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Baltimore mocktails offer a break from the booze

Sometimes, we could all use a break from the booze.

Whether you're pregnant, the night's designated driver or just not interested in a crippling hangover in the morning, abstinence has its perks. Sure, your friends are having a blast toasting with Fireball shots now, but come tomorrow, harsh reality will be there to greet them.

But let's be honest — spending time at a bar nursing a tonic and lime can feel awkward and boring. That shouldn't have to be the case, and some Baltimore bars are looking to change the culture by incorporating more nonalcoholic — but still handcrafted — cocktails on their menus.

I recently visited three spots that accommodate the growing segment of teetotalers in the city. So before you grudgingly order that Diet Coke, consider these mocktails.

Woodberry Kitchen
2010 Clipper Park Road, #126

It's a relief to know the farm-to-table restaurant puts the same effort into its mocktails as it does into its enticing, high-end cocktails. Out of the three bars I visited, Woodberry Kitchen boasted the widest selection of nonalcoholic cocktails, with five options.

My bartender recommended the Stone Fruit Soda ($5) from the menu's "Teetotalers corner" because of his penchant for cream soda. While it looked like milk served over ice, the Stone Fruit Soda immediately hit the spot. I expected a fizzy, overpowering cream soda, but received a surprisingly light flavor of nectarine (the mix is made in house).

The drink also consisted of rhubarb bitters, simple syrup, cream and Woodberry Kitchen's own club soda. The mocktail was restrained and not too sweet, as if it were barely there. Unlike anything I've ever tasted, the Stone Fruit Soda was an instant winner.

The Food Market
1017 W. 36th St.

Lacking the variety of Woodberry Kitchen, Hampden's Food Market sticks to the basics with two familiar options. Forgoing the virgin mojito, I ordered the Strawberry Basil Smash (both $5), an appropriately vibrant red mocktail.

This one was a good test of a bar's ability. A strawberry-based mocktail could coast as an easy, thoughtless drink that resembled a fruit smoothie more than a cocktail. But the Food Market delivered a beverage with balance, made with an in-house mix of basil and strawberries, lime juice and Sprite.

The key to the Smash was the basil, which had a bold but welcoming presence that evened out the naturally sweet strawberries. A true grown-up drink sans liquor, the Smash was layered with enough flavors to resemble a cocktail.

807 South Broadway

For those in Fells Point looking for serious drinks — updated classics and new concoctions — the dimly lit Rye could be your best bet. Fortunately, the owners bring that same level of care to the rest of the menu, including a recently created mocktail. Just don't be alarmed when you don't see it on the menu. Manager Doug Atwell just came up with the recipe for the Westerlie ($4) just recently, so you'll have to order it by name.

It's a simple creation with subtle flavors. Atwell mixes a 3-ounce can of pineapple juice with a quick-pour of lime juice and ginger syrup. He strains it into a Collins glass and tops it with club soda. A mint sprig garnishes the drink, but Atwell says it's to add aroma more than flavor. It was by far the sweetest mocktail of the night but also the most refreshing, especially on a late summer night.

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