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Tasting Nonalcoholic Spirits and Cocktails
Sales of booze-free beverages are booming. We sampled 16 wildly different options and found a lot to be excited about.
Published Aug. 30, 2022.
What You Need To Know
For years, ordering a nonalcoholic beverage at a restaurant or bar meant you’d be offered a Shirley Temple or an iced tea. While those drinks have their merits, they pale in comparison to the more varied and complex options available to those who drink alcohol. In the last few years there’s been a noticeable shift in drinking culture worldwide. Many people started to become more conscious of their alcohol intake. The percentage of adult drinkers in the United States decreased by almost five points between 2019 and 2021, according to a survey by Gallup.
Today, nonalcoholic bars and alcohol-free bottle shops are popping up in cities across the country. Nonalcoholic spins on familiar cocktails and recipes for inventive new nonalcoholic cocktails are appearing both in print and online. Restaurants and bars are offering more nonalcoholic options.
So what should you be looking for when buying nonalcoholic beverages? To get a handle on what's worth buying, we purchased 16 products. Seven were premade cocktails. Of those seven, five were single serve and two were in larger bottles meant for sharing. The other nine products we tasted were “spirits.” Of those, four were modeled after specific styles of liquor (tequila, gin, etc.) and five claimed to be unlike anything else.
How Nonalcoholic Drinks Are Made and Alcohol By Volume (ABV)
The complex flavors of alcoholic drinks have historically been challenging to mimic without alcohol for a few reasons. First, the burn of alcohol is hard to replicate. Second, alcohol is great at extracting and carrying flavors. Alcohol can dissolve nonpolar molecules, a category that includes most of the flavor molecules in botanical ingredients. This means that alcohol is able to absorb and carry the flavor molecules from these types of ingredients more effectively than liquids like water can.
In 2015, a company based in the United Kingdom, Seedlip, was the first to soak ingredients in grain alcohol to extract flavors and then use special technology to remove the alcohol from this liquid. While this method is great at extracting flavors (many of the manufacturers in our lineup now use similar processing methods), it often leaves trace amounts of alcohol behind. A surprising fact: According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a beverage can contain up to 0.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) and still be considered nonalcoholic in the U.S. Another noteworthy fact: Fruit juice and bread can contain similar levels of alcohol due to the presence of fermentation.
Many of the products in our lineup contain herbs, barks, or adaptogens (active ingredients found in plants or mushrooms like damiana extra...
Everything We Tested
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Carolyn is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She's a French-trained professional baker.