Friday Sip: a new world of alcohol-free options


Looking to relax and enjoy the last days of summer with something alcohol-free? There has been a real transformation in the world of soft drinks.

Craftsmen, mixologists and scientists have gone far beyond sweet “fake wines” and watery non-alcoholic beers.

There is now a plentiful selection of zero-proof drinks that don’t feel like a substitution for something, but rather a self-contained kind of fancy drink choice.

Interest in a sober lifestyle has grown over the years, which has led to the rise of non-alcoholic cocktails and non-alcoholic bars.

The pandemic has led even more people to question their drinking habits as they have found themselves at home most of the time, feeling anxious, perhaps, or trying not to gain weight.

So whether you’re sober, sober-curious, pregnant, on a diet, the designated driver, or need to get up early for a big meeting, there’s no reason to miss a good drink.

Just a sample of the novelties:

No and weak is an online marketplace for non-alcoholic drinks, founded by brothers Massimo and Louis Borrelli in October 2020.

They saw a growing market and were impressed with the passion and expertise that manufacturers were putting into new alcohol-free products.

Louis Borrelli identifies three main buckets of non-alcoholic drinks, which echo the reasons people choose them.

First, there are brands that attempt to replicate existing alcohols like rum and gin, aimed at people who want to swap their evening drink.

Second, some companies try not to make a substitute gin per se, but rather “a similar but different drinking experience with a different flavor profile”.

Many of these drinks are believed to mimic some of the characteristics of alcoholic beverages.

Third, there are drinks that “all of their own and often offer health or functional benefits,” Borrelli explains.

These drinks, such as the Rock Grace wines mentioned below, are aimed less at mimicking the alcoholic experience and more at creating a different kind of experience.

Borelli also notes that many of these options, because they lack alcohol, are also low in calories.

Wines

Alcohol-free wines, especially sparkling ones, have come a long way since the good old days.

TST makes a pink version with white tea, ginger and elderberry, and a crunchy, almost peachy, slightly tangy sparkling with white tea, cranberry and ginger.

Thompson & Scott Noughty Line includes an organic, sparkling and alcohol-free chardonnay, as well as a sparkling rose from southern Spain made from 100% organic Tempranillo grapes.

Sparkling drinks from Woodland are made from kombucha tea; their Woodland Honey Wine is described as a ‘mead with a modern twist’, a honey wine with a blend of kombucha tea and wild Norwegian ingredients.

Grace of the Rock describes its alcohol-free wines as “imbued with benefits for beauty and well-being and crystal-clear energy”.

Like many other non-alcoholic spirits and winemakers, Rock Grace promotes a lifestyle with its products.

Verjus is a category in itself. The name translates from French as “green juice”.

Verjuice is a slightly sweet and acidic drink made from young and unripe grapes, also used in cooking.

Wolffer Succession and Fusion making notable versions, with Fusion making both a red and a white.

Proteau is a zero-proof botanical drink with two varieties: Ludlow Red, with a base of blackberry juice, and Rivington Spritz, with champagne vinegar and strawberry juice as central flavors.

Wilfred aims to “reinvent the spritz” with an alcohol-free aperitif inspired by the popular Aperol.

SPIRITS

Seed, launched in 2015 by Ben Branson, was considered a milestone in the world of alcohol-free spirits; their high quality products have been adopted by consumers, bartenders and restaurateurs.

Ritual makes a collection of calorie-free and calorie-free alcohol alternatives including rum, tequila, gin and whiskey.

Minimalist bottles describe flavor profiles: their alternative to rum, for example, promises notes of Madagascan vanilla, molasses, star anise, ripe banana, and bitter orange.

Three spirits describes their drinks, intended to be mixed with non-alcoholic cocktails, “botanical alchemy”, featuring plants intended for particular uses.

Livener contains guayusa and schizandra (you might want to check them out – I had to!)

The social elixir offers euphoria, while the nightcap is self-explanatory.

Pentire also manufactures non-alcoholic botanical spirits that do not fall under traditional alcohol categories. Their Seaward claims “lively, tangy and verdant” flavors, with ingredients like sea rosemary, woodruff, sea buckthorn and pink grapefruit.

Bax Botanical offers variations like sea buckthorn and verbena, with verbena, mint, fennel and citrus.

Many of these drinks are meant to be used like any hard alcohol: mixed with soda or tonic, served over ice, or mixed in cocktails.

Restaurants and bars also put more energy into non-alcoholic offerings.

In addition to alcohol-free bars, there are places like Drinks, a store that only sells alcohol-free products; they opened their first store in New York last February and have opened two more since then.

Europe, and the UK in particular, have been at the forefront of the world of high quality soft drinks.

Borrelli said that three years ago there were around 15-20 good alcohol-free brands on the market; “There are now around 200 active players, with more to come.”

By Katie Workman

About Michael Brafford

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