New mocktails! Bartenders pick their favorite non-alcoholic spirits
February 8, 2020 9:55 PM   Subscribe

Wine Enthusiast "asked bartenders of both boozeless and traditional venues to share their favorite non-alcoholic bottles and help avoid the many clunkers." The past year, a growing number of non-alcoholic bottlings were introduced to sip during Dry January, or any time a short detox is needed. Some mimic traditional spirits or pre-mixed cocktails, while others have flavors that are harder to pin down. But all provide a faux-spirit base toward zero-alcohol options that are more than just fancy juice boxes. "You're trying to create an elevated, complex drink," explains Chris Marshall, founder/CEO of Sans Bar, a venue in Austin that serves only zero-proof cocktails. "To do that, you need a base to build your drink around."

The BBC weighs in:

The second wave of non-alcoholic drinks for grown-ups are here! Are you excited? The first wave was spearheaded by Seedlip, and consisted of liquid marketed and priced to ape gin. They proved very popular especially among bars looking to sell drinks to people who previously might have just plumped for fizzy water.

If gin was the inspiration for Seedlip et al, the next wave are more like vermouth or Campari. They're sweeter, fruitier and fuller-bodied, and balanced with strong bitter flavours. For my money, these new drinks are more distinctive and interesting than their predecessors, though some aren't ideal if you're trying to cut back on sugar.

Also quite sweet are the rash of fizzy drinks aimed at grown-ups. They use grown-up flavours like beer, tea and spicy ginger, albeit with less sugar than in more mainstream sodas (around 4g per 100ml compared with Coca-Cola at 11g). Some use pungent additives like kombucha and vinegar to give them a savoury bite.


New York drinkers toast rise in booze-free craft cocktails

John deBary has spent more than a decade working in New York's cocktail scene, helping to spearhead the craft cocktail movement as a bartender at PDT (Please Don't Tell) and then as beverage director with the Momofuku Restaurant Group.

In search of what he called "undiscovered country," deBary began thinking about what would happen if he stopped using alcohol for cocktails, while still searching for the same flavor intensity.

In 2019, his company Proteau launched 'Ludlow Red,' which it describes as a botanical aperitif blending ingredients such as blackberry, fig vinegar, and licorice.
...A glass of "Ludlow Red" costs $14 at sites such as New York restaurant Dirt Candy.
posted by Umami Dearest (34 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ah ha! I've had seedlip orange and ginger while out (yum!) and I could never remember what it was called. Yay!
posted by freethefeet at 11:35 PM on February 8


I'd be interested in an alcohol free amaro, but Seedlip is honestly terrible, and even worse costs the same as premium brand spirits. Absolutely wretched.
posted by ominous_paws at 12:28 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]


Right. This cost thing seems like a real limiting factor. I think that besides a tiny minority of people, most bar goers aren't paying $15 for a cocktail just for complex flavors and ambience. If these dry drinks take off, I'd rather reimagine a new social space than recreate all the cons of bars sans actually getting a buzz. I'm not against alcohol free drinks but not sure why we need to wrap them up in the expensive pretensions of current drinking culture.
posted by Telf at 1:22 AM on February 9 [16 favorites]


I guess for me it's a flavour thing- not a in a 'ooh the grassy notes' kind of way, but in the 'this isn't sickly sweet soft drink' kind of way.

I like a simple lime and soda water, too.
posted by freethefeet at 2:49 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]


trending! "less than half of 18-24-year-olds in the UK (both men and women) drink once a week or more" :P
posted by kliuless at 4:21 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


I'm currently on my 2nd attempt at giving up booze. It is so much easier now than it was in the mid-noughties because of the increased offer of non-gross options for people who don't want to drink. No and very low alcohol beers and lagers are getting *good* (Birra Moretti zero is my choice) and the Eurovision club night I run was even able to offer highly creditable non-alcoholic espresso martinis and amaretto sours for Dry January.

