I've been a drinker most of my life. There are childhood photos of my dad holding me as a wee little lamb, giving me a sip of his Coors. "You're not going to like it," he'd say, and he was right. As mischievous kids my cousin and I would run around family parties stealing Palomas from right underneath our tias' noses, taking advantage of their inebriated scream-singing along to Juan Gabriel (Mexico's version of Elton John), like little booze bandits. I still get a latent buzz anytime I hear "Querida."

    I love drinking. I love taking a chilled glass to my lips and waiting for a slow wave of wine to squash onto my tongue. I love sitting on a picnic blanket with my best friends, talking about work and life stuff all while sneaking pre-made cocktails hidden in our bags into indiscriminate plastic cups. I love having a drink on a first date, quelling nerves and using it as charm fuel. I love enjoying a post-office drink on my couch while binge-watching Game of Thrones. As Icona Pop once said, "I don't care; I love it."

    The party's over now, though. The liver doth protest, according to my doctor. So for a few months now I've been nearly alcohol free. I'll enjoy one or two if it's a special day or if I'm doing very important journalistic research, but gone forever is my daily cocktail hour. I'd rather be sober than scouring the black markets for a new liver. I want to offer all of my sober, pregnant and straight-edge buds a public apology now for having to deal with drunks with no booze in your own system. I now realize it's the worst.

    While I stick to bitters, lime and soda for the most part, I've also been getting into mocktails when I'm feeling crazy. Yup, it's gotten to that level of basic where drinking what is, in effect, an adult Capri Sun constitutes going wild.

    On my quest for great mocktails I ended up in lots of places around town. They were good, but often too tart, or too sweet or not refreshing enough to make me forget the delicious alcoholic nectar of the dark lords.

    Last on my list was Catania, a new restaurant and bar in La Jolla brought to us by the gang behind Whisknladle and Prepktchen. Ali Perreira and Adam Lockridge built a bar menu that serves both sober folks and their annoying, drunk friends alike. And bless them for it.

    They've concocted reductions in three flavors: lemon thyme, orange tarragon and strawberry basil. Those reductions are slow cooked in-house using fresh ingredients and are the bases for their short menu of Italian sodas. These refreshing drinks go from mocktail to cocktail when gin, vodka and bourbon are added.

    Because I'm nothing if not thorough, I brought along a drinking buddy that could do most of the heavy lifting with the boozy versions. Here's what you can expect from each of Catania's mocktails as they go from mock to cock.

    The lemon and thyme soda is as light on the tongue and refreshing as it sounds. I've had Italian sodas that leave a sour film on your palate, or just feel like you're guzzling Juicy Juice. Its herby tones were delicate. The lemon was faint enough, with just a hint of tartness. I could see myself kicking off my shoes after a long day and sipping this under a tree. When gin was added to the mix, the drink took on a smooth coolness, thanks to the juniper. Still perfect for under a tree, though more booze-forward, so don't be surprised if you wake up under that tree hours later.

    The orange tarragon mocktail's silky, sweet notes had an air of spice. It tasted delicately of spiced cake, or Christmas. And because vodka is the champion of all alcohols, absorbing whatever it's added to without changing the flavor too much, you can keep sipping this tasty drink until you forget you're supposed to pick up your kids from school. Don't do that though. That's not cool.

    The strawberry basil mocktail was last up. Far sweeter and fruitier, there was also a slight tinge of something I couldn't quite put my finger on. "It's a bit of balsamic vinegar," said Ali. Yum! Not to sound like Gwyneth Paltrow but, damn, I love balsamic vinegar. What was interesting about this mocktail was how it transformed once bourbon was added to it. I knew I recognized the flavor but, again, wasn't quite sure what it was. It had gone from light-and-fresh to warm, smoky and dark. It went from crisp poolside refresher to something to sip by a crackling fire. It turned into a sweeter old fashioned. While I'm aware that this is sacrilege to serious drinkers I will admit that I'm not a fan of old fashioneds. They're way too heavy for me. Don Draper ended up at some hippie retreat to dry up for a reason, is all I'm saying. I prefer drinks that pleasantly surprise me with insobriety. This, however, I could get down with.

    Being suddenly sober for whatever reason doesn't have to mean no more fun for your tastebuds. Whatever your poison, whether it's spiked or not, Catania is here to help you cool off this summer.


    Write to alexz@sdcitybeat.com. You can also bug her on Twitter.

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