The Scoop: Vena’s Fizz House offers mixology classes that teach people how to craft a delicious cocktail — with or without alcohol. The nostalgic, apothecary-style bar in the Old Port district of Portland, Maine, was expanded to offer virtual mixology workshops, where couples and others can share the science and the art of making beverages. The classes make for excellent date nights at home, and Vena’s Fizz House’s collection of vintage glassware and high-quality ingredients are popular gifts for that special someone.
For many couples, the New Year’s Eve countdown often involves toasting glasses of champagne. Afterward, some of those couples decide to follow up a holiday season of drinking with a commitment to a Dry January.
That month of sobriety is now a part of life for more than 4 million people since Alcohol Change UK introduced it in 2013. It’s a way to enter the new year with a clear mind, and, for many, pause to reevaluate their relationship with alcohol.
Whether couples abstain from alcohol for a month or just cut back on imbibing, they may still crave a tasty, intricate beverage while out on the town with friends or at home on a date night. Ginger ale is good, but it can quickly become boring.
Mocktails prepared by the mixology experts at Vena’s Fizz House can help spice up those situations — with or without alcohol. The apothecary-style bar, located in Portland, Maine, opened its doors without selling any spirits at all. It later added cocktails, but prepares all of its drinks with the same special ingredients and unique recipes.
Vena’s Fizz House mixologists also offer in-house classes for people who want to learn how to make its drinks, and they recently expanded to virtual classes. Now, couples can learn how to craft a specialty drink on a date night from anywhere. Couples can also purchase in-house specialty syrups, curated natural ingredients, and even vintage glassware to bring the entire bar experience into their homes.
“It is really fun for couples to learn a new skill together and develop a passion from there,” said Mary Jo Marquis, the Director of Business Development at Vena’s Fizz House. “As they understand how flavor profiles work — there’s a science and art behind it — people can take it and run with it on their own.”
Old-Fashioned Charm Inspired by Founder Johanna Corman’s Great-Grandmother
Vena’s Fizz House Founder Johanna Corman came up with the idea of an alcohol-free bar after experimenting with creating old-fashioned, flavored seltzers for fun. Vena’s Fizz House opened the brick-and-mortar store in 2013 when her husband, Steve, left his teaching position and transitioned to become an educational mixologist.
In 2015, they decided to add spirits for customers who prefer alcohol in their drink. The drinks are served in interesting looking glasses, which makes it difficult to tell who is drinking alcohol and who isn’t.
“I always loved maple syrups, bitters, tonics, and all the old ingredients, and I wanted to put them in my seltzers. People couldn’t imagine a bar without alcohol, but we saw it as a modern version of an old-fashioned soda fountain,” Johanna said.
From the beginning, Vena’s Fizz House incorporated a mixology shop. If patrons enjoyed what they were drinking, they could purchase the ingredients and make the concoction again at home. The bar happily shares its recipes and produces a line of bitters distributed wholesale throughout the country.
Its unique recipes require a deep understanding of flavor profiles and ratios of seltzer to other ingredients, so mixologists take their training seriously. In fact, most of its bartenders are also educators — so patrons can feel comfortable asking questions and learning about the process.
Johanna said Vena’s Fizz House is a popular place for a first date because its specialties don’t focus on alcohol.
“A lot of people enjoy coming in for first dates because we’re a safe bar,” she said. “We’re not focused on drinking for drinking’s sake. It’s the experience. Our cocktails and mocktails are all created equal.”
Have Fun No Matter What Flavors You Enjoy
Since alcohol is not the focus of its recipes, all kinds of people visit the brick-and-mortar bar. Mary Jo said she sees lots of families, including grandparents stopping in with their grandchildren, as well as pregnant couples who are enjoying one more night out before their due date.
Vena’s Fizz House offers endless flavor combinations, so it has something for everyone. For example, if someone wants to try a Bloody Mary without the alcohol, they can order the Beetiful Mary mocktail. It’s a mixture of beet shrub, their own Ass Over Tea Kettle Bloody Mary Mix, celery, horseradish, seaweed, lime, fire cider, and bitters. Another mocktail is the Smoke & Ruby Tumbler, which features smoked hops syrup, grapefruit shrub, lemon, and bitters.
Customers also enjoy fizz, made with fruit juices, purees, and a dash of bitters in a soda — they can even order a botanical, alcohol-free shot.
If daters prefer to imbibe, they can choose a cocktail recipe that’s floral, spicy, citrusy, fruity, or a classic — including Sazerac or a Pimm’s Cup.
Mary Jo said she used to come into the bar as a patron because she felt comfortable even when she was alone. She said she enjoyed learning the process of mixology, which Johanna and the rest of the team are passionate about.
“We take the intimidation out of craft beverage making. We’re high-end but not high brow. It’s authentic,” Mary Jo said. “It’s more like an apothecary or a laboratory. It’s unlike any other place.”
Vena’s Fizz House: Online Courses Couples Can’t Resist
The establishment saw some significant changes in 2020 as stay-at-home mandates increased the demand for at-home date ideas. With fewer people allowed to cozy up in its small mixology shop to learn about mocktails and cocktails, Vena’s Fizz House launched mixology classes on Zoom.
When participants sign up for a class, they receive a box with locally sourced ingredients — minus the alcohol. If they want to make cocktails, they will have to purchase the spirits themselves. Participants can choose from an array of themed workshops, including 1920’s Cocktail Hour, Zero-Proof Hour, Tiki Hour, Merry Mocktail Hour, among others.
“It’s like being a foodie, but on the beverage end,” Johanna said. “Everyone knows what they like with food, but there’s always been a big gap with beverages. If you love to cook, there’s just as much you can do with beverages. There are so many amazing ingredients to play with.”
To meet the growing demand for its drinks and mixology classes, Vena’s Fizz House recently announced it plans to close its small shop in January to look for an even larger space in the Portland area. The goal is to combine its production facilities with a bar, a larger mixology studio, and a gift shop featuring ingredients and stemware.
“We carry an extensive array of barware and ingredients we curate from all over, as well as organic, natural ingredients,” said Johanna, adding that the shop has become a resource for mixologists all over the country. Its products are all available online, too.
If couples want to move beyond dating and tie the knot over a Vena’s Fizz House mocktail or cocktail, they can do that, too.
Steve, Johanna’s husband, is known as The Marrying Bartender, and can help them say their vows in a unique way.