Non-alcoholic Negroni made with Lyre's
Non-alcoholic Negroni made with Lyre's / Photo courtesy Lyre's

For those who love cocktails, the no-alcohol route presents challenges. Take a close look at so-called “mocktail” recipes. Often, they’re more complicated than standard cocktail recipes.

Some call for shrubs, syrups and other housemade components to coax out complex flavors. That may be fine for bars and restaurants that have plenty of time and ingredients, but what about for home bartenders seeking an easy end-of-day drink?

“Great drinks don’t have to contain booze any more than great food has to contain meat.” –Derek Brown, owner, Columbia Room

The past year, a growing number of non-alcoholic bottlings were introduced to sip during Dry January, or any time a short detox is needed. Some mimic traditional spirits or pre-mixed cocktails, while others have flavors that are harder to pin down. But all provide a faux-spirit base toward zero-alcohol options that are more than just fancy juice boxes.

“You’re trying to create an elevated, complex drink,” explains Chris Marshall, founder/CEO of Sans Bar, a venue in Austin that serves only zero-proof cocktails. “To do that, you need a base to build your drink around.”

We asked bartenders of both boozeless and traditional venues to share their favorite non-alcoholic bottles and help avoid the many clunkers.

Curious No. 1 and No. 2 non-alcoholic bottlings / Photo by Larissa Erin Greer
Curious No. 1 and No. 2 non-alcoholic bottlings / Photo by Larissa Erin Greer

“It’s a minefield out there,” says Derek Brown, owner of Washington D.C.’s Columbia Room, though he admits that options have improved. Today, “great drinks don’t have to contain booze any more than great food has to contain meat,”he says.

Of note, many favored secret-weapon bottles still are difficult to obtain in the U.S., a trend we hope will change in the year ahead.

Consider these bottles for a booze-free bar.

Abstinence

Sans Bar’s Marshall recommends this gin-like South African brand. It comes in two varieties, citrus and spice, though it’s currently hard to find in the U.S.

Arkay

This brand was first launched in Dubai, where many locals and visitors forgo alcohol for cultural reasons. It’s now making inroads in the U.S.

“I like their products because it has some of the burn you’re accustomed to [in a traditional spirit],” says Marshall. Among the wide range of faux spirits, which even brazenly mimic Scotch and Tequila, Marshall’s pick is the “alcohol-free rum,” mixed Cuba Libre-style with Coke and a squeeze of lime, or pineapple and coconut for a Piña Colada-like drink.

Borrago botanical spirit
Photo courtesy Borrago

Borrago

A gin-like “botanical spirit” that hails from England. “I do a Paloma with Borrago and thyme-infused simple syrup,” says Marshall.

Curious Elixirs

A line of pre-mixed cocktails, rather than a single spirits-style option. The No. 1 bottling is similar to a Negroni, while the ginger-flavored No. 2 is akin to a non-alcoholic Dark & Stormy.

Kin Euphorics

Brown suggests mixing the smoky, earthy and spicy Dream Light bottling with hot water to stand in for a classic toddy.

Selection of Lyre's non-alcoholic spirits / Photo courtesy Lyre's
Selection of Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits / Photo courtesy Lyre’s

Lyre’s

This Aussie company makes a remarkably wide range of no-alcohol spirits meant to mimic everything from gin and liqueurs to absinthe. It even has an ersatz dry vermouth, which makes a virtuous martini a possibility.

Listen Bar, which hosts monthly booze-free events in New York City, has a partnership with Lyre’s and will feature a drink with their products at each event. For New Year’s Eve, menu director Eamon Rockey built a spritz-style sipper through a mix of three offerings from the brand: bittersweet Italian Spritz (Aperol-alike), Italian Orange (another bitter, in the style of Campari) and Dry Vermouth (which he infused with cardamom), topped with seltzer.

MeMento

Made in Italy, this bottle is recommended by Sam Thonis, co-owner of Getaway Bar, an alcohol-free bar in Brooklyn, New York. “It’s floral, aromatic, and has that pungent, alcohol kind of attack,” he says. When mixed with other ingredients, “it feels like a cocktail.”

Proteau

Launched in November by Momofuku bar veteran John deBary, this “botanical aperitif” hits the right notes for those seeking a vermouth-style sipper. Robust Ludlow Red (blackberry, dandelion root, licorice) is the brand’s first offering, while bubbly Rivington Spritz (strawberry, rhubarb, hibiscus) is expected to launch in 2020.

“Proteau is the real deal,” says Brown. He suggests that more bartenders should make zero-proofers. “We know how it works.”

Ritual

It’s “not meant to be an exact copy of liquor,” says Marshall, but the brand’s “gin alternative” and “whiskey alternative” offer vibrant flavors to build drinks around.

Sanbitter

Made by Italy’s San Pellegrino, these teeny bottles of bitter scarlet liquid are an ideal alternative to Campari. “It’s one you can pour over ice, add a twist and it feels like a Negroni,” says Thonis.

Seedlip, an early pioneer in non-alcoholic liquor substitutes / Photo courtesy Seedlip
Seedlip, an early pioneer in non-alcoholic liquor substitutes / Photo courtesy Seedlip

Seedlip

The first in the current crop of non-alcoholic distillate set was mentioned by every professional. It’s the most widely available option, often mixed into drinks that resemble gin & tonics.

Three Spirit

A favorite at Getaway bar, which imports the brand from Britain. Thonis likens the dark, herbal Social Elixir to amaro, which he mixes into the Light & Stormy. It’s a Dark & Stormy variant filled out with ginger syrup, lemon and alcohol-free black bitters from Dram Apothecary.