The ready-to-drink cocktail market is just about the hottest thing going these days. You can’t throw a lime wedge without hitting a new-to-the-market hard something-or-other. And that has opened a whole swath of unexplored territory for the still-burgeoning booze-free brethren of cocktails.
The interest in mocktails, or nonalcoholic cocktails, has been growing steadily, as seen in bars and restaurants offering entire booze-free sections of drink menus, and with the successful launch of Seedlip in 2014, who dubs its line of botanically motivated bottles “nonalcoholic spirits.”
For something cold and quick to crack, the latest offerings of ready-to-drink alcohol-free cocktails blur the line between soda and mixer, with unique flavor combinations, sexy bottlings and near-mimicry of bar world darlings. These are five to imbibe right now.
Avec Jalapeno & Blood Orange ($20 per 6-pack of 8 oz cans)
Denetrias Charlemagne and Alex Doman of Brooklyn’s Avec are on a mission to up the mixer ante with their smattering of petite carbonated cans. “Old-school mixers are either full of sugar and nasty or tasteless, but currently take up 85% of [retail] shelf space,” says Doman. “Avec’s mission was to rethink the category for the modern day, creating a healthier, tastier and more interesting alternative.” These colorful 8-ounce cans, which come in five flavors, are interesting enough to sip solo. Each lightly carbonated flavor combo is subtle and sprightly, but the Jalapeno & Blood Orange is a standout with its gentle juiciness, mildly bitter zesty orange zip and lingering just-right heat that makes you keep reaching for another sip.
Casamara Club Alta Italian Amaro Club Soda ($36 per 12-pack of 12 oz bottles)
The bright abstract landscape imagery alone on the packaging for these bottles will make you (and anyone who sees you sipping on one) take notice. It looks more like a cool limited-edition craft beer than a nonalcoholic riff on the Italian digestif. But this clever release from the Detroit company Casamara Club is a bit of a groundbreaker, especially coming on the heels of the recent U.S. thirst for all things spritz. The flavors of all of the company’s offerings are subtle and well-curated, but the Alta, which employs chinotto, juniper, orris root, Mandarin orange peel, allspice, clove and anise, along with a touch of sea salt and a scant four grams of demerara cane sugar, —is the most satisfying for true lovers of amari.
El Guapo Salted Paloma ($12 per 16 oz bottle)
Christa Cotton looks to her home state of Louisiana as often as possible for ingredient sourcing in El Guapo’s lovely line of bottlings, with its eye-catching apothecary aesthetic and wax-sealed tops. And the flavors are as bold as the packaging promises; infused, rich and authentic, Cotton’s bitters, cordials and mixers taste like a garden-inspired labor of love. The Salted Paloma, in particular, is outstanding—with tequila or mezcal, sure, but the addition of alcohol isn’t mandatory for the flavor. The diluted just-right saltiness and ginger-grapefruit tang are craveable on their own, especially over ice with a little sparkling water.
Greenbar Lavender Bitters + Soda ($10 per 4-pack of 12 oz cans)
Los Angeles’ experiment-embracing Greenbar Distillery is never shy when it comes to the flavor profiles in its line of spirits and bitters. But although husband-and-wife duo Litty Mathew and Melkon Khosrovian’s new Bitters + Soda releases may seem simple, the pretty flavors (currently orange and lavender) and aromatics are fresh and satisfying. While both flavors are subtle and thoroughly refreshing, the lavender achieves the neat trick of offering up lovely floral aromatics without tasting like a soapy soaked sachet, and the balancing bittering agents and botanicals (sage, gentian, rooibos tea, chamomile, jasmine and hibiscus among them) add a snappy, layered and gently tannic finish.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
Owen’s Transfusion Mix ($6 per 4-pack of 8.5 oz cans)
Those with a penchant for putting may be familiar with this golfer’s classic—a mix of grape juice and ginger ale, often spiked with vodka. Released in July 2020 in partnership with Barstool Sports, Owen’s Transfusion Mix is made with concord grape juice sourced from U.S. farm co-ops, and uses pure cane sugar, according to Owen’s Craft Mixers co-owner Josh Miller, as well as fresh ginger root in the ginger ale component. “We wanted to address simplicity and versatility,” says Miller. Owen’s also offers six other equally excellent stand-alone sippers in bottle format.