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From pregnancy to Sober October, the reasons to opt for non-alcoholic drinks are nothing new. But there's no denying the explosion we've seen in "un-toxicating" brands lately. When our very own Scott Silver tested the waters just last year, he found a bevy of delicious, booze-free makers like Seedlip, Ghia, and Haus, while promising an update from us at TQE as new entrants hit the market. And, reader, the hits just keep coming.
In fact, on a recent trip to Soft Spirits, the first non-alcoholic bottle shop in Los Angeles, I discovered so many options that I hardly knew where to start. Beers, wine, spirits, mixers: all the usual suspects were there, just missing one key ingredient. (Hint: the one that makes you hungover.) So consider this Chapter Two of our ongoing exploration into the world of 0% ABV. Because gone are the days of the fine-print mocktail menu. We are firmly in The Age of the Alcohol Alternative.
Amass: Riverine ($35 per bottle)
One of the first female distillers in the world, Amass founder Morgan McLachlan has long been at the cutting edge of her field, prioritizing non-GMO ingredients and all-natural botanicals. It's a difference you can taste: one sip of her zero-proof Riverine and those flavors come shining through. This is a spirit that truly celebrates plant-based ingredients, and though its flavor profile overlaps with gin -- both have juniper, coriander, and orris root -- it's got a personality all its own. I found it reminiscent of a green tea, with some earthiness and floral notes that drank perfectly with tonic.
Athletic Brewing Company ($12.99 per 6-pack)
Unlike traditional breweries that are starting to diversify with one non-alcoholic beer, Athletic Brewing Company's lineup is 100% booze-free. That means you've got options here: from ambers to golden ales to an extra-dark stout, the offerings from ABC truly run the gamut. As an IPA-head, the Free Wave was speaking my language, and the biggest surprise of all wasn't even the flavor. The 12-oz. can weighs in at just 70 calories, which is unheard of for its alcoholic counterpart. Want to kick back with something cold, crisp and bitter without feeling like you've eaten a second dinner? This is your beer.
AVEC ($36 per 12-pack)
Is this cheating? As a premium mixer, no one would expect AVEC to be alcoholic -- but when it comes to sober cocktails, there's no better friend to have around. Considering I spend my day moving from one LaCroix can to the next (Pamplemousse hive, rise up!!) I was skeptical AVEC would be doing anything new. But by carbonating real juices -- like yuzu, blood orange and pomelo -- these cans pack a serious amount of flavor, and a seriously low amount of sugar. Bold enough to drink on its own, but with a versatility that pairs well with any N-A spirit, these 8-ouncers are worth the fridge space.
Curious Elixirs ($30 per 4-pack)
Prefer to have your cocktail crafted for you, start to finish? I deeply respect it. Curious Elixirs has got you covered, with five signature drinks that come pre-made so the toughest job on your end is finding the bottle opener. While I was totally intrigued by all the flavor offerings -- No. 2's mash-up of a pineapple margarita and a ginger-y Dark and Stormy particularly stood out -- the Italophile in me preferred No. 1, the Pomegranate Negroni. Perfectly tart, with adaptogens like gentian and rhodiola designed to help you unwind without the aid of alcohol, each bottle serves two cocktails so you can share with a friend. Or keep it to yourself. You better believe I did.
Gnista ($33 per bottle)
Sealed on top with a golden yellow wax, Swedish brand Gnista makes a gorgeous bottle. The brand’s buzzwords hit the mark too: Floral Wormwood is advertised as "full of green herbs...strong and complex like an amaro. Bitter, aromatic and intense." Unfortunately, those promises are what work against them, at least in my opinion. Drinking Gnista is by no means unpleasant -- there's a lot of aroma going on and the herbaceous notes come through. But to me it tastes distinctly sweet and even syrupy, almost like a dessert wine. Had that been what I was expecting, I probably would've sang Gnista’s praises, but as a tried-and-true bitter amaro fan, this one felt like a letdown.
Jukes ($48.50 per box)
Maybe it's the fact that I just turned thirty, but every five minutes I hear from another friend who "just can't do wine anymore." The headaches, the hangovers -- with our invincible twenties in the rearview mirror, we're looking for a glass that goes down a little more smoothly. Enter Jukes, a London-based brand founded by a prolific wine taster and writer who wanted to offer the same depth of flavor while doing away with the alcohol. As someone who assumed booze-free wine would simply be… grape juice, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jukes uses apple cider vinegar as its base. This brings the fermented quality that's so integral to wine, and keeps the sips from veering saccharine.
Still, Jukes is very careful to avoid the label of non-alcoholic wine, calling itself a “new category of drink" instead. And while I got a kick out of pouring the No. 6 (a red blend) -- swirling it into chilled water and finding my ideal ratio made the experience fun and interactive -- the taste was much closer to a shrub (also known as a drinking vinegar) than something vineyard-grown. There's a cognitive dissonance here, since Jukes is recommended to be served in a wine glass but drinks completely differently, with none of the same body. As such, it's a tough sell to wine lovers without seriously managing their expectations. But for those who find the novelty exciting, as I did, Jukes is still worth a shot.
Ritual Zero Proof ($28.99 per bottle)
Unlike other products on this list that stand alone as their own category, resisting comparison, Ritual plays the imitation game -- and plays it well. Advertised specifically as "spirit alternatives," these bottles are designed to be swapped 1:1 with standard liquors. Ritual’s Tequila Alternative was formulated with margaritas in mind, the Whiskey has that signature warmth, but the Rum Alternative was what really knocked me out. Since Ritual is water-based, it drinks much lighter (yes I took a shot, it's called the scientific method), but the flavor is complex and undeniably tropical. Ritual stood up to various mixers equally well, with a banana-y spice that really sang in a piña colada. With arguably the highest degree of difficulty on this list -- directly standing in for spirits we already know -- Ritual is pretty damn impressive.
Let's Keep The Party Going
Considering the non-alcoholic beverage market is exploding, there's no way this is last call. With each new brand on the market, the technologies behind these beverages advance by leaps and bounds. Rather than heating liquor products to evaporate the ethanol (and a lot of the flavor along with it) as older products used to, today's alcoholic alternatives are built from the ground up, with increasingly abstaining audiences in mind. This is an exciting space, and one we look forward to keeping our eyes on. So whether your sober sips are a novelty or a long-held tradition, we'll keep you updated on all the best products. Let's cheers to that.
Five More Reasons To Try These Alcohol Alternatives:
- Still skeptical about non-boozy beer? Don't take my word for it. Athletic Brewing Company won multiple awards at last year's International Beer Challenge, including the incredibly awesome-sounding "Supreme Champion Beer" award.
- Ritual tested over 500 recipes to replicate the "burn" that alcohol imparts, landing on a complex blend of all-natural botanicals to trick your taste buds.
- Jukes is so committed to sustainability that every one of their by-products -- even the edible ones -- are recycled, and 100% of their shipping is carbon-offset.
- More and more brands are starting to use adaptogens to provide booze-free euphoria and calm, meaning there's a whole new world of possibilities for taking the edge off without relying on alcohol.
- None of these drinks use any refined sugar whatsoever, relying instead on the natural sweetness of their premium ingredients.