Pull up a chair, kid. Back in my day, when you were just a twinkle in your mother’s eye, we, too, used to do Dry January, alright—we, too, knew when it was time to take a month off from our steady diet of jalapeño margaritas and picklebacks (hey, it was the 2010s!). But you know what we had, in terms of options? Nothin’. La Croix hadn’t even really taken off yet, and we just sat around sober as a judge all of January, our eyes glistening as we dreamt of gin-and-tonics, and the days on the calendar seemed to fall away at an agonizingly slow pace. CBD wasn’t even legal yet, and we were not yet acquainted (much less overacquainted) with the word “adaptogens.” We’d just bounce a ball against the wall with a paddle, nary a drink in our hand. It’s not like these days. You’ve got it easy.
Now, there are so many new non-alcoholic spirits and herbal cocktails hitting shelves that it’s hard to keep track. And while Dry January is fine and all, there are plenty of reasons to not get wasted any time of the year, from getting your together to giving your body a break to just not wanting to total your Tesla.
In the last five years, we’ve seen a veritable explosion in the booze-free booze industry, with everything from calorie-free faux tequila to bitter spirits infused with magic stress-reducing compounds and other silly little ingredients that make you go oooh. Here’s our rundown of some of the most intriguing new kids on the block.
We wrote about Seedlip, the world’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirit, all the way back in 2016 when it first launched (everyone was calling it “non-alcoholic gin,” but founder Ben Branson likes to think of it as its own thing). At the time, it seemed like a wild idea, but it’s now clear that Branson was really on to something. Made with botanicals in copper stills and meant to be served with tonic, it’s definitely akin to the “g” word, but without the crushing hangover that makes you text all of your friends asking if you “said something stupid” last night. Now, Seedlip has expanded to a whole line of flavors, each with its own distinct aroma.
Unlike Seedlip, Drink Monday isn’t shy about calling its stuff “non-alcoholic gin.” Its juniper-forward ingredients list is pretty on-the-nose for what you’d seen with a traditional dry gin, with an added touch of cucumber, and it’s hand-crafted in small batches in Southern California. Plus, it has zero carbs and zero calories. (Traditional gin may look like water, but it’s about 110 calories per jigger.)
When it comes to the hotshot new aperitif Ghia, we need to note right out the gates that the aesthetics are dazzling. The sparkles… the font… the sultry bottle topper… wowza. An alcohol-free play on amaro, Ghia’s signature drink starts with a base of riesling grapes—though it’s not the least bit saccharine—and builds complexity with layers of yuzu, elderflower, lemon balm, fig, and rosemary. It looks and tastes super high-end, but is on par with the others, or even a little cheaper, price-point-wise, at $33 a bottle. There are also some really great-sounding mocktail recipes on Ghia’s website, from the classic (a spritz) to the unexpected (a Ghia colada).
Optimist makes distilled botanical spirits that are referential and familiar—a suggestion of mezcal, a persuasive note of gin—but wholly unique when it comes to flavor composition, almost like an expensive perfume. Our favorite from the line is their Smokey spirit, which combines extracts of earthy lapsang souchong tea with those of classic amaro bitters (orange, clove, angelica) and some decidedly less-obvious elements (jasmine, habanero, geranium), all synthesizing into a deeply nuanced and very sippable drink that is ideal with a splash of tonic. The only weird thing? It’s such a convincing spirit that you may feel surprised when you find yourself not even the least bit tipsy by the bottom of your glass. Also a plus: Optimist donates a portion of its sales to programs that provide youths access to mental wellbeing services.
Curious Elixirs calls its products “booze-free cocktails,” meant to be ready to drink straight up or on the rocks. If you’re wondering if they just taste sweet and syrupy, like ginger ale or something, the answer is no—they are as complex, and pack the bite, of a signature drink at a high-end cocktail bar. Elixir No. 1, for instance, is modeled after a negroni, with gentian root for bitterness, lemon peel and bitter orange for acidity, and pomegranate juice for sweetness. Other varieties, like the cucumber-forward Elixir No. 3, contain allegedly beneficial herbs like ashwagandha, used in Ayurvedic medicine to reduce stress. Serve them in a fancy glass with a wedge of citrus, and you might not even miss the buzz.
