There’s a lot involved in celebrating the holidays. Decorating, eating a big meal, spending time with family, exchanging gifts, consuming ungodly amounts of baked goods, and so on. But celebrating New Year’s Eve usually revolves around one activity: drinking. It can be lots of fun, but how do you celebrate if you’re not drinking?

You might want to toast with a beverage that has the complexity and presentation of a cocktail, but without the booze: a mocktail.

The Mocktail Project provides recipes and plans events designed to make social spaces more inclusive to non-drinkers. Founder Jesse Hawkins says the need for a project like this became clear when he stopped drinking himself.

“Never did I think I could go back into a bar,” he said. “I think a lot of times when you do walk into an environment and you order a drink and it’s served to you in different glassware, you feel singled out. You start to ask yourself, am I the outlier?”

Hawkins started the Mocktail Project to encourage bars and restaurants to put some thought and creativity into their zero-proof offerings.

Jared Schubert has been tending bar for around 20 years, and says he’s seen the rise of mocktail popularity as some of his colleagues in the business start cutting back on their own consumption.

“I think a really great bar puts as much effort into making a mocktail beautiful and sophisticated and elegant as a regular drink,” said Schubert. “As a lot of us in the bar industry age gracefully, it becomes a whole lot easier to do that for people.”

‘You should never not feel included’

Mocktails can be a great New Year’s Eve treat for folks who take medicine they can’t drink with, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or those who volunteered to drive the crew home. But for some, it will be even more important to have an alternative option tonight.

Scott Hesseltine is the Vice President of Addiction Services at Centerstone Kentucky. He said New Year’s Eve “is absolutely focused on drinking.”

And for someone who is in sobriety — and early sobriety especially — it’s really important to surround yourself with supportive people, to have a plan if you are going to a place where there’s going to be drinking,” he said. 

This time of year can be risky for people in recovery.

“One of the biggest risk factors [for relapse] is stress,” he said. “And the holidays themselves bring a lot of stress.”

Keenan Beckhart got sober when she was 24.

“If you’re young and in recovery, it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame,” she said. “You know, you want to go to the bar, or to a party where lots of people are drinking.”

She knows the particular challenges this one night of the year can bring. “New Year’s Eve is probably the hardest holiday for me to try and stay sober through,” she said.

Beckhart works at The Healing Place now, and she’s learned there are ways to set yourself up for success:

“Bring sober people with you. Bring people that know you’re in recovery and that support your recovery — that know you can’t have a drink or drug,” she said. “Have people on speed dial that you can dial that’ll come get you, or that’ll talk you through any situation.”

If you’re abstaining this year and find yourself feeling out of place, a mocktail in hand could help you blend in and ward off questions from other party goers about why you’re not drinking.

“If you don’t drink, or you’re choosing not to drink, or you’re taking a break from drinking, you should never not feel included,” The Mocktail Project’s Jesse Hawkins said.

And if you’re the one tending bar for friends, here’s how to make Jared Schubert’s latest mocktail masterpiece. He calls it The Persephone — a nod to the coming Spring:

The Persephone

  • 5 grapes, halved
  • 7 mint leaves
  • 3/4 oz. lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. simple syrup
  • 1 oz. water or white tea

Muddle ingredients, then shake. Strain into a double old fashioned glass with ice, top with a splash of water or club soda. Garnish with 3 skewered grapes and a mint sprig.

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are available hourly, from 6 p.m. New Year’s Eve to 5 p.m. New Year’s Day. Visit louisvilleaa.org for details and to find a meeting near you.

Laura produces Recut, Curious Louisville, and other audio news stories and podcasts for WFPL.