Within the bar industry, an increasing number of professionals are reexamining their relationship with alcohol. For Natasha David, former owner of New York City’s Nitecap and author of Drink Lightly, that meant “taking a little break from alcohol,” as she shared on Instagram last fall. For others, it might mean cutting back on shift drinks, drinking alcohol only on weekends, or, increasingly, abstaining completely.
Fortunately, there’s now a wealth of complex and delicious ready-to-drink non-alcoholic options—N/A aperitifs, canned cocktails, beer, and wines—to meet the moment. In her post, David praised De Soi aperitif (a collaboration between Katy Perry and AMASS master distiller Morgan McLachlan, For Bitter For Worse spritzes, and adaptogenic Hiyo, plus beers from Best Day Brewing and Athletic Brewing.
The non-alcoholic drinks category is growing at an overwhelming pace, with new brands regularly hitting store shelves and sales rising as much as 20% from August 2021–2022, according to Nielson. We spoke to bar professionals across the country to find out what they’re drinking when they’re not drinking alcohol.
AVEC mixers are designed to be versatile, meant to pair with spirits or be sipped on their own. Nicolas O’Connor, director of mixology at Apotheke, which has locations in New York City and Los Angeles, enjoys AVEC’s bold, not-too-sweet Hibiscus & Pomegranate and Yuzu & Lime flavors.
O’Connor also reaches for bottles of Empire Bottling Works Spruce Beer Soda. “I’ve been drinking spruce beer all my life,” says O’Connor. “It’s very much like ginger beer, except with spruce. It’s an explosion of pine tree flavor, and it’s great for wintertime.”
For Chetan Gangan Maverick, the head bartender at Chicago’s Indienne, Fentimans Cherry Cola is a go-to soda. Brewed with botanicals including ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg, Fentimans also contains a hit of real cherry juice. It’s best chilled and served with ice.
Bittersweet, quinine-infused tonic water is nearly a cocktail unto itself. Demi Natoli, head bartender at Nashville’s White Limozeen, likes to crack open bottles of Fever Tree Elderflower Tonic on booze-free days. “Refreshing over ice and with lime, it’s the perfect N/A beverage to substitute for your average tonic water or soda,” says Natoli. “The floral notes of elderflower make this an elevated N/A option.”
The Lagunitas Hoppy Refresher essentially is soda water dry-hopped with Citra, Equinox, and Centennial hop varieties. Zach Beeson, a bartender at Bar One Fourteen in Indianapolis, often finds the hyper-carbonated beverage more satisfying than beer. “I will not infrequently order one with classic bar food—say, a burger and fries—because I don’t feel too full afterwards,” says Beeson.
First released in 1961, S. Pellegrino’s Sanbitter Rosso is a classic non-alcoholic aperitif, lightly carbonated and lovely on its own, poured over a fat cube of ice, or mixed with seltzer for a Campari Soda riff. David has been drinking the tiny, 3.4-ounce bottles since she was a teenager. “When I visit my father in Italy I love to take these with me to the beach and drink alongside a slice of focaccia, and they’re an ideal sip after a big holiday feast,” she says.
José Medina Camacho, co-founder and beverage director of Adiõs in Birmingham, Alabama, enjoys drinking St. Agrestis Phony Negronis, especially in social settings when he’s trying to extend the evening. Natalie Lichtman, bar lead at San Franciso’s Pabu, also extols their virtues. “It tastes just like a regular Negroni without the hangover,” she says.
Lichtman also loves sipping and mixing non-alcoholic vermouths, including Roots Divino Bianco, which is steeped with Greek lemons and thyme, and Martini offerings Floreale and Vibrante. The latter, according to Lichtman, reads like a classic Italian red bitter vermouth. Drink it on its own, or make a quick N/A Americano with verjus and soda (the brand also sells ready-made N/A vermouth and tonics).
At Clover Hill in Brooklyn, New York, head bartender Edgar Morales mixes non-alcoholic cocktails with Rasasvada (a.k.a. “zero-proof spirit restoratives” as the brand has dubbed its Rose Bergamot, Black Ginger, and Ruby Artemisia beverages). At home, Morales keeps a bottle of the Ruby Artemisia, which is infused with botanicals including artichoke leaf, black lime, chrysanthemum, cinchona bark, green tea, chamomile, grape skins, and ume plum syrup. Morales allows it to chill in the refrigerator, where it’s ready to be poured into a wine glass.
