More bad news for LaCroix Sparkling water: Booze-free options at happy hour are proliferating far beyond seltzer. As the #partysober ethos collides with Foodie Nation, a new generation of alcohol-skeptical mixologists, craft brewers, and micro-distillers are churning out alternatives to beer and spirits to ensure no one is left thirsty at those summer clambakes and rooftop parties.
Here are five new nonalcoholic beverage category that won’t make you feel like a kid drinking a Shirley Temple drink:
Seedlip Spice 94
Back story: A clear, herbal spirit that functions as a nonalcoholic gin substitute. One of three Seedlip blends distilled in a copper-pot still in England, Spice 94 features a bracing blend of botanicals including Jamaican allspice; grapefruit and lemon peel; cardamom distillates, and two types of bark (oak and cascarilla).
Flavor profile: Lacks the viscosity, not to mention the fire, of actual gin. Nevertheless, this supple concoction delivers a complex and nuanced medley of herbal notes: heavy on the citrus up front, in the manner of a floral gin, with a notable spicy finish that tingles at the back of the tongue.
Cost: $ 36 per bottle
Wellbeing Brewing Company Hellraiser Dark Amber
Back story: Jeff Stevens, the founder of the Missouri-based Wellbeing Brewing Company, has been sober for years, but he created this nonalcoholic craft-brew alternative with any number of non-tipplers in mind: gym rats, on-call doctors, morning yoga devotees, first daters who don’t want to come off like lushes — even whisky lovers who prefer a nonalcoholic beer back, so they can, you know, drink more whiskey.
Flavor profile: Let’s cut to the chase: Hellraiser can raise a little hell, or at least imply it. This brew is big and robust, which is what you want from a full-bodied amber ale, with or without alcohol. Unlike many amber ales, the palate tends more toward citrus than caramel or vanilla, but its blend of Cascade, galaxy, and citra hops lend a pleasing, bitter finish.
Cost: $ 11.99 per six-pack
Curious Elixirs No. 1
Back story: Given the seemingly unending trendiness of the negroni, it was only a matter of time before someone cobbled together a convincing nonalcoholic alternative. No. 1 blends achieves its blood-red color with pomegranate, and its bite with bitter orange. There’s also a New Agey dash of adaptogens like goldenroot, putatively to promote alertness and deliver a slight pick-me-up.
Flavor profile: This may sound strange, but the overall effect calls to mind … a negroni (at least if you’re not looking to get zonked). This is no syrupy fruit-juice concoction. No. 1 drinks like a legit adult beverage, with a pleasing complexity and bite, and the vaguest hint of, yes, cough syrup, which is actually a good thing when talking about something intended to invoke a Campari-laced summer favorite.
Cost: $ 35 for four bottles (an eight-drink equivalent)
High Rhode by Kin
Back Story: O.K., it’s nonalcoholic. But that does translate to buzz-free? Kin takes sober cocktails perhaps as far as they can go by blending botanicals (hibiscus, licorice) with a brain-tingling mélange of “adaptogens” (herbs like rhodiola that supposedly cut stress) and “nootropics” (compounds such as GABA and 5-HTP that putatively balance mood and, um, “stimulate bliss.”) which might be inducing a mild high. There is also dash of good old-fashioned caffeine to get help get the ticker going.
Flavor profile: Given High Rhode’s sanguine purple-red hue, one might expect a berry-forward shiraz fruitiness. As if. High Rhode eschews even a hint of sugar, delivering instead a syrupy yet astringent citrus flavor, with a bitter undertone and an intensely herbal nose, producing a flavor that somehow splits the difference between grapefruit juice and Jagermeister. Then again, the brain-feel is just as much the point.
Cost: $ 39 a bottle of 500 ml
Athletic Brewing Co. Run Wild IPA
Back story: Tired of nonalcoholic beers that he found watery, flavorless, and metallic in taste, Bill Shufelt started Athletic Brewing Company in 2018, envisioning a serious, hop-head-certified craft brew fashioned from organic grains to mollify beer snobs who were too busy with work, family, or early-morning gym commitments to wake with a foggy head.
Flavor profile: Crisp, full-bodied, complex — all in all, convincingly beer-like, which is pretty much everything you could want from a big, West Coast-style IPA (never mind that it’s from Connecticut) with less than 0.5 percent alcohol.
Cost: About $ 12.99 a six pack