Aurora Elixirs offers two different types of “sparkling whole plant infused beverages,” those with hemp (25 milligrams of the broad-spectrum stuff per bottle) and hops extract, which, like CBD, has been observed to have stress-reducing and relaxing effects. What really sets Aurora apart, though, is its lovely flavor lineup, from its yuzu orange blossom hops drink to its rosemary grapefruit hemp tonic. Any of these bevs could sub in wonderfully for a cocktail, but Aurora is also open to you adding some real booze. The packaging may be bougie, but the ethos is a little more rock ‘n’ roll. “Excuse us while we sip on this cocktail while chilling and listening to ZZ Top,” the brand notes of one of its signature cocktails, the Mezcal’n Mama.
Unlike all of these new-school herbal infusion type drinks, Ritual Zero Proof is set on the simple goal of mimicking the flavor of traditional liquors, using water, natural flavoring, and a couple of other basic science-fair ingredients (citric acid, yadda yadda). That’s it. No fancy adaptogens, no lesser-known fruits, no copper stills—Ritual is here to make fake tequila that allows a booze-free margarita to taste like a margarita, minus the calories. Sounds pretty weird, but apparently it’s “the highest-rated nonalcoholic spirit in the world,” according to the Beverage Testing Institute and we’re, at the very least, intrigued.
Lyre’s makes a whole line of non-alcoholic spirits in the style of whiskey, gin, rum, Kahlua, aperitifs, vermouth, and even absinthe. Sounds ambitious, but they’re all very highly rated, with Italian Orange (the Campari sub) being the cream of the crop. Yes; non-alcoholic Campari is finally here. It’s the future, baby. We’re dying to try the faux absinthe—though we might miss the hallucinating-in-19th-century-Paris vibe.
Spiritless is all in on replicating the flavor of bourbon, which, frankly, it’s hard to imagine enjoying in ample quantities without waking up to regrettable text messages and an Instagram story you hope no one has watched. But folks, it’s Dry January! We don’t have to worry about that! With notes of oak, smoke, and vanilla, Kentucky 74 is meant to be used 1:1 anywhere you’d use your favorite whiskey. Non-alcoholic whiskey is kind of a mindfuck, but what isn’t in 2021? (Oh right, it’s 2022 now.)
With its cheeky branding and party-French name, Bonbuz is one of the freshest, funnest non-alcoholic spirit brands on the market. Sugar-free, gluten-free, and infused with natural stimulants and feel-good compounds like L-tyrosine, green-tea-derived caffeine, and 5-HTP, it has subtle mood-lifting qualities without compromising your ability to operate heavy machinery one bit. Serve with lime and agave like a margarita, or with tonic, soda, and mint leaves for a refreshing spritz. The new flavor, Slowburn, is spicy and citrusy; think of it as a sub for Fireball, now that you’ve banished that from your repertoire.
Made in Scotland, Feragaia is a unique, sugar-free spirit “made with land and sea botanicals.” What does that mean exactly? It starts with Scottish water (very important, of course) and integrates seaweed, bay leaf, chamomile, black currant, makrut lime, and even green tea and Ancho chile. It’s an eclectic mix, one that BBC describes as having “a winey, vermouth-type quality with refreshing citrus notes and a fiery finish”; it has also been described as “earthy,” “salty,” and “warm.” All of its packaging is recyclable, including the bottle cap, and the manufacturing facility sources ingredients locally whenever possible and practices composting. Obviously, Scotland is known for having good booze, so we imagine the same is true of its alcohol-free stuff.
Now, when you make those early morning yoga plans at 1 a.m., you might actually show up.
This story was originally published in January 2021.
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Check out the rest of our Dry January stories and ideas here.