Tipples

Mocktails are the next big thing

Mixologist Laurent Greco runs his own bar in Paris and is the brand ambassador for mineral water brand Perrier.
Mixologist Laurent Greco runs his own bar in Paris and is the brand ambassador for mineral water brand Perrier.PHOTO: LIM YONG TECK FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

French mixologist Laurent Greco is not a fan of the speakeasy or discreet, old-style bars.

While that may be where the cocktail world has been heading, Mr Greco, founder of Bar Academy in Paris, a school for bartenders, feels that "it's all just cut and paste".

The 43-year-old was originally from Burgundy, but has spent more than 10 years in Paris. He runs his own bar, Mojito Lab, in the French capital and also travels the world as a brand ambassador for mineral water brand Perrier.

He has spent more than 25 years in the food and beverage industry, since enrolling in culinary school at age 17.

He was in town for Singapore Cocktail Week, which ended yesterday, during which he held a series of workshops using Perrier to create cocktails.

He tells The Sunday Times: "I can go out tonight in Singapore and I'm sure I'll find this tattooed bartender with a beard, a 22-year-old trying to look like he's 45. All over the world, they all look and dress the same."

Instead, he prefers characters, not bartenders who follow trends. "I prefer a guy who is making his own drink and not some drink I can find anywhere," he says.

It is a philosophy that the Frenchman, who is married with a 15-year-old son, subscribes to in his own career.

Dressed in a white jacket that looks like a laboratory coat, he whips up dramatic cocktails and mocktails, relying on the element of theatre and surprise to wow his guests.

One of his signature drinks is Perrier Paris Paris, a dainty pink, vodka-based cocktail served in a martini glass with Chanel No. 5- filled bubbles.

The perfume is contained within white scented bubbles he creates with a smoke gun and that pop delicately over the glass.

He says: "It has to look good, smell good and taste good."

Going against the grain seems to be something he relishes.

While tinctures, barrel-ageing and fat washing are buzz words in the cocktail world, he believes that the future of bartending is in mocktails and not in newfangled techniques.

He recalls a recent event in Paris where he and his team were serving drinks at a party with an open bar. There were about 90 guests aged 20 to 25 years old. Surprisingly, he ended up using only one bottle of rum the entire night.

"We used 7kg of mango puree because everyone wanted the Mango Basilic, a mocktail made with mango and basil," he says.

It is a phenomenon he says is gathering steam.

"I see more and more young people not wanting alcohol," he says. " It's not religious, it's just about health."

There are also new ingredients he chances upon on his travels that imitates the taste of alcoholic beverages.

He mentions a recent trip to Beirut, Lebanon, where a bartender offered him a drink that tasted like a gin and tonic, but did not have any alcohol in it. "The drink had fresh cucumber, tonic water and a drop of citric acid concentrate from Morocco. These are natural ingredients."

With these in mind, he says: "I trust that mocktails will play a very big part in the future."

And that is also where his penchant for theatrics comes in handy. With cocktails, he works with elements such as dry ice, smoke and fire.

He says: "You have to find a very big story to cover the fact that there's no alcohol in your drink. So you have to make sure you bring the wow factor."

In fact, he is working on a mocktail project in Paris, but declines to give more information.

Whether it is a cocktail or mocktail, it is ultimately about getting a positive reaction from the guest.

"People are just like kids," he says. "I'm not only here to take your money, I'm also going to get a smile from you in the process."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 20, 2016, with the headline 'Mocktails are the next big thing'. Print Edition | Subscribe