By far, bartenders’ most loved non-alcoholic aperitif is Ghia. Gangan Maverick enjoys it as a shot, and Beeson credits the aperitif with getting him through Dry January. “Almost all N/A products have a distinct fake liquor quality about them that makes them difficult to consume on their own,” says Beeson. “Ghia is one of the only products I’ve tasted that is nearly indistinguishable from an actual alcoholic beverage.”
O’Connor turns to Ghia’s ginger- and gentian-forward Le Spritz to curb his amaro cravings. David calls the product a “perfect little can of delight.” The brand currently offers three ready-to-drink spritz options—Soda, Ginger, and Lime & Salt—in eight-ounce servings. “I adore these effervescent cocktails, particularly while I’m cooking alone in the kitchen as a treat,” says David.
Beer, the OG Non-Alcoholic Option
Non-alcoholic beer has come a long way since Prohibition-era near beer, a category that once helped select breweries limp along during America’s driest days. Alex Jump, a bar consultant and director of operations for Focus on Health, prefers Athletic Brewing’s Run Wild IPA straight from the can or mixed into non-alcoholic drinks. Owner of The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club in Nashville, Laura Unterberg likes to pair the same beer with late night cheeseburgers, or mixed it into a cocktail with passion fruit purée, Giffard Sirop Aperitif, and ice.
Both bartenders also dig non-alcoholic brewer Untitled Art. For Unterberg, it’s the brand’s Gose, as well as its Chocolate Milk Stout (she recommends trying the latter with added N/A amaro or a scoop of ice cream). According to Jump, Untitled Art’s Italian Pilsner “is really off-the-charts good.”
Also in the craft category, beer consultant Edwin Carino of AmeriCraftBier recommends Maine brewer Woodland Farms’ line of six non-alcoholic beers, while Lichtman likes Best Day Brewing.
But mega beer brands get props from pros too. Vegas bartender Timothy Baer drinks Samuel Adams Just the Haze non-alcoholic IPA, and also recommends Heinken 0.0 with a splash of tomato juice added. For Julian Flores, the beverage director of Palenque Kitchen in Costa Mesa, California, Guinness Draught 0 is the “one N/A beer above all that keeps the real essence of what beer is alive.”
“The same beautiful head that accumulates on our favorite Guinness also occurs here, giving the beer the leg up in texture,” says Flores. “The smooth, velvety palate carries through beautifully and makes you forget that you’re not having a regular old stout. As far as taste goes, it’s as close to the real deal as I can imagine.”
Wines and Not-Quite-Wines
Bartenders sent us numerous non-alcoholic wine recommendations, including South African Lautus Sparkling; Sovi from California; and Giesen’s New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Premium Red, and Pinot Grigio offerings. But the industry’s go-to N/A wine is Leitz, produced in Germany’s Rheinhessen region and dealcoholized at a low 84°F to preserve as much nuance as possible.
Jump goes for Leitz canned sparkling rosé, and Carino stocks up on its Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Sparkling Riesling. Medina Camacho is also a fan, noting that the producer has become his new go-to shift drink.
“Lots of time after working a long shift, I don’t want an alcoholic beverage but am still looking for a good glass of wine,” says Medina Camacho. “Leitz Eins Zwei Zero is one of the few non-alcoholic wines that tastes like what I’m looking for.”
In addition to non-alcoholic grape-based analogs, there’s also an emerging category of genre-bending wine-adjacent beverages. William Edwards, beverage director of Manhatta in New York, enjoys a glass of Muri Drinks Co. Yamilé after work when he wants something complex and consequence-free. Produced in Copenhagen, the drink combines multiple ferments (carbonic raspberry-gooseberry mead, smoked lacto-fermented rhubarb, and goldenrod-pink peppercorn kefir) in one bottle.
“It provides a totally unique drinking experience, irrespective of the fact that it’s a non-alcoholic beverage,” says Edwards. “There are elements of wine—natural and classic—elements of sour beer, and flavors that are so unique [that] they’re difficult to wrap your head around, while somehow remaining undeniably delicious and accessible.”
Jump and Licthman also enjoy Proxies (the Zephyr, Sauvage, and Pastiche labels top their lists). Proxies beverages aren’t necessarily made to taste like wine, but they have similar structures thanks to the inclusion of grape juice, verjus, teas, fruits, and other botanicals. “These are outstanding to drink on their own or however one would have their vermouth,” says Lichtman. “In my experience, this is a game-changing product for a lot of alcohol drinkers.”