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We Asked 25 Bartenders: What’s the Best Non-Alcoholic ‘Spirit?’

The buzz surrounding booze-free spirits is stronger than ever.

With the growing interest in Dry January and other sober-centric movements, no-ABV products have proliferated — enough to prompt their own dedicated bars and retail shops (and, maybe one day, a mainstream cocktail). In just a few years, the space has gone from practically zero zero-proof to crowded, attracting makers both neophyte and well known in the beverage world. Consumers are thirsty for it. According to Nielsen IQ, U.S. retail sales of the nonalcoholic segment increased 88.4 percent for the year-long period ending in August 2022, totaling $5.03 million.

The rising consumer demand for nonalcoholic alternatives has led to better quality and a broader range of offerings, but with that comes the challenge of how to properly navigate the field. So, to find the best options in this burgeoning category, we asked 25 bartenders, beverage directors, and other industry professionals that specialize in the sans-spirit space to share their favorites.

The Best New Non-Alcoholic Spirits, According to Bartenders:

Spiritless Kentucky 74
Optimist Fresh
Amass Riverine
Monday Gin
Seedlip Grove 42
Cañelo Drinks Dark & Spicy
Everleaf Mountain
Martini & Rossi Vibrante
Martini & Rossi Floreale
Three Spirit Livener
Pathfinder Hemp & Root
Free Spirits The Spirit of Tequila
Amethyst Lemon Cucumber Serrano
Seedlip Spice 94
Vera Aperitivø Classicø
Lyre Italian Orange
Ritual Tequila Alternative
Bax Botanics Sea Buckthorn
Ceder The Wild
Ritual Aperitif Alternative
Lyre Spiced Cane Spirit
Sipsmith FreeGlider
Seedlip Garden 108
Wilfred’s Bittersweet Aperitif
Lyre Italian Spritz
Ritual Rum Alternative

“Spiritless Kentucky 74 is the most fun NA spirit I’ve tried. It’s lady-owned and operated by fantastic folks. For a bartender, this is also the rare chance to mix with a non-alcoholic whiskey. The fact that it actually begins with a true whiskey distillate before it is removed from any alcohol gives it a taste and texture that is as true as possible to the real thing. I enjoy using it in NA cocktails that would normally contain whiskey, as well as their recommendation to split-base an otherwise powerful drink like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned to magically make it low ABV.” —Tristan Brunel, beverage director, Cucina Alba and Alba Accanto, New York City

“One of my all-time favorites is from a local Venice-based brand, Optimist Botanicals. All of Optimist’s spirits have intense depth and complexity, and I think they deserve a place on home bar carts and on-premise bars alike. They have a line of spirits described as ‘a love letter to Los Angeles,’ and each spirit is inspired by a different part of the city. Optimist Fresh is particularly versatile and really holds its weight in a craft cocktail. It’s inspired by Topanga, so it’s earthy, refreshing, and it’s incredible in a Gimlet.” —Brianda Gonzalez, founder and CEO, The New Bar, Venice Beach, Calif.

“The thing I’ve been finding myself reaching the most often for right now is Figlia. It’s not really comparable to any ‘real’ spirit, but it more than stands on its own. It’s floral, fruity, and warm at the same time, making it extremely versatile. I love experimenting and making complex drinks with it, but it’s just as delicious with ginger beer or club soda with a twist of lime.” —Kasey Ehrgott, bartender, The Volstead by Unity, Philadelphia

“I first tried Amass Riverine last spring when we were working on the Spice Girls menu at Grand Army. Tasting the Riverine solo, you can really appreciate every botanical that’s been infused into the sophisticated spirit. Not only is it versatile, but the mouthfeel is so light. This makes it perfect for sipping over ice or using it as your base in a beverage. At Grand Army, we’ve used Riverine in a spirit-free Painkiller and now a milk punch with aloe and pineapple. It crushes every time!” —Ally Marrone, bar director, Grand Army Bar, Brooklyn

“Monday Gin is light and refreshing, and has an amazing flavor profile with notes of juniper, citrus, and spices. It goes very well with some tonic water and just a slice of orange or grapefruit, or you can also mix it with fresh fruit juices to make a mocktail.” —Chetan Gangan Maverick, head mixologist, Indienne, Chicago

“Seedlip Grove 42 makes for a beautiful Paloma with citrus and slight ginger aromas. Also, I like it with tonic water and fresh lemon juice. A refreshing, summery NA cocktail.” —Steven Sipos, general manager, SALT Bar & Table, Bradenton Beach, Fla.

