One of the four mocktails Red Herring has on its menu. This is Feeling Spicy. | Photo by Sara Havens

As a nondrinker living in bourbon country, it can be tough to feel included at bars, restaurants and especially bourbon-specific events. While those who imbibe usually have dozens of cocktail options, those who don’t usually get the choice between water or coffee.

Oh, and don’t forget the sugary sweet, uncool Shirley Temple.

Louisvillian Jesse Hawkins wants to change this and help create more options — and acceptance — for nondrinkers at area bars and restaurants. Four years ago he decided to go sober, with the help of a treatment facility, and ever since he’s felt a little left out when it comes to nightlife options.

Jesse Hawkins | Courtesy of Jesse Hawkins

Hawkins has created The Mocktail Project to encourage inclusion for nondrinkers by providing choice, eliminating unnecessary social pressures and removing societal stigmas. He also started the S.V. Foundation, which helps provide assistance to those going through recovery.

On Wednesday, March 14, Hawkins aims to show you just how fun mocktails can be with an event, titled “A Drink For You,” that includes delicious and expertly crafted mocktails, real cocktails and even a Mockoff Mocktail Competition that’ll pit Insider’s Bar Belle (that’s me) against Mayor Greg Fischer and Healing Place director Doug Scott.

It’ll be held at the Mint Julep Experiences‘ headquarters, Mint on Mellwood.

Hawkins tells us the idea for the event came after several attempts to order a well-rounded drink, sans alcohol, at a bar. Many bartenders look at you funny if you order a virgin version of fancy cocktail.

“As a nondrinker, I merely wanted a really fun, tasty, nonalcoholic option for whomever when they choose not to order an alcoholic beverage,” he says. “I believe it is easy for our society to overlook the hospitality piece for the nondrinker. Whether that is the designated driver, an individual in recovery or your best friend who is pregnant, the nondrinker deserves to feel comfortable when walking into any social environment.”

With “A Drink For You,” he hopes to move the needle on creating a safer, more inclusive drinking culture in Louisville, he says.

Growing up in Kentucky, Hawkins loves and appreciates the bourbon culture and recognizes it extends far beyond the brown spirit itself. He likes to attend bourbon events and hang out in bars with his friends just like others, but sometimes there’s an uneasiness he gets when people find out he doesn’t drink.

Mocktails can be just as delicious and intricate as cocktails. | Courtesy of The Mocktail Project

While others sip on old fashioneds or tequila sunrises, he’s relegated to clutching either water or coffee.

“Inevitably, it creates an inferior status, unnecessary social stigmas and uncomfortable conversations that could easily be avoided by merely offering a few tasty nonalcoholic-themed beverages that are all served in the same glass,” he explains. “We just want to feel included, normal.”

Red Herring is one local bar/restaurant that has added a mocktail section on its menu, and it has stepped up as a sponsor for Wednesday’s event as well.

Other sponsors and participants include Mint Julep Experiences, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, Brown-Forman, Bourbon Barrel Foods and Heine Brothers’ Coffee.

The money raised from the event will go directly to a person in need of recovery who isn’t able to afford a program on his own. Hawkins says when he took his first steps into recovery, he needed financial assistance as well, and an angel donor stepped up and helped him out.

That was his inspiration for creating the S.V. Foundation.

For Wednesday’s event, he’s most looking forward to highlighting the brands, restaurants and people who have supported The Mocktail Project, and also spreading its message.

“As a community, we have a real opportunity to come together to support a social movement that helps eliminate uncomfortable social pressures, provide aid toward recovery and, ultimately, help to create a safer, more inclusive community,” says Hawkins.

“A Drink For You” will be held from 6:30-9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 14, at Mint on Mellwood, 1631 Mellwood Ave. Tickets are $65, and proceeds benefit the Healing Place and the Morton Center.

Bar Belle vs. Mayor

The Bar Belle earned a key to the city for finding the Top 5 Old Fashioneds.

When Hawkins asked if I’d participate in a drink-making competition for the event, I was somewhat hesitant. I enjoy the comfy confines of being on the other side of bars, sitting on my bum while the bartender shakes, strains and sweats over my complicated order.

But then he said Mayor Fischer would be competing, and that changed everything.

Yes, the mayor gave me a key to the city a few years back, and I’ve granted his demand of keeping up with the city’s best old fashioneds. I’ve delivered him three stories on it, offering up five new old fashioneds to try each time.

But would I like to beat him in a competition? Hell yes I would! I’m hoping if I win, I will finally be invited to check out his private bourbon stash. I hear it’s quite breathtaking.

So from now until Wednesday, I will lock myself in my basement — where there’s a bar, of course — and practice my nonexistent mixology skills. Hey, I did bartend at R Place Pub for many years, but the most complicated drink I made there was a Jack & Coke.

I also will call upon my bartender buddies for advice and tips, which I did this past week when I visited Red Herring and met up with general manager Clay Livingston for some tricks of the trade.

Red Herring’s Clay Livingston shares trade secrets with the Bar Belle. | Photo by Sara Havens

Of course, I’m not going to divulge what my mocktail will include, but let’s just say it’s both pretty and tasty. I’m thinking about calling it Death of a Unicorn, which will make sense when you see and taste it.

So, Mayor Fischer and this Doug Scott character better step up their game. The Bar Belle is behind the bar, and she’s ready to shake it.