In Scotland the drink drive limit is effectively zero - I think this might have also increased the willingness of pubs & restaurants to cater to the designated driver in a way that recognises they're an adult who wants to drink something nice.

It would definitely be nice if these options were a little bit cheaper though.
posted by norabelle at 5:35 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]


You can get pretty close to an alcohol free amaro with some of the various San Bitter drinks out there. Type in "Italian bitter drink" into Amazon and you'll find all kinds of things.

I feel like I've tried every faux liquor on the market (and have been to Sans Bar!) and none have been worth the price. My favorite non-alcoholic drinks for when hanging out with others who are drinking have been:

* Kombucha, because it is naturally complex and there are a ton of varieties.
* Hot tea with accouterments, for the same reason as the kombucha
* Drinks made from some variety of bitter or San bitter and soda water. Angousta (sp?) makes a mixer that's pretty good as a cocktail base.

To give any drink a cocktail feel, the real key is garnishes.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:39 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]


(Angostura, if it's from the same brand as the bitters)
posted by eviemath at 5:51 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]


If these dry drinks take off, I'd rather reimagine a new social space than recreate all the cons of bars sans actually getting a buzz. I'm not against alcohol free drinks but not sure why we need to wrap them up in the expensive pretensions of current drinking culture.
posted by Telf at 4:22 AM on February 9


The expensive pretension of something like Seedlip is exactly the point. The world is already full of non-alcoholic drinks, but not many that fit modern urban drinking culture, i.e. cocktail culture. As a non-drinker, I feel a little awkward and conspicuous sipping an O'Doul's at the latest cocktail bar while my friends enjoy $15 port-washed smoke-infused whatevers. As Seedlip et al have gotten more widely available where I live, it's been genuinely nice to be able to order and enjoy something that looks a lot like what everyone else is ordering. All the overwrought tasting notes, the ornate labels, the fussy ingredients - they're what help those drinks fit into that setting, and by extension, help me fit in.

Why even be in a cocktail bar as a non-drinker? Because while we're waiting for those new social spaces to be dreamed up, the current ones are undeniable. In my age group, urban setting, and profession, cocktail bars and gastropubs are effectively default venues: for after-work drinks, for Saturday nights out, for birthday parties, etc. Some of that social interaction can happen elsewhere, but not all of it; I will not be able to convince my office to go to a coffeeshop for after-work socializing. So if we're stuck, for now, with drinking establishments, then it is nice to have more products that support not drinking there.

One final note and recommendation: my non-alcoholic beer of choice is Partake. It's terrific, and to underscore my point above, the founder says straight-up that it was created because he as a non-drinker missed taking part in the social events that surround drinking.
posted by ZaphodB at 6:16 AM on February 9 [23 favorites]


Nobody in my bloodline has ever enjoyed alcohol. To us, it tastes awful, just horrible. Wine, beer, cocktails, strength does not matter. It’s genetic. We are therefore left out of anything having to do with alcohol culture.

I know we are unusual, but it it is still frustrating that so few interesting, non-soda beverages are available. I’d love something complex to enjoy with a meal or while out with friends, unless it is in fact trying to mimic alcohol, but too often that seems to be the goal.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:53 AM on February 9


I'd try these. I'm a non-drinker. But some bars/restaurants charge up to $10 for these mocktails. I haven't tried these faux-booze things, but I've had house made lemonade with fresh cherry juice, and other mocktails involving kombucha and such, but only a handful. Still, at those prices, I'm just as happy with a fizzy water and a lemon wedge. Booze prices at bars were always justified by the (very justifiably) high tax on alcohol. These prices feel like a rip-off.

I love bitter, herbal flavors. Anyone recommend any of these?
posted by SoberHighland at 6:54 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]


I'm making homemade tonic today. I've been working on a g&t mocktail with ice, tonic, cold tea, home-made kombucha, and lime juice. I just need to get hold of some juniper berries and I'm set.
posted by No Robots at 7:17 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I don't drink and I really like the idea of non-alcoholic cocktails, but I don't want to pay full alcohol prices. The prices are my least favourite part of drinking, actually, so that's not what I want re-created! Seedlip is nearly £30 a bottle retail for flavoured water.

