Non-alcoholic cocktails have come of age in recent years, thanks to movements such as Sober October and Dry January, and aided in large part by a growing selection of no-proof spirits.
Where bartenders once turned to shrubs and syrups to recreate the profiles of spirits like gin and tequila, there is now a plethora of pre-bottled botanical-driven alternatives. Some finish with a fiery kick, imitating the heat of high-proof, while others deliver buzz without the booze. All offer an avenue for complex cocktail creation and none of them require a dose of Tylenol the next day.
Whether you’re choosing to abstain for a day, week, month, or indefinitely, these non-alcoholic spirits brands should be on your radar.
BORRAGO #47 PALOMA BLEND
This aromatic non-alcoholic spirit derives from the steam distillation of six different base botanicals. Among them, lemon verbena, peppermint, and lemongrass shine brightest, with each sip of Borrago landing racy acidity and a balanced mix of sweet and bitter notes. The U.K.-based brand notes that this beverage was designed for “mixing, not drinking straight,” but we also love it stirred on the rocks — for temperature and dilution reasons — with a simple lemon or orange twist garnish.
California-based Free Spirits emulates three styles of liquor with varying degrees of accuracy, though each lays a robust, versatile foundation for non-alcoholic cocktails. The “gin” deals a huge, unmistakable hit of juniper, followed by the bitter bite of quinine, which makes it taste like a ready-made G&T (much like Hendrick’s Orbium gin). Free Spirits “tequila,” meanwhile, delivers agave, chocolate-orange, and burnt coffee notes. The combination tastes as peculiar as it sounds, but mixed in a Tommy’s Margarita with agave syrup and lime, the overall result is a success. In terms of flavor and aromatic accuracy, the “bourbon” lands somewhere between the prior two beverages. Its oak and caramel aromas and brown sugar flavor recall America’s native spirit. There’s a fiery ginger-spice to its finish, though, which is a departure from bourbon but has the effect of mimicking the heat of alcohol. This flavor profile also sets it up for mixing a wonderful non-alcoholic Gold Rush.
MeMento’s distilled aromatic waters share much in their character and composition with Borrago. Both the standard and “Green” bottlings exude botanical character, with the former leaning more toward rose petal and chamomile, and the latter radiating a green tea and citrus pith profile. With charged acidity and layers of flavors, MeMento’s lineup lends itself to adult, non-alcoholic Highballs. Start with tonic or soda, and experiment with fresh fruit garnishes.
NEW LONDON LIGHT
With wafts of fresh juniper running through its aromas and palate, Salcombe Distilling Co.’s New London Light draws much inspiration from gin. While its name hints at the London Dry style, regular gin drinkers may feel this alcohol-free iteration shares more in common with New Western bottlings. There’s no shortage of lively citrus notes, and the botanical bill comprises such left-field ingredients as habañero capsicum, cascarilla bark, and lemongrass citrus. Serve with tonic water to highlight its juniper character or shake up a classic sour to bring out its citrus side.
PROPOSITION COCKTAIL CO.
Ready-to-drink cocktails are no longer a domain reserved for alcoholic spirits brands. California’s Proposition Cocktail Co. serves three booze-free takes on classic drinks in portable 200-milliliter pours. The Smokey Margarita should appeal to those who opt for mezcal rather than tequila in their Margs. The Bitter Aperitif offers something of a Negroni and (still) Aperol Spritz hybrid, but also functions as an intriguing Highball base. The brand’s greatest achievement is the Turmeric Ginger Mule, which excels by virtue of its aromatic botanical notes, spice, and rich flavor profile that reveals something new with each sip — just like any great alcoholic cocktail.
The undisputed pioneer of the zero-proof spirits category, Seedlip’s lineup contains three distilled herbal elixirs. Each is named with a one-word descriptor that evokes its profile and aids cocktail creation. Made with orange, lemon peel, and aromatic roots, “Grove” transports the drinker to the Mediterranean with bright, citrusy sips; “Spice” serves winter warmth and a lengthy bitter finish via a blend of allspice, cardamom, and citrus fruit; and “Garden” gains its light, herbal flavor from rosemary, thyme, peas, and spearmint. Armed with all three, the opportunities are endless.
An interesting outlier in the non-alcoholic space, Three Spirit produces booze-free “spirits” that still deliver a buzz, with a bottle for each stage of the night. The fruity and fiery-spiced “Livener” is formulated to kick things off; the bittersweet cocoa and cold-brew scented “Social Elixir” keeps the party going; and the nutty, woody “Nightcap” winds things down to a state of velvety relaxation. Luscious sweetness is a constant theme throughout, but it’s always balanced by either bracing acidity, challenging bitterness, or a mix of the two. With Three Spirit’s extensive collection of cocktail recipes to peruse and play around with, this forward-thinking beverage can still be enjoyed in a familiar manner. We love the Livener Daiquiri.