Whether you’re looking to cut down your alcohol consumption, or simply curious about all these mysterious new bottles popping up on back bars and store shelves, there’s never been a better time to explore non-alcoholic spirits. In fact, according to the International Wine and Spirits Record, low- and no-alcohol drink consumption is set to increase 34 percent by 2024.
“It’s been a gold rush in 2020 and 2021,” said Elva Ramirez, author of the new book, Zero Proof Cocktails. She sees the non-alcoholic space as an evolution led by culinary trends, the way vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan offerings have evolved in recent years. “We’re walking in those footsteps,” she says. “That idea is now influencing the bartender space.”
According to Ramirez, the non-alcoholic spirit trend is “not binary” in the sense that you don’t have to be sober to get on board, “You don’t have to give up a Negroni because you like Seedlip,” she said. “I still drink. I don’t identify as sober, but I drink a lot less. And that’s the trend and how it’s going.”
This idea is echoed by Jared Brown, distiller of the traditional gin producer Sipsmith, who recently launched their first non-alcoholic gin, Freeglider. “Even at times when I’m having gin and tonics, it’s wonderful to be able to intersperse ‘Free’ and tonics in between to moderate consumption,” he says. Brown researched historic methods of counterfeiting booze, such as using ginger and chili peppers to approximate the burn of alcohol, when crafting the non-alcoholic gin.
“Most of our customers aren’t completely sober,” adds Emily Heintz, owner of Sèchey, an alcohol-free bottle shop in Charleston, South Carolina. “But rather want to have a healthier lifestyle, or are losing interest in alcohol because of the negative effects on sleep and well-being.”
When I started working on this story, I had never tasted a non-alcoholic spirit. I thought of it a bit like decaf coffee — all the drawbacks of the original with none of the benefits. But I’ve really enjoyed being able to intersperse full-octane drinks with the zero-proof alternatives like a Seedlip and Soda, and found that it really does allow to you keep the night going with more clarity even if you do get a buzz going.
Of the non-alcoholic spirits on the market, some of them are meant to replicate existing spirits (think non-alcoholic bourbons or non-alcoholic gin equivalents), and others are just good mixers, or unique flavors meant to be their own thing. Some have other mood-altering or health-related properties — these are sometimes referred to as “functional” spirits. It’s good to note that non-alcoholic spirits are broadly defined as having 0.5% alcohol-by-volume or less, and are made primarily by blending distilled botanicals and other natural ingredients to yield a complexity and mouth feel that carries the depth and olfactory satisfaction of the finest alcoholic spirits.
Inevitably, there is a gray area that arises when trying to identify the non-alcoholic spirits category. There are adaptogens and CBD products that meld with it, so the walls around it are fuzzy at the moment and it’s a good idea to stick to spirits with a proven track record for now. Here are seven such non-alcoholic spirits to consider from producers who have built an early lead in this burgeoning sector.
A Great Non-Alcoholic Cocktail To Try
If you’re interested in trying a non-alcoholic cocktail, here’s a riff on the classic Gimlet from Elva Ramirez. Called the Neo-Noir, it uses a gin alternative and homemade limeade cordial.
- 2oz zero proof gin alternative
- 2oz Limeade Cordial*
In a cocktail shaker, combine the gin and cordial. Fill with ice and shake briskly until well-chilled and ice is broken up. Strain into a 6oz Nick and Nora glass.
*Elva’s Limeade Cordial
- 2 limes
- ½ lemon½ cup of sugar
- 1/3 cup hot water
- 10 grams citric acid (available on Amazon)
Peel the limes and lemons, careful to avoid the pith (white spongey layer between fruit and peel). Transfer ingredients to airtight container with sugar, shake to coat, and let stand 24-48 hours, then strain syrup with a fine mesh sieve. Makes 2/3 cup.
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