With the number of health-conscious consumers on the rise, soaring popularity of low-proof beverages like the Spritz, and millennials imbibing less than previous generations, bars and bartenders are upping their zero-proof cocktail game.
Called no-proof, spirit-free, or NA (for non-alcoholic), these balanced drinks are a far cry from previous eras’ hastily concocted “mocktails.” Loaded with cheap soda, cloying fruit juice, and even more cloying names, “mocktails” had a hard time finding their footing in cocktail bars. After all, how many adults want to pull up a stool and order a “Shirley Ginger”?
The new zero-proof cocktails are as thoughtfully made as their boozy brethren. According to Kristine Sorrano, head bartender at Añejo in New York City, the non-alcoholic drink trend forces bartenders to think creatively. It’s all about making “a memorable and inclusive drinking experience for guests, even for those who choose to abstain from alcohol,” she says.
“Spirit-free is empowering,” Julia Momose, partner at the newly opened Kumiko in Chicago, says. “It denotes a choice, not a compromise.”
Kumiko is one of many cutting-edge bars and restaurants embracing the trend, including Añejo and Existing Conditions in NYC and Polite Provisions in San Diego.
“I believe that as a whole both industry professionals and our guests are coming to a point where balance and healthy lifestyle choices are at the front of the mind,” Momose says. She believes it is important for bars and restaurants to embrace non-alcoholic and spirit-free options in order to create “an inclusive environment for our guests.”
We asked some of the top bartenders in the country to share their no-proof recipes. Their favorites include an easy, NA Margarita, plus a cold-brew coffee cocktail spiked with CBD-infused lavender bitters, and a non-alcoholic (and vegan!) spin on a White Russian.
Whether you are abstaining permanently or temporarily, these thoughtful, sophisticated sippers are so complex and tasty you won’t miss the booze — or the nasty hangover.
It’s About Thyme
In Kristine Sorrano’s riff on a Margarita, the natural sweetness of agave tempers the tart juices, and thyme adds depth.
- 3 grapefruits, juiced
- ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
- ¾ ounce agave syrup
- 1 sprig thyme, for garnish
- Light thyme on fire and catch smoke in a snifter and cover with a coaster.
- Shake grapefruit juice, lime juice, and agave, and then strain into smoked glass.
- Garnish with thyme.
Christopher Harris, the beverage director at Entente, Chicago, created this herbal, frothy take on the White Russian — sans vodka.
- 5 ounces green tea, chilled
- ½ ounce coconut milk
- 5 ounces coconut soda, chilled
- Stir chilled tea and milk in a tall Highball glass.
- Top with chilled soda.
The crispness of the cucumber balances out the tartness of the cranberry and lime in this twist on the classic Cape Codder created by Alex Howell, bar manager, Easy Bistro, Chattanooga, Tenn.
- 2 ounces cranberry juice
- ¾ ounce fresh lime
- ¾ ounce simple syrup
- 2 slices cucumber
- 5 drops 10% saline solution
- Shake juices and simple syrup, and double strain into coupe glass.
- Garnish with cucumber wheel.
Cold Brew Julep
No bourbon? No problem. Cold-brew coffee and CBD bitters give this drink a booze-free buzz. It comes to us courtesy of Hayley Charles, assistant general manager, Carbon, Denver.
- 10 mint leaves
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- 3 ounces cold brew coffee
- 10 mg CBD lavender bitters (optional)
- Muddle half the mint leaves in the bottom of a rocks glass.
- Stir simple syrup and cold brew over crushed ice.
- Add CBD lavender bitters.
- Garnish with remaining mint sprigs.
Something to Put These Flames Out
The Spritz gets a cold-weather makeover with layers of warm baking spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in this drink by Harry Jamison, bar manager, Townsend, Philadelphia.
- ½ ounce Fee Bros. non-alcoholic cardamom bitters
- ¾ ounce lime juice
- ¾ ounce cinnamon syrup (recipe follows)
- ¼ ounce ginger syrup (recipe follows)
- 1 ½ ounces club soda
- mint leaf and grated nutmeg for garnish
- Shake all ingredients except club soda.
- Strain over one large ice cube in rocks glass.
- Top with club soda.
- Garnish with mint leaf and grated nutmeg.
Cinnamon Syrup Ingredients
- 500 grams sugar
- 500 grams water
Cinnamon Syrup Directions
- Combine sugar and water in a pot and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved.
- Add 6 to 8 cinnamon sticks and simmer for approximately 10 more minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, strain out the cinnamon sticks.
Ginger Syrup Ingredients
- 500 grams water
- 500 grams white sugar
- 500 grams finely chopped ginger
Ginger Syrup Directions
- Put sugar and water in a pot and heat until dissolved.
- Add ginger and simmer on low heat for approximately 30 minutes.
- Let cool to room temperature. Once cool, strain out ginger and refrigerate.
Nutty notes from orgeat and a splash of sparkling water elevate this easy-drinking option from Erick Castro, Polite Provisions, San Diego.
- 1 ounce lemon juice
- 1 ½ ounces orgeat, or almond syrup
- 4 ounces mineral water, such as Mineragua or Topo Chico
- Pour lemon juice and orgeat into Collins glass with pebble ice.
- Top with mineral water.
- Garnish with lemon wheel and mint sprig.