Cocktails are art. Beer is tradition. Wine is ritual. And a stiff drink is like self-reflection juice. It’s a lot to give up, and we’ve got plenty of respect for anyone making the call to lessen or altogether eliminate their presence, whether for a dry month, a dry year, or a dry lifetime. People come to the nonalcoholic lifestyle for different reasons, have been for years, but the difference in the last half-decade or so is that the nonalcoholic lifestyle isn’t passively sitting off to the side, half-heartedly offering a Beck’s. It’s actively beckoning, and the “come hither” is a vast (and growing vast-er) array of nonalcoholic drink options—the kinds of bottles and cans exploding off of social media ads and out of curated lifestyle feeds.
Though varied in how they’re made to be nonalcoholic—perhaps the alcohol was extracted from them, or they were never alcoholic to begin with but flavored and distilled so as to capture some of that heat—each does its damnedest to mimic the good of drinking alcohol without the bad. They’re flavored to target that vibe, if you will, the one where you’re holding a special drink, that drink is putting you in a nice mood, and you’re part of a group of other folks drinking drinks that put them in nice moods. It’s tough to replicate. But, as evidenced by you reading this story and not settling for a Coke Zero at happy hour, it’s what (some of) the people want.
These are the most interesting nonalcoholic brands and bottles out there right now, across a range of drinks categories. Nearly all are available to order online (and way less of a pain to have delivered than alcoholic drinks). Consider it your starter pack to zero-ABV drinking, the one that’ll prove to you that nonalcoholic cocktails are artistry unto themselves, that nonalcoholic beer can become tradition, just as nonalcoholic wine can be its own ritual. And while you wouldn’t call a pour of a nonalcoholic spirit “stiff,” it’ll still give you something to think about.
The Best Premade Nonalcoholic Cocktails
Or, as they’re usually called, “mocktails.” If you’d welcome extremely low ABV bitters, bitters and club soda will always taste delicious, with just enough bite to be reminiscent of a mixed drink. (Try: Angostura bitters, orange bitters, and club soda.) But most premade cocktail alternatives don’t have even a whisper of ABV, with the benefit of complex flavor profiles like you’d expect from a craft cocktail bar’s menu. To mix your own from scratch, I recommend Julia Bainbridge’s Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason, one of Esquire’s favorite cookbooks (well, cocktail books) of 2020. The no-ABV recipes she shares combine new ingredients with traditional cocktailing methods so adeptly you’ll forget every bourbon Old Fashioned you ever ordered.
The Best Nonalcoholic “Spirits”
A short leap from bottled mocktails, you land on nonalcoholic liquor-alternatives, or “spirits” bottled to look like booze, act like booze, and drink like booze without the aftermath. The only problem is, none of the ones I’ve tried drink like booze. Their texture is more viscous. Their flavor is hot like alcohol—in some cases, startling spicy—but not very complex. Still, throw one over some ice with bitters and top with a mixer, and you’ll have something to sip that gives some semblance of a backbone. Truthfully, they’re an acquired taste.
The Best Nonalcohol Beer
Nonalcoholic beer is great. Really, there are quite a few options for good nonalcoholic cans to hold comfortably in your hand, taking causal sips from through a primetime game, a happy hour Zoom, a stressful political event (take your pick), or a Sunday afternoon in the park. NA beer is very nearly cool. Of the many options, these are some standouts.
The Best Nonalcoholic Wine
Nonalcoholic wine doesn’t have quite the hype to it that organic, natural, and biodynamic wines do these days, and it doesn’t come close to the other NA categories. Still, it exists, even if the form is somewhat bastardized in the process.
The Best Nonalcoholic THC Drinks
Wiser minds won’t let you mix cannabis with alcohol. (You saw what happened with Four Loko’s potent caffeine-and-alcohol poison.) However, in lieu of alcohol there’s a new breed of beverage that’s meant to replace booze with THC, the high-making chemical in weed. This category is rich with variety and steadily growing, aimed at giving drinkers a relaxing experience—but not mind-altering; the drinks are low-dose—without making them feel hungover, drained, or ill. If you’re in the right state (of mind, but also of the fifty United States), you might find a dispensary or online shop that carries them.
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