There are certain things you need to make a good cocktail. Ice is generally helpful, and it doesn’t hurt to have some sugar and acidity. Alcohol, on the other hand, is not actually required. If you’re currently cutting back your booze consumption or curtailing it altogether, try making a drink with a zero-proof spirit.
What’s a zero-proof spirit? It’s a blanket term covering non-alcoholic beverages that are infused with flavorings. Usually, they’re water-based and feature herbs like fennel or turmeric root, fruit juices, or even vinegar. Some try to mimic certain alcohols in terms of color and flavor profile, so you’ll see non-alcoholic versions of gin or tequila, while others are harder to classify (such as Proteau, the one with vinegar).
To help you find the one that’s right for you, here are some of our favorites.
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For That Low-ABV Old Fashioned
If you’re on the lookout for a good whiskey substitute, check out Kentucky 74 from Spiritless. It was a recommendation from one of our favorite bartenders (who happens to be extremely skilled at making zero-proof drinks), and it’s perfect for any classic cocktails that typically call for bourbon or rye. Kentucky 74 is made with actual oak extract to simulate the flavor you get from aging whiskey in a barrel - just be aware that it’s .5% ABV. That’s almost zero-proof, but not quite, so keep that in mind if you’re going completely alcohol-free.
If You Want A Martini
Seedlip Garden 108 tastes like a crudité platter with a touch of mint. Like the other spirits from this brand, it’s clear and water-based, and it might remind you of gin. You could easily stir it with some ice and add an olive to make a zero-proof Martini, or you could just pour it over ice and top with ginger ale.
For A Zero-Proof Vodka Soda
This non-alcoholic spirit is about as straightforward as it gets: It smells and tastes like citrus (with some subtle herbal undertones). Throw your Seedlip Grove 42 in just about any cocktail that calls for a clear spirit (vodka, gin, tequila, etc.) or add it to some seltzer.
Your Path To A Zero-Proof Negroni
What makes a Negroni taste like a Negroni? That would be Campari. But if you aren’t currently imbibing any alcohol, don’t panic. Just pick up a bottle of Lyre’s Italian Orange. It isn’t as bitter as actual Campari, but when you don’t have gin to cut that bitterness, that actually works out well. Pour some over a big ice cube, maybe add a splash or two of Seedlip Citrus, and you have yourself a no-booze Negroni.
For When It's Spritz O'Clock
What if you don’t want a Negroni? What if you’d prefer an Aperol Spritz? Lyre’s has you covered on that front as well. Their Apéritif Rosso is eerily reminiscent of Aperol, so all you have to do for a Spritz is put an ounce or two of this stuff in an ice-filled wine glass and top with your choice of sparkling water. Garnish with an orange twist.
The Mezcal Substitute
If you like mezcal, you’ll enjoy Smokey from Optimist Botanicals. It has a surprisingly deep and slightly bitter flavor, and, as the name implies, this zero-proof spirit has that woodsy, burning smell you associate with mezcal. Sip it neat or throw it in a highball.
If Gin On The Rocks Sounds Good
Looking for something that reminds you of walking through a herb garden? Try Optimist Fresh. It’s smooth and refreshing, and the fennel and tarragon linger on your palate between sips. Mix it with some tonic or ginger ale.
A Zero-Proof Drink With A Lot Going On
Technically zero-proof cocktails (as opposed to spirits), Curious Elixirs still pack a very potent punch in terms of flavor. They actually taste more concentrated than the majority of the zero-proof spirits on this list, and you can use them to construct your own bespoke cocktails or just drink them on their own over ice. If you don’t know where to start, Elixir No. 5 is wildly complex, with its smokey cherry/chocolate flavor, although you can also go for a variety pack.
If You’re Doing Aperitivo Hour
Ghia is juicy, intensely flavored, and reminds us of a non-alcoholic version of Campari or Aperol. Slightly sweet and pleasantly bitter, It would be excellent in a zero-proof Negroni or Aperol spritz. Add a plate of prosciutto and Parmesan, and you can pretend it’s 4pm in Rome.
If You Want To Pour Something In A Glass And Call It A Day
Proteau doesn’t try to mimic any specific alcoholic spirit, although it’s sort of like a zippy and acidic aperitivo wine you’d drink before or after dinner. The first thing you taste is blackberry juice, then all the other ingredients creep in. There’s black pepper, hibiscus, dandelion, and even some fig vinegar that attacks your palate in a way that’s reminiscent of actual booze. Pour some on the rocks, maybe add some seltzer, and you’re good to go.
If You’re Craving A Gimlet
As the name suggests, this is a gin substitute, and it’ll work in just about any gin cocktail. The juniper flavor is pretty mellow, however, and mostly what you’ll taste is a subtle hint of ginger. Try it in a Gimlet or maybe Southside.
A Spirit With Some Bite
While Ceder’s Crisp isn’t as complex as either Optimist or Seedlip, it is exceedingly smooth and drinkable. This zero-proof beverage is also pleasantly tart - and this might be due to citric acid, which is listed as an ingredient. Whatever it is, we’re on board. Pour some Ceder’s Crisp on the rocks, and add a lemon twist.
For Something Tart And Bitter
Rasāsvāda’s zero-proof drinks aren’t even remotely like traditional spirits - and that’s not a bad thing. They’re tart, bitter, and concentrated herbal brews, and they make for some pretty compelling sipping. Ruby Artemesia - with its green tea and ume plum syrup - is our favorite of the bunch. Pour a glass, and drink it slowly.
If You Want An Afternoon Pick-Me-Up
By the time 3pm slump hits, you might be tempted to reach for yet another cup of coffee. Before you do, consider this spirit instead. Kin Euphorics combines adaptogens (herbs used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions to relieve stress) and botanicals into two blends with High Rhode being more suitable for daytime drinking and Dream Light for nighttime sipping. High Rhode is bitter and citrusy with a hint of sweetness. You’ll definitely want to add ice as it tastes best when it’s extra cold. If you want to play up the fruit flavor, pink grapefruit LaCroix is an ideal pairing.
If You Like Mulled Wine
After everything that’s happened in the past year, you might have some issues sleeping. This beverage is meant to help you unwind at night. Dream Light from Kin Euphorics is smoky with cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg flavors that bring to mind German glühwein. And like glühwein, it also feels like a warm hug. You can drink it cold but if you really want to mimic the après ski environment, try giving it a gentle heat.