Though you may already be familiar with non-alcoholic beers or regularly sip on the best non-alcoholic wines alongside perfect cheese pairings, there’s a lot more you can do with non-alcoholic spirits. From virgin margaritas, non-alcoholic martinis and Riverine and tonic to spiritless whiskey sour cocktails and other mocktail recipes, there are plenty reasons to source booze-free bottles for your sober bar.
Before the non-alcoholic spirits boom, the buzz-free route presented challenges. Many recipes called for shrubs, syrups and other house-made components build complex flavors within a drink. That may be fine for bars and restaurants with plenty of time and ingredients, but what about for home bartenders seeking an easy end-of-day drink?
Now, things like the sober curious movement and Dry January have led to the rise of non-alcoholic bottle shops all over the country and books that cover the subject (we love Good Drinks). The sea change is already moving the economic needle: Demand for booze-free beverages was up 60% from July 2020 to 2021, and the global non-alcoholic market has seen steady growth since 2020. It’s projected to reach nearly $1,258 billion by 2027, according to Fortune Business Insights. In comparison, the industry was valued at just over $900 billion in 2019. Altogether, it’s proof that non-alcoholic drinks are having a moment.
Some non-alcoholic alternatives mimic traditional spirits or pre-mixed cocktails, while others have flavors that are harder to pin down. But all provide a faux-spirit base for zero-alcohol drinks that are more than just fancy juice.
When designing a booze-free cocktail, “you’re trying to create an elevated, complex drink,” explains Chris Marshall, founder and 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.”
We asked bartenders of both booze-free and traditional venues to share their favorite non-alcoholic bottles to help you avoid the many clunkers.
The Best Non-Alcoholic Spirits
Marshall recommends the gin-like South African brand, Abstinence Spirits. It comes in three varieties, Cape citrus with notes of orange and lemon, Cape spice with flavors of allspice and cassia and Cape floral with juniper and coriander subtleties.
Arkay was first launched in Dubai, where many locals and visitors forgo alcohol for cultural reasons. It’s now making inroads in the U.S.
“I like their products because it has some of the burn you’re accustomed to [in a traditional spirit],” says Marshall. Among the wide range of faux spirits, which even brazenly mimic Scotch and Tequila, Marshall’s pick is the alcohol-free rum, mixed Cuba Libre-style with Coke and a squeeze of lime. He also says it can be blended with pineapple and coconut for a Piña Colada-like drink.
A gin-like spirit from Borrago hails from England and promises “natural botanical flavors and smells” in a zero-proof bottle. “I do a Paloma with Borrago and thyme-infused simple syrup,” says Marshall.
A line of pre-mixed cocktails from Curious Elixir is a great alternative to a single spirits-style option. The No. 1 bottling is similar to a Negroni, while the ginger-flavored No. 2 is akin to a non-alcoholic Dark & Stormy.
The Aussie company Lyre’s makes a remarkably wide range of no-alcohol spirits meant to mimic everything from gin and bourbon, to absinthe and rum. It even has an ersatz dry vermouth, which makes a virtuous martini a possibility.
Listen Bar, which hosts monthly booze-free events in New York City, has a partnership with Lyre’s and often features drinks with the products. For a previous New Year’s Eve, menu director Eamon Rockey built a spritz-style sipper through a mix of three offerings from the brand inluding bittersweet Italian Spritz (Aperol-alike), Italian Orange (another bitter, in the style of Campari) and Dry Vermouth (which he infused with cardamom), topped with seltzer.
Sam Thonis, co-owner of Getaway Bar, an alcohol-free bar in Brooklyn, New York, recommends the Italian-based MeMento. “It’s floral, aromatic, and has that pungent, alcohol kind of attack,” he says. When mixed with other ingredients, “it feels like a cocktail.”
It’s “not meant to be an exact copy of liquor,” says Marshall, but Ritual’s gin and whiskey alternatives offer vibrant flavors to build around your favorite drinks.
Made by Italy’s San Pellegrino, these teeny bottles of bitter scarlet liquid from Sanbitter are an ideal alternative to Campari. “It’s one you can pour over ice, add a twist and it feels like a Negroni,” says Thonis.
The first in the current crop of non-alcoholic distillate set from Seedlip was mentioned by every professional. It’s the most widely available option, often mixed into drinks that resemble gin & tonics.
A favorite at Getaway Bar is Three Spirit. Thonis imports the brand from Britain and likens the dark, herbal Social Elixir to amaro, which he mixes into the Light & Stormy. It’s a Dark & Stormy variant filled out with ginger syrup, lemon and alcohol-free black bitters from Dram Apothecary.
Where to Buy Non-Alcoholic Spirits
There are many non-alcoholic bottle shops open across the country and online vendors that sell booze-free spirits. Additionally, some bars are embracing the non-alcoholic social scene by serving designated mocktail menus only or as part of a more classic bar experience.
What Makes a Good Non-Alcoholic Spirit?
Just like traditional alcohol, you’ll want to choose a non-alcoholic spirit that tastes good to you and contributes the flavors you’re looking for. It may take some trial and error, but the best non-alcoholic spirits are those that simply taste good to you and are reminiscent of the flavors you want out of a traditional beverage.