Imbibe 75 Person to Watch: Austin Hennelly - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Imbibe 75 Person to Watch: Austin Hennelly

Austin Hennelly, bar director for Taiwanese fine dining restaurant Kato in Los Angeles, is taking alcohol-free cocktails beyond Nogronis and Fauxjitos. After all, modeling a drink after a beloved classic, according to Hennelly (who doesn’t drink alcohol himself), only sets up the drinker to be disappointed. “You’re automatically operating at a deficit if you’re trying to re-create a cocktail,” he explains.

Instead, at Kato, he builds drinks with and without alcohol from the ground up using ingredients, and even glassware, that are thoughtfully sourced. “I don’t want the guest who’s choosing not to drink alcohol to feel as though they’re receiving something that’s an afterthought,” Hennelly says. And the number of guests who’ve taken to the restaurant’s alcohol-free offerings speaks to how diners are embracing the category. “It’s as high as 10 percent of our guests every day,” he says, adding that some nights the NA cocktail sales are higher than the liquor sales. Kato’s alcohol-free program includes spirit-free drinks (such as the Amazake Swizzle) as well as a robust selection of wine alternatives and NA beers, which allows the bar director to keep up with the ever-changing tasting menu and suggest pairings with each course.

The restaurant eventually hopes to build out its program further with the addition of a de-alcoholized house wine made in collaboration with a local winemaker. Hennelly hopes his extensive program at Kato proves that something of its kind is not only possible nowadays, but necessary. “I want others to embrace alcohol-free beverage programs and push the envelope of execution in the same way that cocktail programs were pushed in the 2010s,” he says.

Click here to read more about some of 2023’s other Imbibe 75 People and Places to Watch.

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