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The Best-Selling Cocktail At Denver’s AWAKE Has A Surprising Twist

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Raise a glass to the delicious drinks at Denver’s first sober bar, where the spicy margarita features the award-winning Ritual Zero Proof Tequila.

How it started… how it’s going

AWAKE, Denver’s first sober bar, has an interesting origin story. Billy Wynne and his wife, Christy, were spending a year in France while their kids were in an exchange program when Billy decided to chuck the bottle.

“Here we were in Provence, rosé country, and I decided after 25 years of being an avid drinker, alcohol was not making me the person I wanted to be,” Wynne said in a recent phone interview.

That was early in 2019 and non-alcoholic beer — specifically Heineken Zero — became their go-to beverage. “When we got home to the states, we noticed that it was impossible to find Heineken Zero, it sold out as soon as it hit the shelves. We thought something’s going on here.”

Yes, indeed. The trend toward sobriety has been gaining momentum for several years. Of course, there’s Dry January. Author Ruby Warrington is credited with creating the phrase Sober Curious in a 2018 book with the same title, a workbook and self-study program that promises to “change the way you drink in 100 days or less.” 

When AWAKE debuted last spring, its mission was focused on community: We’re a radically inclusive alcohol-free bar, bottle shop and coffeehouse here to change the way we relate to each other.” 

Wynne said they’ve been pleasantly surprised at the response to the opening of AWAKE: “We’ve had more of a mix of customers than we anticipated. There has definitely been a lot of interest among the Sober Curious crowd, but also a strong base in recovery community and in the LGBTQ-plus community, with a wide range of ages showing up.”

While he thought NA beer would be the biggest seller at AWAKE, alcohol-free cocktails — please don’t call them mocktails — are the most popular by far.

And the spicy margarita made with Ritual Zero Proof tequila is at the top of the best-seller list.

“We played around with the ingredients and came up with something that’s eye poppingly pleasing,” Wynne said. “The Ritual Zero Proof Tequila delivers a lot of peppery spice and we add fresh lime juice, a little simple syrup and Triple Sec from Lyre’s out of Australia. It’s been a huge hit.”

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Ritual Zero Proof

While the NA spirits market is rapidly expanding, the founders of Chicago-based Ritual Zero Proof took a fresh approach to product development. Marcus Sakey, GG Sakey and David Crooch were determined to create an alternative that actually tasted like the real deal. Like the Impossible Burger of the NA spirits category.

The company’s website boldly declares: “We weren’t interested in a glass of  ‘something.’ We’re not interested in new-age goop that defies explanation, or fancy spa water that bears no resemblance to liquor. We weren’t satisfied until it tasted and smelled and felt like the real thing.”

Judging by the awards and accolades and growing fan base, Ritual Zero Proof is firing on all cylinders. The Tequila recently scored a 98 and received a platinum medal from the Beverage Testing Institute, landing it in the all-time top rankings for NA spirits.

Its biggest score, however, came earlier this month when it made its debut at Whole Foods Market, a signal that the company’s commitment to using no artificial ingredients, preservatives, colors and flavoring is getting well-deserved attention.

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Back at the bar

Ritual Zero Proof first came to the attention of Wynne and his team through word of mouth. “Friends recommended it to us, but it’s really well known among our customers. It’s gets asked for a lot,” he explained.

The lineup of Ritual Zero Proof — which also includes rum, whiskey and gin alternatives — is also popular in AWAKE’s retail bottle shop.

And what do guests order to accompany their crafted NA cocktails at AWAKE?

The bar snacks lean toward the salty side with charcuterie plates showcasing cured meats along with smoky almonds, crisps and a rosemary-fig spread. Several “artisan” grilled cheese sandwiches are served including a vegan version. Breakfast burritos are offered all day long.

The lone treats on the lineup are good ones: A gooey sticky bun and chocolate chunk pumpkin bread from Aspen Baking Company. Both sound like they’d be fine complements to the Apple Pie Whiskey Smash, listed under AWAKE’s lineup of Specialty Elixirs. Yeah, we’ll drink to that!

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