Capitol Hill’s Life on Mars is a record shop, bar, and restaurant all in one, and it just so happens to have some of the best nonalcoholic beverages in town, including drinks made with The Pathfinder, Seattle’s own nonalcoholic hemp distilled beverage. Staffing shortages amid the pandemic led to an emergency closure earlier this month, but Life on Mars reopened on Saturday, January 15 — right on time to debut a special menu of nine nonalcoholic cocktails for Dry January, a month during which some people choose to not drink, re-evaluate their relationship with drinking, or just drink less.
Some highlights include dry takes on classics like N/Americano — made with Pathfinder instead of campari — Pathfinder Spritz with nonalcoholic amaro, citrus and soda; and the Mindful Boilermaker, the nonalcoholic version of a shot and a beer, but this time with non-alcoholic Athletic Brewing Co. lager and a shot of Pathfinder.
A bar that promotes mindful drinking might sound paradoxical, but for Life on Mars, expanding nonalcoholic options has led to more sales. For a business weathering a pandemic, that’s a good thing.
Kraig Rovensky, partner at Life on Mars and beverage director at Dime Food Group, said nonalcoholic beverage sales have more than doubled since before the pandemic. Many guests who order nonalcoholic drinks aren’t teetotalers; they’re just adding more nonacloholic drinks in the mix. Building a standout mocktail menu creates more inclusive options for people who don’t always want to drink alcohol, including sober-curious and sober-sometimes drinkers.
“Twenty-five to 35-year-olds are much more accepting of mental health and the idea of self-care,” Rovensky said. “I think it’s this idea of like, why do we have to drink all the time? Why do I have to punish my body like this all the time? But I still love the flavor.”
Rovensky worked with zero-proof beverages in the past, but when he tried the Pathfinder — a hemp-based fermented and distilled drink blended with wormwood, ginger, Douglas Fir and other botanicals — he was elated, especially since the flavor resembles amaro, one of his favorite spirits. Now a brand ambassador for Pathfinder, Rovensky said it’s time to reframe the association of nonalcoholic drinks as only soda and bitters.
The nonalcoholic beverage industry has boomed in the past few years, with sales jumping up 33 percent in the last year alone. Companies like Seedlip have been developing nonalcoholic botanical spirits for the last few years, but Pathfinder, with its earthy Pacific Northwest flavors, is a little different.
The company officially launched in Seattle last September by co-founders Chris Abbott — who previously co-founded a Seattle company that makes cannabis mints Mr. Moxey — and industry veterans Guy Escolme and Steven Grasse. Grasse is the creator of Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry’s Rum, companies with branding that evoke harken back to an age when herbal elixirs and botanical infusions were held in high regard, with or without alcohol. Though Seattle-based, some of Pathfinder’s production takes place in the U.K.
The idea behind Pathfinder was to make an exceptional nonalcoholic distilled drink by looking to the past, especially the American west, and reincorporate hemp into the world of spirits. Mocktails that use Pathfinder, and ingredients from other nonalcoholic beverage companies like Ritual, and Lyres are just as expertly crafted as alcoholic drinks. “You get to have a drink that contains the same amount of work, the same amount of passion, balancing the ingredients [as an alcoholic drink],” Rovensky said. “You can still appreciate the workmanship behind it” without the physical effects, he added.
Life on Mars started debuting nonalcoholic drinks on the last Wednesday of every month, beginning last October. The nights are called “N/A in the Mix,” and garnered enough traction that Life on Mars decided to expand the idea throughout the month of January. On the last Wednesday of January, Rovensky promised even more nonalcoholic beverages will be revealed.
“To me, it all goes back to that mindful drinking, and being able to offer the choice,” Rovensky said. “You can still go to a bar with friends, be in a social setting, but you don’t all have to consume booze. Maybe some of you do, maybe some of you don’t, and that’s the idea.”