Wine and Spirits

Dry January

Delicious nonalcoholic spirits are here, and Ruby Warrington, founder of the Sober Curious movement, is celebrating.

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WHEN I FIRST started reevaluating my relationship with alcohol, I managed to find a bar in my Williamsburg, Brooklyn, neighborhood that served nonalcoholic beer. Each time I’d visit, they’d pull a dusty bottle from the six-pack of O’Douls kept in the back. I’d sip it at the bar while reflecting on the changes to my social life that would likely ensue if I quit alcohol for good. I didn’t identify as an alcoholic; I was simply “sober curious” — a term I’d coined to describe the pull I felt to investigate life as a non-drinker. And when it came to eating and drinking “out,” I was quickly discovering that stepping away from my trusty sauv blancs and hazy IPAs would seriously limit my options.

Seven years later, things have improved considerably — to the extent that the most forward-thinking bars, restaurants, and hotels are now identifiable by their zero-proof selection. The transition was a matter of supply meets demand, multiplied by innovation: As more and more people get curious about either cutting back their alcohol intake or quitting altogether, the alcohol-free beverage sector has exploded. From nonalcoholic craft beers to dealcoholized wines, to a new breed of adaptogen-laced “social tonics” such as Kin and Three Spirit, in 2022 there is plenty for bar managers and mixologists to get excited about putting on their menus.

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2015 saw the launch of the first nonalcoholic spirits brand, Seedlip, which I first sampled at London’s COMO Metropolitan hotel when I gave a talk there on sober curiosity. They served it with tonic and a green pea garnish. Today, the zero-proof menu at Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel hosts temptations such as the Michelada Sin — a punchy concoction of Special Effects nonalcoholic beer (brewed across the street at the Brooklyn Brewery), hot sauce, pineapple, and salt. Meanwhile, the most popular order is the zero-proof Old-Fashioned, made with Ghia nonalcoholic aperitif, ginger, and a house-made old-fashioned cordial. “People are always going to order nonalcoholic drinks in bars; why not offer them something that reflects the same care and creativity that we bring to our spirited offerings?” says Rafa García Febles, the hotel’s beverage director.

Why not, indeed? But for so long, non-drinkers were palmed off with a soda from the kids’ menu or a begrudgingly muddled mocktail. This new attitude reflects a fundamental shift in how non-drinkers are perceived — namely, that they are equally discerning and deserving of a thoughtfully curated selection. It follows in the flexitarian movement’s footsteps, which likewise has seen plant-based options move up the menu hierarchy.

When I first met Mark Livings, cofounder and CEO of alcohol-free spirits brand Lyres, he noted how “it used to be that you’d find one vegetarian dish on a menu. Then, if you were lucky, you might be offered a separate vegan menu if you asked for it. Now, plant-based dishes are often the star of the show.”

Not only is it good hospitality to ensure all your guests are equally catered to, it’s also commercially savvy. Online access to menus has made it common practice to select a venue based on what looks good. And for the growing ranks of the sober curious, this includes the drinks. Futurist Lucie Green, a newly minted “flexi-drinker,” frequently travels for business. “I was already selecting hotels for their wellness and fitness facilities to maintain my well-being while on the road. Now, I’m starting to apply the same rigor to researching hotels and restaurants for their alcohol-free options,” she says.

It’s a trend that isn’t going anywhere. Concepts like Dry January are growing in popularity: 23% of Americans who drink regularly began 2021 with a month of abstinence. Meanwhile, leaning heavily on alcohol as a crutch to ease anxiety during the pandemic has found more people questioning their drinking as we emerge from the COVID social wasteland. And with Gen Z rejecting alcohol in droves in favor of less toxic relaxants like CBD and cannabis, “the hospitality and hotel industry will need to keep up,” says Greene.


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There is definitely still some catching up to be done. For example, when launching her pre-mixed nonalcoholic aperitif Ghia, founder Mélanie Masarin discovered that less than 10% of menus in the U.S. offered zero-proof beverages beyond water and soda. Today, ensuring that Ghia appears on menus at upscale locations like the Wythe comprises 40% of Ghia's marketing efforts while only making up about 5% of sales. But Masarin sees this as a worthwhile long-term investment: “The idea for Ghia came out of a personal frustration around the stigma of not drinking. ... I want to help create a culture where non-drinkers feel included on any social occasion.”

Those curious about where to sip the most innovative zero-proof options will find a selection of venues serving them nationally in the back of “Good Drinks” — a chic compendium of spirit-free recipes from the best bartenders in the biz curated by food and drinks writer Julia Bainbridge. And with “sober tourism” on the rise, it’s not only business travelers who are researching nonalcoholic options ahead of time. It was also on my mind when I booked a mini-break to LA in October of last year. Feeling cabin fever while looking ahead to another semi-locked-down New York winter, the lure of a few days by a pool — any pool — became intoxicating.

