WHEN I QUIT drinking two years ago, I quickly realized how much of my social world revolved around getting together with friends for a drink at a bar or having a glass of wine with dinner. Like many former drinkers, I found it somewhat difficult to maintain friendships and familial relationships without booze. I had to recalibrate my social life to accommodate a life of sobriety. I don’t miss the effects of alcohol so much as I miss the ritual of drinking. What is better than kicking back with friends over a bonding cocktail? What about that at-home nightcap? Or cracking open an ice-cold can of beer at the backyard pool party? If you don’t drink, what do you drink when you want to drink? Or when you want a little something special besides a cola or a club soda? What if you just want a sober night out but want to share in the experience of enjoying a perfectly concocted cocktail among friends?
Fortunately, there are increasingly excellent nonalcoholic spirits out there that can replace your cocktail of choice and save you the morning hangover. This new wave of sober non-spirits, as I’ve come to call them, range from refreshing citrus-infused canned spritzers to spicy, cozy aperitifs. Most of them use herbs, juices, teas, and supplements to uplift the drinker without the intoxicating effects of alcohol. The only downside is as more and more brands pop up with new and inventive ways to create non-spirits, it can be overwhelming to find the right match for you.
I recently turned my home kitchen into a mixology lab, taste-testing a wide selection of alcohol-free spirits. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of options and elegant curation of ingredients that I experienced. I came to view these non-spirits not so much as replacements for alcohol, but as tasty beverage treats that provide their own unique flavors and effects. As mocktails become increasingly popular in mainstream culture and beg to take up more real estate on fancy cocktail menus, I hope to see non-spirits like the ones below in more bars and restaurants. For now, they are great to enjoy at home or at parties much in the same way one would enjoy alcohol.
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Recently, I made a Ghia and soda over ice and settled in on my Brooklyn rooftop to watch the sunset over Manhattan. It was a particularly hot New York summer eve, but despite being surrounded by concrete as far as the eye could see, the cocktail transported me to a beach somewhere in Greece that I’ve never been to — which seems the intention. Inspired by Mediterranean flavors, Ghia is a bright, tangy, and refreshing beverage that mixes medicinal plants, fruits, and roots to promote stress relief. The flavor is reminiscent of fruity white wine and is best served ice-cold on its own, or with soda or tonic water. Ghia is available as a bottled aperitif; alternatively, it is in two flavors of Le Spritz, a canned premixed Ghia spritzer that’s perfect for a summer barbecue or pool party. SHOP NOW
Kin Euphorics comes in two directions. Their High Rhode aims for an energetic boost during a social cocktail hour, containing caffeine, rhodiola rosea, 5-HTP, and GABA to promote mental stimulation. The Dream Light variety can be served cold or heated, and is perfect for mellow vibes with its mix of reishi mushroom, melatonin, and L-tryptophan to promote sleep. Served hot with oat milk, a little honey, and cinnamon, Dream Light would give any toddy a run for its money on a cold winter night. On ice with a bit of club soda, it’s a dead ringer for a luscious cream soda. A more portable third variety, the canned Kin Bloom is a fruity, tangy burst of sunshine — think a light, bubbly rosé experience. It’s great for a spring day on the patio or a picnic with friends. SHOP NOW
Wilderton Lustre uses tarragon, black tea, and orange peel to create a bright, crisp, and citrusy non-spirit, while Wilderton Earthen is deep and earthy, with peppercorn, pine-smoked tea, and cardamom. Both smell heavenly. I experimented with Wilderton’s Old Fashioned Recipe using Earthen, iced earl grey tea, and bitters, and it ranked up there with some of the best old fashioneds I’ve ever had. Of all the spirit-free beverages I sampled, Wilderton replicated the feel of alcohol the best, mostly because of its clear appearance and herbaceous flavor palette. Both varieties have a slightly punchy aftertaste that reminds me of a smoky mezcal or tequila. Wilderton would also be an excellent mixer for an alcohol cocktail, or serve it with tonic and a splash of bitters over ice. SHOP NOW
Rasāsvāda was born in New York City and is exquisitely designed and packaged to reflect its hometown — dark, bold, and inspired. It is available in three flavors: Ruby Artemisia, Rose Bergamot, and Black Ginger, each packed with a variety of herbs and teas that offer a range of health benefits from clear skin to hangover relief. Rasāsvāda spirits are incredibly fragrant, rich, and almost perfume-like. As a cocktail base, a little goes a long way with each kind. I found a simple Ruby Artemisia and seltzer on ice to be both energizing and refreshing — like a very crisp cherry cola in the best possible way. SHOP NOW
The only hemp-based non-spirit that I tried, Aplós mixes like a dream into your favorite cocktail recipe. After first trying Aplós with a homemade ginger-infused simple syrup and soda, plus a slice of lemon, I can safely say that I could stand having this cocktail every day for the rest of my life. While the hemp compound is designed to produce a calming effect that will vary from person to person, I found myself drawn back to the sublime flavor — like silky limoncello infused with cucumber. Best served ice-cold, I recommend putting the bottle in the freezer for a bit before you mix. In fact, my next experiment might be to make Aplós popsicles. SHOP NOW
Joshua Sanchez Writer
Joshua Sanchez’s debut feature film “Four” won the Best Performance Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. He’s a member of the Writers Guild of America, East, and has contributed to the Guardian, the Creative Independent, and Lambda Literary.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.