Looking to kick back and enjoy the late days of summer with something non-alcoholic? There’s been a real transformation going on in the world of non-alcoholic beverages.
Craftspeople, mixologists and scientists have moved well beyond sweet “fake wines” and watery no-alcohol beers. There’s now a bountiful selection of zero-proof drinks that don’t feel like a substitution for something, but rather like a stand-alone genre of sophisticated drink choices.
Interest in a sober lifestyle has been growing for years, leading to the rise of mocktails and alcohol-free bars. The pandemic led even more people to question boozy drinking habits as they found themselves at home much of the time, feeling anxious, perhaps, or trying not to put on weight.
So whether you are sober, sober-curious, pregnant, dieting, the designated driver, or need to wake up early for a big meeting, there’s no reason to miss out on a great drink.
Just a sampling of what’s new:
No & Low is an online marketplace for non-alcoholic beverages, founded by brothers Massimo and Louis Borrelli in October 2020. They saw a growing market and were impressed by the passion and expertise that makers were putting into new booze-free products.
Louis Borrelli identifies three main buckets of non-alcoholic drinks, which echo the reasons people are choosing them.
First, there are brands trying to replicate existing alcohols like rum and gin, geared towards people who want to swap out their evening tipple.
Second, there are companies trying not to make a substitute gin, per se, but rather “a similar but different drinking experience with a different flavor profile.” Many of these beverages are meant to replicate some of the characteristics found in alcoholic beverages.
Third, there are drinks which are “all their own thing, and often offer health or functional benefits,” says Borrelli. These beverages, such as Rock Grace wines mentioned below, are less about imitating the alcoholic experience than creating a different kind of experience.
Borelli notes that many of these options, because they lack alcohol, also are low in calories.
Non-alcoholic wines — sparkling in particular — have come a long way from the sweet old days. TÖST makes a rose version with white tea, ginger, and elderberry, and a crisp, almost peachy, slightly tart bubbly with white tea, cranberry and ginger.
Thompson & Scott’s Noughty line includes an organic, sparkling, alcohol-free chardonnay, as well as a sparkling rose from southern Spain made from 100% organic Tempranillo grapes.
Woodland’s sparkling drinks are kombucha-tea based; their Woodland Honey Wine is described as “mead with a modern twist,” a honey wine with a blend of kombucha tea and wild Norwegian ingredients.
Rock Grace describes its alcohol-free wines as “infused with beauty and wellness benefits and crystal energy.” Like many other non-alcoholic spirit and wine makers, Rock Grace is promoting a lifestyle along with it products.
Verjus is a category unto itself. The name translates from the French as “green juice.” Verjus is a slightly sweet and acidic drink made from young, unripe grapes, also used in cooking. Wolffer Estate and Fusion make notable versions, with Fusion making both a red and a white.
Proteau is a zero-proof botanical drink with two varieties: Ludlow Red, with a base of blackberry juice, and Rivington Spritz, with champagne vinegar and strawberry juice as the central flavors. Wilfred is aiming to “reinvent the spritz” with a non-alcoholic aperitif inspired by the popular Aperol.
Seedlip, launched in 2015 by Ben Branson, was considered a milestone in the alcohol-free spirit world; their high-quality products were embraced by consumers, bartenders and restaurateurs.
Ritual makes a collection of zero-proof, zero-calorie liquor alternatives, including rum, tequila, gin and whiskey. The minimalist bottles outline flavor profiles: Their rum alternative, for instance, promises notes of Madagascar vanilla, molasses, star anise, ripe banana and bitter orange.
Three Spirit refers to their drinks, intended to be mixed into non-alcoholic cocktails, as “botanical alchemy,” featuring plants meant for particular purposes. Livener contains guayusa and schizandra (you may want to look these up — I had to!) and offers to make you feel “primed, gamed, and ready to go.” The Social Elixir proposes euphoria, while the Nightcap is self-explanatory.
Pentire also makes botanical, non-alcoholic spirits which don’t fall into traditional booze categories. Their Seaward boasts “bright, zesty and verdant” flavors, with ingredients like sea rosemary, woodruff, sea buckhorn and pink grapefruit.
Bax Botanics offers variations like Sea Buckhorn and Verbena, with verbena, mint, fennel and citrus.
Many of these drinks are meant to be used as you would any hard liquor: mixed with club soda or tonic, served on the rocks, or blended into cocktails.
Restaurants and bars are also putting more energy into non-alcoholic offerings. Along with booze-free bars, there are places like Boisson, a store sells only non-alcoholic products; they opened their first store in New York City last February and since then have opened two more.
Europe, and the U.K. in particular, have been at the forefront of the high quality, non-alcoholic beverage world. Borrelli said that three years ago, there were about 15 to 20 good non-alcoholic brands on the market; “now there are about 200 active players, and always more coming.”
Katie Workman writes regularly about food for The Associated Press. She has written two cookbooks focused on family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at [email protected]