Maybe I'm not the target market though because I don't actually like bars or pubs either, nor am I fussed about my drinks fitting in (I'm happy to drink tea).
posted by stillnocturnal at 7:22 AM on February 9


I've found that if I want to nurse a non-alcoholic drink (as opposed to gulp it down), it has to be hot. So tisanes are best for me. If bars would offer chamomile etc, I'd be so happy.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:03 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


There are some great non alcoholic beers out there, and they've made all the difference since I've been sober:
Athletic Brewing Co.
Nanny State
WellBeing Brewing
For more mass market, try Clausthaler, but look for their dry-hopped ale.
The most exotic soda I've found is Blenheim Ginger Ale -- as intense and hard to find as Pappy Van Winkle, and a little less expensive ;)
Finally, in a pinch at virtually any bar in the world, I order tonic and bitters on the rocks. It looks just like bourbon if you squint.
posted by How the runs scored at 8:43 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]


Shirley Temples for the kids with lots of grenadine and "fruit salad" for garnish, especially stemmed cherries. Tonic or bitter lemon on the rocks with a squeeze of lime and a dash of bitters can be quite bracing. A Virgin Mary built from scratch and well seasoned is certainly an adult libation as well...
posted by jim in austin at 8:47 AM on February 9


The markup on the mock spirits must be insane if the price is comparable to alcoholic spirits, with their heavy tax...

trending! "less than half of 18-24-year-olds in the UK (both men and women) drink once a week or more" :P

I am disproportionately annoyed that this was the text accompanying an infographic showing that to be true of 16-24-year-olds.
posted by Dysk at 8:57 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


My problem with mocktails, which I would be really into, are that they are alwys fizzy, and I don't like fizzy. I don't mind alcohol, but I rarely really want it.
posted by jeather at 9:30 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


This is one thing I love about Tiki bars. Tropical drinks are usually a flavor combination of citrus and spice/herb flavors and they lend themselves very easily to being made sans-booze. Any tiki bar worth it’s salt will be able to make something delicious with a juice blend, some spicy syrup like cinnamon or ginger, and bitters or bruised mint.
posted by sleeping bear at 9:39 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


ZaphodB,

That was a very good response! Opinion changed.
posted by Telf at 9:56 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]


I wonder if alcohol is going the way of tobacco.
posted by No Robots at 10:48 AM on February 9


I wonder if alcohol is going the way of tobacco.

I don't think it is, although sobriety seems to be having an upsurge, even among people who don't identify as alcoholics.
posted by thelonius at 1:33 PM on February 9


I wonder if alcohol is going the way of tobacco.

Humans have a long history with C2H6O. Many have speculated that a driving force in agriculture was to provide a year-round supply of fermentable grains. I can refer you to the Hymn of Ninkasi and a poem reputedly by St. Brigid of Kildare...
posted by jim in austin at 2:12 PM on February 9


My memory is that there was a lot of money thrown into anti-tobacco campaigns. Many people are organically turning away from alcohol now, but there are not massive lobbying groups shaming brew pubs.
posted by tofu_crouton at 3:25 PM on February 9


^A century ago, of course, there was in fact a massive anti-alcohol lobby that achieved considerable success. I'm wondering if this time it will be more lasting because it arises from, in your words, people organically turning away.
posted by No Robots at 4:01 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]


I made this,

https://www.theguardian.com/food/2020/jan/10/cocktail-of-the-week-blacklocks-non-alcoholic-old-fashioned

It's complex and sophisticated. The excessive cayenne even gives it an almost whiskey burn. I'd cut the tea in half next time, the smoke really dominates. Maybe use half black tea and half lapsong. My friendly local brewery was happy to give me fresh hops, I could only find processed pellets online.

