By Ariel Knutson
If you’ve decided to start 2021 with a booze-free month, or even if you’ve just resolved to drink a little bit less, we applaud you. Less alcohol (like less sugar) is undoubtedly a good thing. That said, Dry January doesn’t have to mean boring old sparkling water. In fact, you don’t ever need to suffer through another uninspired glass of club soda again. In the last few years, the market for alcohol-free spirits has exploded. The result? Today you can find delicious and complex replacements that can be used as building blocks for mixed drinks, or to simply enjoy on their own.
Here, we’ve gathered the five best options to try in 2021. All are ingredient-focused and are impressive in their craft. No hangover included.
Seedlip is arguably the most popular and wildly-available alcohol-free spirits brand in the United States. The botanical-heavy drinks come in three different blends: citrus, herbal, and aromatic. They’re subtler than the other options on this list, and I think are best served with something that let’s their taste shine — like tonic, club soda, or ginger ale. I particularly enjoy the herbal spirit, Seedlip Garden 108. It’s meant to taste like a “celebration of the English countryside” and has notes of green pea, hay, rosemary, spearmint, hops, and thyme. I think it would be an excellent replacement for gin in a Cucumber Collins.
This Instagram-darling has only been around since June of 2020, but it’s quickly becoming one of the most popular non-alcoholic aperitifs on the market. Glossier alum Melanie Masarin created the brand to “change the way we think about drinking and socializing,” and she was inspired by the homemade limoncello her family used to drink during summers spent around the Mediterranean. Made with lemon balm, gentian root. Riesling grapes, fig, rosemary, and yuzu, the drink is deeply herbal, with a delightful citrus kick. Ghia can be enjoyed by itself, mixed into a drink, or, my personal favorite, served with a splash of seltzer.
Kin is more than just a zero-proof spirit. The brand markets itself as the world’s first euphoric, which is a “non-alcoholic spirit that appeals to all your senses.” Basically, it’s intended to boost your mood with the help of adaptogens, nootropics, and botanics. Kin currently has three different offerings: High Rhode (an herby, tart spirit for social occasions), Dream Light (a nightcap to help you sleep), and Kin Spritz (a grab-and-go, citrus-y option). I particularly liked the Dream Light, which I drank on ice with a little almond milk. Made with things like oak extract, clove, ginger, cinnamon, and reishi mushroom (an adaptogen for stress relief), it tastes like gingerbread and chai had a child. That might sound weird, but it was shockingly good. The drink also has a small amount of melatonin to help you drift off to dreamland.
If you want a non-alcoholic spirit that mimics the real thing, this is the brand for you. The Australian company has a huge range of beverages including American Malt, Aperitif Rosso, and Dry London Spirit. My favorite, however, is the Italian Orange which smells just like Campari. It’s lightly sweet and tastes of blood oranges. It’s great with seltzer as a faux Campari soda. Lyre’s also makes it easy to mix and match their drinks by selling sets to create non-alcoholic Manhattans, Negronis, and Jungle Birds.
I’m cheating a little bit by including Curious Elixirs on this list, because it’s billed as a booze-free cocktail. But I would argue that spiritually, it feels more in line with the above drinks because it’s more “spirit”-forward than other non-alcoholic cocktails I’ve tried. Each carbonated drink is a blend of juices, herbs, adaptogens, and root extracts. The brand has five blends, two which are limited-release. The drink that made me fall in love with Curious Elixirs is their take on a Dark & Stormy (No.2). The ginger makes the drink spicy, while the pineapple adds a subtle sweetness. The drink also includes damiana, an herb traditionally used as a relaxant and mood stimulant.