Whether you’re looking to cut down your alcohol consumption, or simply curious about all these mysterious new bottles popping up on back bars and store shelves, there’s never been a better time to explore non-alcoholic spirits. In fact, according to the International Wine and Spirits Record, low and no alcohol drink consumption is set to increase 34 percent by 2024.
“It’s been a gold rush in 2020 and 2021,” said Elva Ramirez, author of the new book, Zero Proof Cocktails, who sees the non-alcoholic space as an evolution led by culinary trends, the way vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan offerings have evolved in recent years. “We’re walking in those footsteps,” she says. “That idea is now influencing the bartender space.”
According to Ramirez, the non-alcoholic spirit trend is “not binary” in the sense that you don’t have to be sober to get on board, “You don’t have to give up Negroni because you like Seedlip,” she said. “I still drink. I don’t identify as sober, but I drink a lot less. And that’s the trend and how it’s going.”
This idea is echoed by Jared Brown, distiller of the traditional gin producer Sipsmith, who just launched their first non-alcoholic version, Freeglider. “Even at times when I’m having gin and tonics, it’s wonderful to be able to intersperse ‘Free’ and tonics in between to moderate consumption.” Brown researched historic methods of counterfeiting booze, such as using ginger and chili peppers to approximate the burn of alcohol, when crafting the non-alcoholic gin, which will soon be available in the US.
“Most of our customers aren’t completely sober,” adds Emily Heintz, owner of Sèchey, an alcohol-free bottle shop in Charleston, South Carolina. “But rather want to have a healthier lifestyle, or are losing interest in alcohol because of the negative effects on sleep and well-being.”
When I started working on this story, I had never tasted a non-alcoholic spirit. I thought of it a bit like decaf coffee – all the drawbacks of the original with none of the benefits. But, over the course of the past couple of weeks, I’ve really enjoyed being able to intersperse full-octane drinks with the zero-proof alternatives like a Seedlip and Soda, and found that it really does allow to you keep the night going with more clarity even if you do get a buzz going.
Of the non-alcoholic spirits on the market, some of them are meant to replicate existing spirits (think non alcoholic bourbon or non alcoholic gin equivalents), and others are just good mixers, or unique flavors meant to be their own thing. Some have other mood-altering or health-related properties — these are sometimes referred to as “functional” spirits. It’s good to note that non-alcoholic spirits are broadly defined as having 0.5% alcohol-by-volume or less, and are made primarily by blending distilled botanicals and other natural ingredients to yield a complexity and mouth feel that carries the depth and olfactory satisfaction of the finest alcoholic spirits.
Inevitably, there is a gray area that arises when trying to identify the non alcoholic spirits category. There are adaptogens and CBD products that meld with it, so the walls around it are fuzzy at the moment and it’s a good idea to stick to spirits with a proven track record for now. Here are seven such non alcoholic spirits to consider from producers who have built an early lead in this burgeoning sector.
Seedlip is the brand that really kicked off the category, according to Elva Ramirez. I personally enjoyed all of their “expressions” but Spice 94, a complex spice and citrus melange including cardamom and grapefruit, was my favorite.
A spirit highly recommended by Ramirez. Ritual also make gin and tequila alternatives – all varieties are made by individually distilling botanicals and the art comes in blending them to recreate the experience of the originals.
The winner for the prettiest bottle award is also a great gin alternative, a complex aromatic blend that emulates London Dry Gin.
This distilled non-alcoholic spirit is hands down the closest thing I tasted to the mouth feel of bourbon., and it’s distilled in the heart of bourbon country.
A Gin alternative Ramirez calls “quite lovely,” and likes to use in her ‘Neo-Noir’ cocktail (recipe below).
Amethyst is what I’d want shaken alone as a martini, as it has a cucumber and almost melon-like side balanced by an edge of serrano peppers.
Three spirit produces ‘functional’ spirits with mood-enhancing qualities, such as a natural caffeine buzz or in this case, the opposite: a nice mellow comedown thanks to lemon balm, valerian, and ashwagandha.
Also in the ‘functional’ space, this wildly intense flavor is said to carry properties as a libido booster that also assists with liver cleansing and digestive health – perfect for mixing as a bitter element in a non-alcoholic after-dinner cocktail. .
If you’re interested in trying a non-alcoholic cocktail, here’s a riff on the classic Gimlet from Elva Ramirez. Called Neo-Noir, it uses a gin alternative and homemade limeade cordial.
THE NEO NOIR
- 2oz zero proof gin alternative
- 2oz Limeade Cordial (recipe below)
In a cocktail shaker, combine the gin and cordial. Fill with ice and shake briskly until well-chilled and ice is broken up. Strain into a 6oz Nick and Nora glass.
Elva’s Limeade Cordial
½ cup of sugar
1/3 cup hot water
10 grams citric acid (available on Amazon)
Peel the limes and lemons, careful to avoid the pith (white spongey layer between fruit and peel). Transfer ingredients to airtight container with sugar, shake to coat, and let stand 24-48 hours, then strain syrup with a fine mesh sieve. Makes 2/3 cup.