Give it a go, it's a pretty good simulacrum of a cocktail. Although you quickly recognise that alcohol has a specific mouthfeel this lacks.
posted by Keith Talent at 5:47 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]




In my neck of the woods (Toronto), Temperance Cocktails are gaining ground.
posted by lizifer at 7:37 PM on February 9


You know how John Waters said the best part of being gay was you didn't have to get married & you didn't have to go into the military? This is how I feel about non-alcoholic gin.
posted by taquito sunrise at 12:44 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Nobody in my bloodline has ever enjoyed alcohol. To us, it tastes awful, just horrible. Wine, beer, cocktails, strength does not matter. It’s genetic. We are therefore left out of anything having to do with alcohol culture.

I know we are unusual, but it it is still frustrating that so few interesting, non-soda beverages are available. I’d love something complex to enjoy with a meal or while out with friends, unless it is in fact trying to mimic alcohol, but too often that seems to be the goal.


Same! Well, not my family, just me, but still. Anything with an appreciable amount of alcohol in it just tastes like alcohol to me. Beer and champagne are basically indistinguishable and also awful. I'd love to sample something that just duplicates the other flavors other people keep going on about.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:40 AM on February 10


The markup on the mock spirits must be insane if the price is comparable to alcoholic spirits, with their heavy tax...

I think a lot of it comes down to the economies of scale as well. Diageo acquired a majority stakeholding in Seedlip last Autumn, but a lot of these are small operations. There's a Mindful Drinking Festival in London twice a year which I go to, and I've met the people behind some of the brands in the article. It's definitely not insane markups which are getting them involved.

The one I recommend to everyone is Shrb. They're shrubs (vinegar based drinks), and don't taste quite like anything else. Bit marmite, in so much as you'll love them or hate them, but they don't taste like anything else. Other companies like NonSuch make shrubs too, but Shrb really are the best in my book.

On the beer front, can't go far wrong with either Big Drop or Nirvana (especially the Buchabeer) from the UK.
posted by MattWPBS at 9:03 AM on February 10


Shrubs are comparatively easy to make at home too, so you can get creative designing your own.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:47 AM on February 10


I have already memailed no robots about this, but if anyone is looking for juniper berries, The Homemade Gin Kit has you covered. We purchased from them just when they started and always had great experiences.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 5:54 PM on February 10


I did Dry January this year and have decided to continue it into this month, as well. I am contemplating giving up alcohol altogether, but I'm not quite there yet. In any case, I've found that craft non-alcoholic beers are a thing and many of them are quite good -- at least a few would pass as alcoholic if I didn't know better (until I'd had a few with no intoxication, of course). I prefer NA beer to pop or other sugary drinks both because I like the flavours better and because they are relatively healthier (less sugar, fewer calories).

I've bought all three flavours of Seedlip and, drank neat they are absolutely unremarkable. Mixed with tonic water, most of them are good enough but I do struggle a bit with the price -- I don't think this is simply because they're non-alcoholic, since much of the NA beer I buy is priced on par with alcoholic beer -- I think maybe the fact that it seems like little more than flavoured water is what trips me up. I feel similarly about Sobrii, a non-alcoholic gin I bought recently which tastes good enough in mixed drinks but is not worth drinking neat. Alcohol is such a major component of traditional spirits, accounting for 40% or more of the volume, that removing it dramatically alters a drink that might otherwise be the same. As much as I've been a bit critical of Seedlip, I think they were right to make new flavours rather than simply trying to create a typical gin that's had the alcohol removed.

Some of the options mentioned in the Wine Enthusiast and BBC links sound quite good -- I'm currently waiting for Aecorn to launch in Canada -- but what I really want is for someone to make a decent whisky alternative. I'm not sure that's actually possible.

I'll stick to my non-alcoholic (0.5% or lower) beer for now. I've got a number of craft options that I like and, for mass market brands, I second How the runs scored's recommendation of Clausthaler (specifically the dry hopped version, which lacks the overly sweet malt flavour that ruins a lot of mass market NA beer, IMO).
posted by asnider at 9:50 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


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