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Spirit-Free Cocktails Are Everywhere. Here Are 5 Tips for Finding Your New Favorite.

With so many exciting nonalcoholic drink options on the market, where do we begin?
By Published Sept. 6, 2022

Over the last several years, there has been a noticeable shift in drinking culture—people are drinking less alcohol.

But the world of spirit-free drinks is way more sophisticated than ordering a Shirley temple. Dozens of new booze-free drinks have hit the market—many local liquor stores now even dedicate entire sections to nonalcoholic beers, wines, and spirits. Restaurants and bars are expanding their nonalcoholic cocktail menus.

We recently conducted a tasting of non-alcoholic cocktails and spirits and found several drinks that our tasters loved.

While writing that story we learned some practical tips for those who are new to nonalcoholic drinking. I spoke with Julia Bainbridge, author of Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You're Not Drinking for Whatever Reason, and Laura Silverman, founder of the company Zero Proof Nation, who shared some of their insights. 

So whether you’re sober, sober-curious, or just looking to cut back from time to time, here are some tips for getting started.

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1. Be Open to Experimenting

In the past, if you weren't drinking, your options were soda or an overly sweet fruit juice mixture. Now, that's not the case. Bars and restaurants are offering more-complex nonalcoholic drink options than ever before. Maybe you prefer to sip sweeter drinks, or something a bit more bitter. Ask your bartender to create something in your preferred flavor profile, sans alcohol.

“Determine what you like, talk to your bartender about how they achieved what they did,” suggests Bainbridge. This way, you can recreate a similar drink at home.

2. Try Ready-to-Drink Cocktails

Many companies that offer “spirits” have begun to make premade ready-to-drink cocktails. They offer a way to try different drinks without committing to an entire bottle. Plus, the drink is already made the way the company suggests, which makes things easy.

If you like the drink, you can always buy the spirit and mixers used to make it (or keep buying the ready-to-drink cocktail). If not, you can easily try something else.

3. Don’t Compare Your Spirit-Free Cocktails to Alcohol

Several products on the market aim to mimic popular classic cocktails or act as a one-to-one replacement for a certain type of liquor. While some of them do a better job at mimicking booze than others, Bainbridge suggests adopting another mindset. “Stop worrying about how it stacks up its alcoholic counterpart,” she says. “Instead, concern yourself simply with whether or not it tastes good.”

4. Do Your Research

With so many options on the market, it can be hard to know where to begin. Luckily, there are some really great resources out there to help you navigate it all. Check out websites such as Zero Proof Nation, a company solely devoted to building community around the zero-proof lifestyle. It has links for booze-free bars, nonalcoholic bottle shops (such as The Zero Proof and Boisson), books, and more.

5. Remember: There's No One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Since there are so many different reasons why you might be interested in trying spirit-free drinks, it’s important to approach it in a way that works for you. Keep in mind that some nonalcoholic drinks contain herbs, barks, or adaptogens (active ingredients found in plants or mushrooms that may reduce stress and anxiety, according to the Cleveland Clinic). Due to the trace amounts of alcohol (nonalcoholic drinks can contain up to 0.5% alcohol by volume) and the presence of other ingredients, not every nonalcoholic drink is suitable for every person.

But it’s not just about the ingredients. For example, an NA spirit that very closely resembles hard liquor in taste might not work for you if that’s something you’re trying to avoid, Silverman cautions. “Be aware of any triggers,” she says. “Find something that works for you."