“Cañelo Drinks Dark & Spicy is a great NA spirit that plays off of rum. It works really well in a Dark ‘n’ Stormy, and brings strong chocolate and spice flavors. Usually NA spirits fail when spice [is added] because they provide [more of] a burning sensation but this one is very well balanced and has a great Caribbean feel for the summer. The biggest thing I look for when picking NA spirits is complexity and a balanced flavor that is not overly sweet so they pair well in cocktails, but can also be enjoyed on their own.” —Christian Orlando, beverage director, Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer and The Lookup Rooftop, New York City

“For me, the Everleaf range is a standout brand in an ever-growing and quality-pushing category. Each of the three expressions work incredibly well in highball drinks and with go-to mixers, and they seriously enhance as modifiers in alcohol-free, low-ABV, and alcoholic cocktails. My preference is Everleaf Mountain, [especially] when mixed with London Essence White Peach & Jasmine soda. I love it!” —Josh Linfitt, bar director, Adam Handling Group, London, England

“When opening Superbueno, I wanted to ensure we had a concise but well-rounded menu that included a few non-alcoholic offerings. We have a mole Negroni with mezcal, and wanted to offer NA drinkers a version of that with NA spirits and our specialty mole spice blend. While completing R&D, Martini & Rossi Vibrante become one of my favorites, as it has the perfect bitter element to make you feel like you’re having a regular cocktail. Sometimes NA drinks often taste like a fancy lemonade, and the Vibrante has the qualities to give any drink a bit more depth. It’s a complex product that stands up well in stirred drinks, and it’s also great with sodas for a nice spritz.” —Nacho Jimenez, owner and bartender, Superbueno, New York City

“In my experience with the many new non-alcoholic options out there, I’ve found that the products that align with the aperitivo drinking style tend to be the most expressive and easy to translate into a cocktail. Right now, my favorites are the newly released Martini & Rossi Vibrante and Floreale. These are vermouths where the alcohol has been removed through vacuum distillation so they taste just like the real thing! Great mouthful, a little bitter, herbaceous, and packed with flavor. The Floreale’s most prominent tasting note is chamomile, while the Vibrante’s bergamot. I absolutely love both of these with tonic. Pairing these in a simple highball with tonic or soda is a surefire way to a delicious NA beverage that will be a certain crowd-pleaser.” —Matt Reysen, bar director, Discolo, Al Coro, and Mel’s, New York City

“When it comes to non-alcoholic spirits, I reach for creations that aren’t out to mimic pre-existing offerings. That’s why I look to Three Spirit. As founders Dash Lilley and Tatiana Mercer shared on my podcast, ‘No Proof,’ their spirits are born of bartenders, and are out to shape the way we look at non-alc as a category. It has a story and wasn’t just a race to the shelf. I particularly enjoy the Livener from their catalog for its use of watermelon in a way that doesn’t taste like candy, and the addition of cayenne pepper that doesn’t blow out the palate. I love this vibrant pick over tonic when I’m at home, and I’m quick to incorporate it into mixed drinks for guests. And for bold, bitter, and balanced, the Pathfinder’s hemp-infused spirit, Hemp & Root, scratches my itch. It’s easily incorporated into stirred and complex NA cocktails, or poured as an aside when enjoying a cold NA pilsner. While it settles into the amari shelves like it’s always been there, it isn’t trying to be something it’s not.” —Josh Gandee, cofounder, Historic Revelry, Columbus, Ohio

“I’m having a hard time choosing a favorite NA spirit, so I picked two. My first is Free Spirits’ The Spirit of Tequila. I love a Spicy Margarita, and this tastes so good when mixed with the right ingredients. It gives you a little kick and smoky warmth as it goes down your throat. The fact that it has functional ingredients to elevate your mood makes it even more appealing. My other favorite is Amethyst’s Lemon Cucumber Serrano. I first tasted it by itself like I do with each new spirit, and I fell in love. Not only did it become one of the rare ones that I can enjoy by itself with just an ice cube, but I instantly knew what drink to make with it: a cucumber and lychee Martini type of cocktail. It’s refreshing, and I love the kick of the serrano. The fact that it is one of the only NA spirits I can drink by itself gives it a special place in my heart and in my bar.” —Fatima Harmi, founder and CEO, Licoeur, Los Angeles

