At one time in my life, I had a robust and lovely collection of amari. A few years back, while working on a MUNCHIES story about the best fernets and amari, I visited a really fantastic bar in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan called Amor y Amargo, where I fell in love with complex, botanical bitters. From the sweet and butterscotchy Averna to the deeply weird and smoky Varnelli Amaro Dell'Erborista, I found drinking amaro to be exciting and eye-opening, a rich and social way of interacting with plant extracts and herbs that could also coincide with my affinity for, well, partying. Sigh… I had a good time in New York. Now I've become one of those Los Angeles people who genuinely enjoys hiking, not getting too drunk at dinner, and waking up before 8 a.m. But, it's for the best.
For me, and for many others, drinking the way one does in their 20s is unsustainable, regardless of how much one may enjoy the spirits themselves. In this case, amari often contain 30% to 40% alcohol by volume, and are typically consumed neat or on ice—meaning you're getting a lot of boozy bang for your bitter buck. Over time, my amaro obsession collided very unpleasantly with both my late-night text messaging habits and the acid reflux that really popped off in my esophageal tract the second I got into my 30s, and weeks of GERD pain and months of having to sleep upright eventually led me to stamp a big, sad, red, "NOT WORTH IT" on my aperitif consumption. And it's not because I don't love cocktails; it's because I've gotta do my body (and personal behavior) good. So now, I've cut down to just one or two nights a week when I'll cozy up to more than one drink, and the rest of the time I stay in designated-driver territory.
This saga has inspired this Ghia drink review, and is one of several reasons why Ghia immediately captured my attention when I first laid eyes on its undeniably sultry bottle. Never before had I seen such a visually appealing and amaro-like alcohol-free spirit, and I immediately felt intrigued by both its aesthetics and its promise of a convincing simulacrum of a proper cocktail experience.
I’m far from the only one who’s been seduced by the stuff; it has a huge following in the fashion world and among celebs. Founded by Melanie Masarin, formerly of shiny, ultra-popular makeup brand Glossier, it’s continued picking up traction and buzz (on- and offline) since its launch in mid-2020. Most notably, it’s been increasingly popular among the sober-curious.
Bitters and soda is fine for sipping on in a bar when you're teetotaling, but being able to have a proper drink without the negatives of booze could be a real game-changer. We're experiencing a renaissance when it comes to non-alcoholic spirits, and have been since Seedlip—the world's first non-alcoholic gin—hit the market in 2016. But it was clear from Ghia's ultra-chic branding and commitment to craft, alongside those of other new, alcohol-free spirit brands including Optimist, Curious Elixirs, and Kin Euphorics, that we're in a new era that is making it genuinely debonair to not be fucked up, whatever your reasons may be for playing it cool. I got a chance to taste Ghia recently, and here are my honest, unbridled, botanically inspired thoughts with this Ghia drink review.
To reiterate, the bottle is a dime. That juxtaposition of auburn and sky blue! That gold-foil eyebrow, and sculptural chocolate-colored ball atop the cork! That porno Partridge Family font! If nothing else, this bottle looks mighty fine on a bar cart or countertop. And the better a bottle looks, the more you'll wonder what's inside.
Ghia starts with a base of white riesling grapes, then derives its complex, not-too-sweet flavor from extracts of fruit (yuzu, fig) and botanicals (elderflower, lemon balm, rosemary). At $33 a bottle, it's certainly a higher price point than a jug of Ocean Spray, but is still affordable and firmly in the "treat" category for yourself or as a gift for someone else who loves to indulge but would love a short- or long-term break from hangovers.
I also like that unlike the many CBD- and "adaptogen"-infused brands of non-alcoholic spirits out there right now, Ghia doesn't try to offer some sort of snake-oil brain or body high. Might some of them work? Maybe. There's a time and a place for getting zonked on THC seltzer or trying to reach psychedelic euphoria by way of maca and kava extracts, but TBQH, I'm good on all that. If I'm not drinking, I'm not trying to get a weird baby buzz from the woo-woo mushroom dust they put in the powders at Moon Juice. I'd rather just drink something that tastes good and leaves my brain in its regular ol' neurotic, happy, cynical state. It's where I'm most comfortable.
So, how's it taste?
For those who like earthy, complex cocktails, with a balance of bitter, sweet, and tart, Ghia really hits all the right notes. The yuzu—a fragrant Japanese relative of the mandarin and pomelo, for the unfamiliar—is definitely discernible with its sour brightness, while the fig not as much of a main character, though it’s surely in there. The gentian root, rosemary, and ginger are what brings the drink more firmly into the same olfactory world as aperitifs and amari, and if you're not a fan of powerful floral flavors (there's also a potent breath of elderflower), you may find Ghia somewhat bitter. But overall, it's akin to an Aperol spritz or a fresh-squeezed Greyhound in terms of its "adultness." And frankly, I appreciate that, because if I'm looking for a real substitute for a cocktail, I don't want a root beer like I'm an eight-year-old at the kids' table. I'm up for a bit of a challenge, and maybe I want whatever I'm drinking to be off-putting to some; that's part of the appeal. Who wants a doormat for a drink? Not I! Ghia knows its audience, and as with all cool things, there is a small but present barrier to entry by design. If you frequent cocktail bars and enjoy anything in the Campari-fernet family, Ghia may very well be the non-alcoholic aperitif for you.
I tried it over ice and with a hit of Topo Chico, but the brand has a wide array of mocktail recipes on its website that look and sound genuinely luxe, from the Ghia Godfather (Ghia, lemon juice, orgeat, apricot preserves, egg white, lemon twist) to the Ghia Colada (Ghia, coconut milk, wildflower honey, lime juice, and angostura bitters, with tropical garnishes). Had I a better-stocked kitchen and bar, I would love to have tried them all.
I also have yet to sip and write a Ghia drink review on its line of spritzes, which are newer additions to its product lineup, but my colleague Mary Frances Knapp is a big fan, telling me, “I’m just as obsessed with the spritz as I am with the aperitif. I see it as the slightly lighter, younger sibling of the drink, because it’s just as refreshing and herbaceous, but with a less heady base.” The ginger flavor is her favorite, because it has such a bright taste and sits well in her often cursed/sensi stomach, but the OG Ghia Soda flavor slaps just as hard.
Alright, should I buy this stuff?
Here are four circumstances under which you should for sure check out Ghia.
- If you've given up alcohol for other reasons, short-term or long-term, but still want to feel like an adult with a complex, satisfying drink in your hand…
- If you're sober-curious, and looking to expand your options for pouring yourself a bev for hanging with your freaky friends or just sipping and watching the new episode of Euphoria…
- If you love bitter aperitifs and digestifs, and would simply like to taste a version sans booze…
- And finally, if you love amari with boundless passion, but are afflicted with debilitating acid reflux and need to find a healthier outlet for your addiction to bitters.
There's never been a better time to drink less, as long as the non-alcoholic spirits keep flowing.
Ghia is available for purchase at drinkghia.com.
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