Just because you’re taking a break from the booze, doesn’t mean you have to revert back to being a child by drinking milk or apple juice. As more and more drinkers look for tasty, booze-free ways to fill their dry Januarys or Monday nights, more and more bars (and even some distilleries) are coming up with creative options. Here, the best non-alcoholic drinks to satisfy your grown-up cravings. Bonus: No one will even be able to tell you aren’t drinking.
Shrubs are syrups made with vinegar combined with fresh fruits or herbs. While delicious in cocktails, shrubs were originally sipped as non-alcoholic refreshers and medicinal tonics. As early as 15th century Persia, drinking vinegars were commonly used as cures. For an incredible at-home sipper, mix up a strawberry shrub with fresh or frozen strawberries, then add lemon juice and distilled water. It’s a strawberry lemonade with a vinegar kick. Or make a grapefruit shrub (with a pinch of smoked salt), top with seltzer and a sprig of rosemary for a booze-free highball. You can also buy drinking vinegars online or at your local grocery store. Pok Pok, the much lauded Thai restaurant mini-empire from chef Andy Richter, has a full line of craft drinking vinegars with exotic flavors like tamarind, turmeric and Buddha's hand. Many craft cocktail bars also make their own shrubs in-house, so ask your local bartender for a non-alcoholic shrub-based drink if you’re out on the town during your dry spell.
A good mocktail mimics the flavors and look of a cocktail, and it’s made with just as much thought and skill as your favorite boozy beverage. While essentially any cocktail recipe can be made into a mocktail (simply leave out the alcohol and add more of everything else), some drinks just don’t work. A Screwdriver, for example, would just be a glass of OJ if you left out the vodka, and drinks like the Manhattan, well, just wouldn’t exist because it’s made of 100 percent alcohol. Some classic cocktails that make for great mocktails include Planter’s Punch, Strawberry Daiquiris and Piña Coladas. Most craft cocktail bars have mocktails on their menus these days, but if your local bar doesn’t, all you have to do is ask.
Bitters and Soda
Bitters and Soda is the quintessential drink to have in your non-alcoholic beverage arsenal. Any bar can make you one—no matter how divey. All it takes is a soda gun (or a can of Seagram’s) and a few hefty dashes of Angostura bitters. You’ll look like you're drinking a cocktail, so no one at the bar will bother to question your booze-free motives (there’s nothing worse than the million questions you get when you take a break from drinking), and each drink won’t cost you more than the price of a seltzer. If you really want to go crazy, you can switch up the bitters (try orange or celery, or opt for something wild like apricot or cardamom). Or you can add fresh citrus or tropical fruit juices. One of our favorite combos is soda water with a splash of pineapple juice and a few hefty dashes of Peychaud’s bitters.
Seedlip is the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit. Made almost like gin, Seedlip starts with botanicals—like hay and fresh herbs—that are macerated in neutral spirits and water. Unlike gin, however, after distillation, the alcohol is removed. Seedlip offers two different expressions: the Garden 108, which is herbal, vivacious and grassy, and Spice, a robust drink that has notes of allspice, earth and citrus. Both offerings were designed to be used in a new breed of mocktails. Instead of building a drink around juices, sodas and herbs, Seedlip acts as the core ingredient. The spirit has enough depth and flavor that it can be used as a substitute for alcohol. With the advent of products like Seedlip, we’re not far off from being able to sip on a completely non-alcoholic Martini or Boulevardier. The “spirit” is currently available in select bars in the U.S. and both expressions are available online.