I selected the newly opened Santa Monica Proper Hotel for my stay, partly on a friend’s recommendation. But it was the fact that they listed Lyres, Ghia, and the excellent ERDINGER alcohol-free beer on their menus that swung it. Not that I planned to spend all my time propping up the bar while sipping a Hug On The Beach (Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Dry Aperitif with cucumber, ginger, and lemon). But the implication was that the needs and tastes of all their potential guests had been accounted for. To me, that defines the art of hospitality. On arrival, I discovered they’d even included cans of Ghia’s pre-mixed spritzer in the minibar, a sign of both how far the alcohol-free movement has come and where it is going from here.

Ruby Warrington’s Favorite Nonalcoholic Drinks

  • Ghia

    Founder Mélanie Masarin spent childhood summers near the Mediterranean, and created this nonalcoholic spirit as an homage to aperitivo. Combining florals and botanicals, Ghia has a fresh, satisfyingly bitter flavor.

  • Kin Euphorics

    “Bye bye booze. Hello cosmic wonder,” reads Kin’s website. These adaptogenic tonics, in varieties named Lightwave, Dream Light, and High Rhode, to name a few, contain mood-boosting ingredients to stimulate clarity, creative freedom, and focus.

  • Seedlip

    British-based Seedlip was one of the originators of nonalcoholic spirits. Their botanical liquor substitutes are made from ingredients like pea shoots and lemongrass. The result is a mix of vibrant but delicate flavors that add complexity to many a mocktail.

  • Athletic Brewing Company

    When founder Bill Shufelt quit drinking, he found it sad to part with the flavor of craft beer. So he set out to solve that problem with a delicious array of craft nonalcoholic beer that has taken the NA world by storm.

  • Lyre’s

    Crafted to taste just like the real thing, Lyre’s nonalcoholic spirits can be used in place of booze (to lower the ABV of a cocktail, say) or as the base of your favorite mocktail. Their impressive line includes nonalcoholic bourbon, gin, tequila, Italian spritz, and more.

  • Three Spirit

    Three Spirit boasts vegan, gluten-free, sustainably packaged, nonalcoholic spirits made with functional plants containing active compounds. Their Nightcap variety features snooze-inducing valerian root. Created by “a mix of plant scientists, world-class bartenders, hedonists, herbalists, and artists,” the beautifully bottled beverages come in three flavors, each with a purpose.

  • Ariel Wine

    Ariel’s dealcoholized wines come in chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon varietals — both are a solid dupe for the real thing. Their cabernet is even a source of polyphenols, the powerful antioxidants long believed to promote heart health and weight loss.

  • Ghia

    Founder Mélanie Masarin spent childhood summers near the Mediterranean, and created this nonalcoholic spirit as an homage to aperitivo. Combining florals and botanicals, Ghia has a fresh, satisfyingly bitter flavor.

  • Lyre’s

    Crafted to taste just like the real thing, Lyre’s nonalcoholic spirits can be used in place of booze (to lower the ABV of a cocktail, say) or as the base of your favorite mocktail. Their impressive line includes nonalcoholic bourbon, gin, tequila, Italian spritz, and more.

  • Kin Euphorics

    “Bye bye booze. Hello cosmic wonder,” reads Kin’s website. These adaptogenic tonics, in varieties named Lightwave, Dream Light, and High Rhode, to name a few, contain mood-boosting ingredients to stimulate clarity, creative freedom, and focus.

  • Three Spirit

    Three Spirit boasts vegan, gluten-free, sustainably packaged, nonalcoholic spirits made with functional plants containing active compounds. Their Nightcap variety features snooze-inducing valerian root. Created by “a mix of plant scientists, world-class bartenders, hedonists, herbalists, and artists,” the beautifully bottled beverages come in three flavors, each with a purpose.

  • Seedlip

    British-based Seedlip was one of the originators of nonalcoholic spirits. Their botanical liquor substitutes are made from ingredients like pea shoots and lemongrass. The result is a mix of vibrant but delicate flavors that add complexity to many a mocktail.

  • Ariel Wine

    Ariel’s dealcoholized wines come in chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon varietals — both are a solid dupe for the real thing. Their cabernet is even a source of polyphenols, the powerful antioxidants long believed to promote heart health and weight loss.

  • Athletic Brewing Company

    When founder Bill Shufelt quit drinking, he found it sad to part with the flavor of craft beer. So he set out to solve that problem with a delicious array of craft nonalcoholic beer that has taken the NA world by storm.

Our Contributors

Ruby Warrington Writer

Ruby Warrington is creator of the term "Sober Curious." Author of the 2018 book of the same title, her work has spearheaded a global movement for people to reevaluate their relationship to alcohol. Her follow-up book, "The Sober Curious Reset," guides readers through 100 days alcohol-free. With 20+ years’ experience as a journalist and editor, Ruby is also the founder of self-publishing imprint Numinous Books. Her forthcoming title, "Women Without Kids," will be published by Sounds True in early 2023.

Yudi Ela Photographer

Yudi Ela is a photographer devoted to shooting still life and portraiture. A first-generation Peruvian-American, she splits her time living and working between New York and California.

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