Mocktails toronto

Mocktails are everywhere in Toronto right now but why are they so expensive?

Drinking culture has evolved and gone beyond its focus on alcoholic beverages. As new generations of drinkers come in, new tastes, trends and experimental drinks are introduced. 

But alongside alcohol-based drinks sits another beverage that is gaining in prominence: mocktails. 

Mocktails, more commonly referred to as placebo cocktails within the industry, are everywhere in Toronto, and they always have been but these days they seem to be more visible and on menus everywhere.

Post-lockdown, the rise in popularity of placebos has grown as people gain more interest in the mixology of a drink and more focus on "dry" months. 

Within the industry itself, calling it 'placebos' rather than mocktails opens the doors for a stigma-free drink that allows those who prefer non-alcoholic options to feel less shunned. 

However, the biggest misconception around placebo cocktails is that without the presence of alcohol, they are exponentially cheaper. That's not the case.

At most bars or restaurants a non-alcoholic drink can range from $11 to $22 depending on where you go, with some lower or higher.

So, why are mocktails so expensive? Why aren't they much cheaper than alcoholic beverages?

Mocktails toronto

Mocktail culture has grown over the past year, with bars and restaurants expanding their non-alcoholic menus. Photo by Fareen Karim

I spoke with Robin Goodfellow, owner of Vela and founder of Little Bones Beverages about placebo cocktails, its growing culture and the reason they're not more affordable. 

"There are a lot of people who don't drink for temporary, religious or mental health reasons," said Goodfellow. "That shouldn't keep people from coming to a bar."

Goodfellow recalled the time when he had opened Pretty Ugly in 2016 within Parkdale and wanted to give his friends that don't drink a reason to visit.

Beyond the food and alcoholic beverages, Goodfellow began to make placebo cocktails by giving them the essence of an alcoholic drink without the alcohol.

"[Placebos] need to be thoughtful and need to reduce the stigma of people who don't drink," said Goodfellow. 

Goodfellow's time at Pretty Ugly reshaped the placebo cocktail scene in the city in many ways, introducing a complex experience and introducing a more explorative way of experiencing drinking. 

"People are pumped about changing the way they drink...the stigma around it and drinking habits have changed," said Goodfellow. "We just started pushing drinks that happened to have no alcohol and it's clearly caught on worldwide."

For Goodfellow, complexity and depth are incredibly important in a placebo cocktail. He likes to utilize a range of unique ingredients including reductions and infusions.

When it comes to the price, the process, product and taste is the core reason why Goodfellow says placebo cocktails aren't cheaper. 

Mocktails toronto

Placebo cocktails can come in variations of traditional staple alcoholic drinks or newer experimental takes. Photo by Fareen Karim.

"When we first launched the placebo menu at Pretty Ugly, people were confused as to why it was $9 - $13, kind of assuming 'shouldn't it be the same as a Coca Cola," said Goodfellow. "It takes a lot of time and effort, a lot of nice ingredients to go in a drink."

At Vela, a placebo cocktail menu has been curated including 'Nomaro Spritz', which includes red normaro and tonic ($11). The three cocktails ditch the traditional structure of mocktails and offer a curated flavourful taste. 

The cost of producing a placebo cocktail is just as expensive as one with alcohol, says Goodfellow.

Mocktails toronto

Mocktail culture is only just getting started in Toronto. Photo by Fareen Karim.

He gives an example of Lyre's a company that makes spirits in non-alcoholic formats. From malt to cane spirits, bottles start at around $44. 

According to Goodfellow, people don't complain about the prices of mocktails as much as they used to.

"People are really into it and people truly are stoked to have these amazing flavours that don't get you drunk."

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim

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