic drinks are absolutely a trend across the nation,” says Dave Hemphill, wine and beverage director for Snake River Grill. “But it also just fits really well with the culture here.” Over the past five years, he’s seen more diners opting for what he calls “no proof” drinks. Sometimes they’re avoiding alcohol entirely, he says, or simply looking to take a break between cocktails, or end the night with a more low-key drink. “We don’t want to just hand people a glass of juice,” Hemphill says. “We want to offer something that’s more complex and is a blend of really interesting ingredients.”
Smout says that even if a catering client hasn’t specifically requested what she calls “free spirits,” she’ll have some available. “On special occasions where there is alcohol, I personally feel that if I am offering the freshest of cocktails, and then only offering a soda pop or store bought lemonade [as a non-alcohol alternative], I am doing a disservice to my customers.”
Don’t assume an alcohol-free cocktail is easier to create than one with alcohol. Smout says a challenge with free spirits is making the drinker learn to slow down and savor it. With an alcoholic cocktail, the spirit itself encourages sipping—not guzzling. “Fresh, delicious, non-alcoholic drinks are harder to hold back on,” she says. “There lies the challenge: Make them enjoyable and memorable, balanced and creative, while finding a way to incorporate mystery. Maybe with that curiosity of the mysterious, the customer will slow down and enjoy the offering.”
There’s also a challenge in balancing the sweetness of a non-alcoholic cocktail. “Some try to mimic an overly sweet cocktail,” says Smout, who likes to mix drinks like the “I Mint To Tell You I Love You,” which is fresh-juiced cucumber, mint, and amaranth topped with sparkling water. “The key to a great beverage, whether it has alcohol in it or not, is balance.”
SNAKE RIVER GRILL
“The balance of a non-alcoholic drink is really important,” Hemphill says. “It’s about allowing flavors to not be fully masked by one another, but also keeping any one from becoming overpowering.” He says it often takes him longer to design his “no proof” options on the cocktail menu, since there’s no spirit as a starting point. But his creative process has led him to incorporate flavors like smoky grapefruit in the Bittersweet Symphony (Bittermilk No. 5 Charred Grapefruit Tonic, club soda, fresh lemon, tonic). Hemphill makes sure that every season comes with a new non-alcoholic option. Enjoy one while relaxing at the grill’s rustic-chic bar or pair it with food from executive chef Jeff Drew, who has been nominated four times as “Best Chef: Northwest” by the James Beard Foundation.
TRIO AMERICAN BISTRO
Jillson and the rest of the Trio team develop new non-alcoholic drinks every summer and winter. The Valley Breeze (cranberry juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, simple syrup, club soda, cucumber, sea salt) is gently sweet and also refreshing, says Jillson, who recommends pairing it with the restaurant’s signature bleu cheese waffle fries; the brightness and acidity of the drink offset the richness of the fries. Jillson enjoys seeing minors sipping one because he thinks it makes them feel more involved in the family’s overall dining experience.
Tucked into the Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Teton Village, the Ascent Lounge offers Pan-Asian fare in a relaxed yet sophisticated Western atmosphere. Head bartender Adam Reed’s goal is to send out alcohol-free drinks that look and taste as great as his signature cocktails. “Booze-free drinks are important to have in alcoholic social settings,” he says. “It gives everyone—drinking or not—a way to feel involved and connected at the table.” Reed recommends the Cucumber Mojito (fresh cucumber juice, lime juice, mint simple syrup, sparkling water) and suggests pairing it with the lounge’s veggie spring rolls. “[It] pairs incredibly well with the fresh herbs and julienned vegetables, which complement the mint, lime, and cucumber flavors of the mojito.” Reed also makes shrubs, non-alcoholic drinks that he says “come from pre-Prohibition days when vinegar was used to keep fruit from going bad.” They’re a balance of fruit, herbs, and vinegar, and served with sparkling water. He creates a variety every summer, always featuring seasonal produce and fresh herbs.
FIGS’ non-alcoholic drink menu is as unique as its Wyoming-influenced Lebanese food. Its Minted Lemonade (mint, rose water, lemon, lime, simple syrup, soda water) is a grownup and exotic spin on a classic. “It’s also a bit of a play off our Lebanese Lemonade cocktail,” says Michael Gray, FIGS’ director of operations. “It’s light and refreshing, which is perfect for warm summer days. The rose water gracefully brings it all together. And it pairs really well with the Mediterranean cuisine.” Somewhat similar is the Mockingbird (ginger, lemon, lime, pineapple, soda water). Both are refreshing in their simplicity, but have an air of sophistication. Gray adds that all of the juices are squeezed fresh in-house every day.
SNAKE RIVER BREWING
Snake River Brewing launched Sparkling Hop Water in 2019. It’s alcohol-, sugar-, and calorie-free, and available at the downtown brewpub and at several grocery stores around the valley. “The hop blend that we use offers up a lighter, citrus-forward note to the beverage,” says Luke Bauer, the brewery’s marketing director. “Imagine a LaCroix, but with a vague hint of your favorite pale ale.” Bauer says the hop character of the water would “attract an IPA or pale ale drinker, but hops are very approachable for everyone once the bitter character is taken out of the equation.” He likes pairing it with the pub’s salads, and also uses it as a palate cleanser between bites of richer dishes. “This is a health-conscious town and the occasional non-alcoholic, locally produced, zero-sugar beverage certainly is a great thing to enjoy,” he says. JH
Don’t Call it a Mocktail
Jessa Smout, founder of Amrita Beverages, cringes at the word “mocktail.” “As if you can’t have fun without the alcohol!” she says. “I prefer to call them ‘Free Spirits.’” Smout isn’t alone in her disdain for the term. Many bartenders and mixologists feel that it implies something fake, an impostor on the menu. Says Dave Hemphill of Snake River Grill: “It’s certainly not my favorite term. I suppose it gets the point across, but I feel that it somehow cheapens the drink.”
But Adam Reed, head bartender at the Ascent Lounge, disagrees. “The word ‘mocktail’ is trendy. It’s fitting for a non-alcoholic cocktail,” he says, adding that the label makes it simple for a guest to know exactly what they’re getting; a mixed drink lacking alcohol.
While some menus around town don’t shy away from labeling their non-alcoholic choices with the mocktail moniker, others rely on different terms:
• ZERO PROOF
• NO PROOF
• ALCOHOL FREE
• FREE SPIRIT
Make at Home
2 oz grapefruit juice.75 oz lime juice.5 oz honey simple syrup (1:1 ratio hot water/honey)dash of cinnamonshake with ice, top with sparkling water and Rescue Remedy Flower Essence by Bach Remedies
1.5 oz Lime juice1 oz Agave Simple (1:1 ratio agave/water).5 oz Lemon Juice.5 oz orange juice2 dashes Angostura Bitter (or Fee Brother bitters if you don’t want the trace alcohol)shake, strain into glass with salted rim, top with sparkling water and garnish with lime