An encounter with Camille Vidal, a pioneer of this concept
In the world of hospitality, sobriety (as in abstinence from alcohol) is a tricky issue. For a long time, non-alcoholic cocktails were an unambitious stopgap measure. The language used to describe them is a clear identifier of this defiance: they were called “mocktails” and included no alcohol, and no creativity either.
Enter Camille Vidal.
She was born in the South of France and grew up surrounded by artists. She discovered her own art, a means of expressing herself, when she moved to Australia at the age of 20. Her revelation came when she got a job at a cocktail bar, despite being completely unfamiliar with the bar trade. She began using cocktails to unleash her creativity, drawing on her passion for cooking – her father is a wonderful chef – and working with ingredients, combining flavours, just as she did in her family kitchen. She fell in love with the world of cocktails, the atmosphere, and the “big international hospitality family”. She became a global ambassador for Saint Germain liqueur and strived to convey the French way of life: drink well, eat well. But not forgetting to live well too. She loved bartending, finding it a generous, customer-oriented, physical and demanding vocation. The only issue was how to relax and unwind after a long shift without going overboard? She saw talent go to waste and wondered how living well could be possible. She thought about how to strike the right balance. She wanted to help the industry and more generally, offer people a way of consuming that would fit in with their search for a healthy life balance. Her solution? Mindful drinking. It’s a way of “becoming yourself” by listening to your tastes, needs and senses. The principle behind mindful drinking is simple, but difficult to convey. It is about drinking with awareness, but not just minding your alcohol consumption. It’s about all the senses. About stimulating taste, sight and smell, as with all cocktails. The objective is to strike a healthy balance, from every point of view.
Camille Vidal is now based in London where she has founded La Maison Wellness, a shrine to her philosophy. She promotes a balanced approach to hospitality for all, a way of applying the English saying that she quotes every single day to encourage her patrons to take the time to enjoy their experiences: “Stop and smell the roses”. Her cocktails are all low in alcohol or alcohol-free. The ingredients, taste and experience take precedence. Sometimes when she is serving at an event, she does not even specify that the cocktails she creates are alcohol-free, allowing those who taste them to enjoy her concoctions with no pre-conceived ideas. Because people do still judge. Advocating mindful drinking and non-alcoholic or low-alcohol cocktails is seen as betraying the business and consumer expectations. But since Covid, Camille Vidal has noticed a shift in her environment. The time people have spent in lockdown has accelerated their awareness of excessive alcohol consumption, both personally and how alcohol is viewed by society. Opinions change quickly. There is a generation emerging who is very comfortable spending a long and enjoyable yet “mindful” evening without the need for booze, and they don’t have to pay for it with a hangover. For consumers and businesses alike, mindful drinking is a profitable business.
The cocktails of the future are expected to see an upsurge in adaptogen plants and ingredients packed with flavours. The mindful drinking movement has only just begun, so it’s time to drink better and live better.
The Virgin Mary Bar, Dublin
It was the first completely alcohol-free bar in Europe. The idea came to its founder, Vaughan Yates, in 2018 during a visit to the Cocktails Spirits fair (an event in the world of bars and spirits) where he tasted two non-alcoholic products. After running a survey to sound out consumers, he created and opened The Virgin May Bar in 2019, a place designed as a traditional Irish bar… except for the content of its drinks. Lockdown forced the bar to close, but online sales grew spontaneously and became an integral part of the business as it is today. The bar’s bestsellers are cocktails (which he calls “spirit-free”, a more positive name than “mocktails”). They are structured and sophisticated in taste, complicated to make at home and convey the sense of celebration that people are looking for on a night out.