Hotseat: Derek Jacobi

Abigail Hall’s beverage director discusses the rising popularity of N/A drinks.

Mixology has evolved over the past several years, with the nostalgic Abigail Hall’s cocktail menu standing tall in representation. The 40-seat living room-style bar, inspired by the famed Oregon suffragist Abigail Scott Duniway, has the vintage vibe with an inclusive flair and plenty of non-alcoholic gems featured on the cocktail menu (like the Banana No-Groni, made from juniper jus, banana, chinchona bark and Sanbitter).

Abigail Hall’s beverage director, Derek Jacobi, is a 25-year veteran of the service industry, having started his career making pizza and serving beer during his junior year of high school. So it’s safe to say he’s been on the ground floor of many trends, but few have affected the culture like the rising popularity of N/A drinks.

“It’s been a direct result of what the populace wants,” Jacobi says. “We’re putting as much effort into our non-alcoholic offerings as we do our regular cocktails that we produce. Every time we do a menu release, we’re thinking of three to five exciting new non-alcoholic cocktails to offer the masses and people are trying things they never would have before, and I love it.”

Jacobi spoke to WW about how Abigail Hall has adapted to the new sobriety. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

WW: Have you hosted events organized around sober drinks?

Derek Jacobi: Numerous non-alcoholic spirit companies approach us to participate in recipe competitions that they are putting on and host events directed at the N/A populace. So we have yet to work on any particular parties from those companies, but those are things we’re absolutely entertaining for the future.

Have you seen a different clientele at Abigail Hall because of the N/A menu, such as young families or a new customer base?

I’m finding that there are three kinds of people that come in specifically coming to Abigail Hall searching for those N/A cocktails. There’s the “safe and sober driver” that is representing the group for the night, and we’re able to give them an elevated experience that’s more than just a tonic water with a lime. It’s allowing them to participate with the group.

There’s also the people who are looking for an experience but don’t want to take away from the group experience. Then there’s the businessmen who come through that want to be part of the ceremony of it all.

As an old-school bartender in the business since high school, have you seen the public acceptance of N/A drinks change over time?

Oh yeah, absolutely. If you want to be a sober individual and work in the industry, that is absolutely welcome and it’s something that should be admired. It shows self-governance and it’s something that would never be judged. We have people at Abigail Hall who are sober and people who abstain from alcohol and when they do that, it just opens up their experience a little bit more where they’re accepted for their decision and never judged.

How have brands adapting to the new sober movement changed things?

A lot of big-box brands are trying to get some non-alcoholic representation out there because they want to have their hand in that market. We’re seeing a lot of mom-and-pop places that want to fill that void and feel like they have a product they want to bring to the world.

I like the direction it’s taking in the industry. It’s driving people to brands they’ve never heard of. But ultimately, the best thing that it’s doing is giving people the options when they go out or go to the grocery store or the liquor store.

GO: Abigail Hall is located in the Woodlark Hotel, 813 SW Alder St., 5-11 pm Sunday-Wednesday, 5 pm-midnight Thursday-Saturday.