With the number of health-conscious consumers on the rise, soaring popularity of low-proof beverages like the Spritz, and more people participating in Dry January than ever before, 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.
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.
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“Spirit-free is empowering,” Julia Momosé, partner at Kumiko in Chicago, says. “It denotes a choice, not a compromise.”
“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,” Momosé 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 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.
From Gage & Tollner head bartender Garry Severin, the Persephone cocktail was named after the Greek goddess of winter. And for good reason: Its mix of hibiscus bitters, wintry citrus, and spicy ginger beer gives the drink a seasonal flair.
- 1 ounce hibiscus bitters
- 1 ounce citrus mix
- ½ ounce grenadine
- 3 1/2 ounces ginger beer
- Garnish: lemon horse’s neck
- Combine all ingredients in a flute.
- Garnished with a lemon horse’s neck.
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 ‘Liar’ Martini
Created by Dianne Lowry, beverage director at NYC’s Macchina, the “Liar” Manhattan is a zero-proof riff on a classic Manhattan made with Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits. Together, these three ingredients — non-alcoholic American malt, aperitif, and bitters — add rich, nutty flavors with a hit of cherry bitters imparting the flavor of the drink’s classic garnish.
- 1 ounce Lyre’s American Malt
- 2 ounces Lyre’s Apéritif Rosso
- 2 dashes cherry bitters
- Stir ingredients briefly with ice.
- Strain into Martini glass or small coupette.
- Garnish with dehydrated lemon
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.
Zero Proof Martini
This non-alcoholic Martini is the exact opposite of the real thing — but also far from those dreaded mocktails of yore. Developed by Kindred’s Savannah Lyons Anthony, this drink is balanced and citrusy. White verjus — the juice of unripe wine grapes — adds a nice tang, while lemon-verbena tea adds a rich zestiness to the mixture. Because of the delicate nature of the products used in this drink, Anthony suggests creating as little dilution as possible. The directions below serve as a loose rubric to make sure that everything is properly incorporated and quick to drink.
- 1 ½ ounces Amass Riverine
- ½ ounce white verjus
- 2 ounces lemon verbena tea
- Build ingredients in a glass to integrate.
- Stir on ice just until chilled.
- Pour over one ice cube in a coupe or glass of your choosing.
Cocktail historian, author, bartender, and owner of Washington, D.C.’s Columbia Room, Derek Brown is also something of a legend in the no- and low-alcohol drinks space. This booze-free sip comes from Brown’s newest recipe book coming in January 2022, “Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No- and Low-Alcohol Cocktails.”
- 2 ounces chinotto syrup (available online or in specialty stores)
- 1 ounce lemon
- ½ ounce maple syrup
- ½ ounce aquafaba
- ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 6 drops Salt Tincture
- Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
- Shake with ice and strain liquid into a chilled cocktail glass.
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.
From NYC ramen spot NR comes this non-alcoholic cocktail with plenty of character. Homemade spiced syrup — made with rich baking spices and coconut — and ginger flavors add bright spice notes to this delightful simple mocktail.
- 1/3 ounce ginger juice
- 1/3 ounce lime juice
- 1/3 ounce House Spiced Syrup (recipe follows)
- 1 bottle/ 6.8 ounces Fever Tree Ginger Ale
- Build in the glass of your choice and stir.
House Spiced Syrup
- 30 grams cardamon
- 20 grams fennel seed
- 20 grams coriander seed
- 5 grams clove
- 15 grams black pepper
- 30 grams roasted coconut
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 2 ½ liters coconut water
- 2 bags fine sugar
- Boil all ingredients except sugar over low heat for about 30 minutes.
- Add two bags of fine sugar and boil for 30 more minutes on low heat.
- Let it sit in the fridge for four days and strain it to complete.