“One of my favorite NA spirits of the moment is Vera Aperitivo Classico. Vera hails from Ljubljana in Slovenia. I’m a huge fan of anything bitter, anything herbal, anything that suits that Negroni or spritz moment, and Aperitivo Classico very much ticks all those boxes. Beautifully balanced, and packed with blood orange, rosemary, clove, and thyme. It delivers an excellent finish with elegant dryness and a dreamy hit of citrus.” —Noah Villeneuve, head of creative development, Club Soda, London, England

“[At the bar], we’re seeing more and more people looking to supplement their alcohol intake with low- or no-ABV cocktails. While the most popular option is always our bitters and soda, we also make a ton of gingerades (a simple combination of house ginger syrup, lime and soda). [Adding] a wide variety of options through the Lyre’s portfolio has been indispensable. My personal favorite is the Italian Orange aperitivo. This spirit hits that balance of bitter and sweet perfectly and can be used in refreshing, citrusy cocktails as well stirred numbers. Orange, ginger, and grapefruit work exceptionally well with this NA bitter, or combining it with pineapple, lime, ginger, soda, and habanero results in a crowd-pleasing refresher that’s got the heft of a cocktail with none of the alcohol. Similarly, I like to use it with grapefruit, lime, soda, and a pinch of salt for another summery spirit-free drink. Lyre’s lineup contains all the ingredients you’d need to make a very satisfying NA Negroni, with this red bitter being the star of the show. It’s a surprisingly versatile option when trying to create non-alcoholic drinks that are both interesting and enjoyable.” —Evan Bucholz, co-owner and bartender, Brix & Rye, Greenport, N.Y.

“I started drinking Ritual Zero Proof’s Tequila Alternative with my wife while she was pregnant, as we are both tequila drinkers. It was a nice substitute. Grassy, with a tiny hint of smoke. It made a perfect Cantarito for the cravings.” —Carlos Ruiz, bar consultant and owner of Cocktails By C, Morristown, N.J.

“So far, Ritual’s is the best tequila alternative we’ve found. It has smokiness like mezcal and a kick of peppers at the end that imitates the taste of tequila going down, which makes a perfect spicy Margarita. We use this in our spiced calamansi Margarita, a tropical twist on the classic Margarita.” —Eejay Chua, co-owner, Bahay Kubo, Winnipeg, Canada

“For me, Bax Botanics’ Sea Buckthorn is an outstanding alcohol-free spirit. It’s crafted in the U.K. by Chris and Rose Bax. With complex bittersweet flavors and sea buckthorn berries, it can be used in a real versatile range of serves. The spirit recently won a double gold medal at this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC).” —Jonny Stevens, founder, Better Without

“I love gin, especially this time of year. Ceder’s makes four gin alternatives that are a great value for the level of quality they deliver. The Wild is perhaps the least traditional of the four, featuring botanicals like clove and rooibos. It delivers the standard juniper notes you expect plus an aromatic spice that you don’t expect.” —Douglas Watters, owner, Spirited Away, New York City

“I really like the new Ritual Aperitif Alternative. I love an aperitif or digestif cocktail like a Negroni or a spritz, and it’s awesome that we can offer non-alcoholic versions of these alongside the classics. The Ritual Aperitif has the perfect level of bitterness and full-bodied mouthfeel to sub in for Aperol or Campari in the aforementioned, or even for a more bitter sweet vermouth in a Manhattan-style serve.” —Matthew Belanger, bar manager, Death & Co Los Angeles, Los Angeles

“We choose to use Lyre’s Spiced Cane Spirit because of the warm and toasty spice notes like caramel, molasses, and vanilla. This spiced rim homage is the perfect complement for the herbaceous elements of our Bangkok Mule, like the lemongrass, makrut lime leaf, and galangal syrup.” —Aditi Sonajirao, general manager, Fish Cheeks, New York City

“Sipsmith FreeGlider is one of my favorite picks when it comes to non-alcoholic spirits, both to drink and to mix with. It has a good body that stands out when used to replace a distillate in a classic cocktail and it’s very bright in flavor. The spicy and citrusy notes allow it shine through your cocktail.” —Giorgio Bargiani, assistant director of mixology, The Connaught Bar, London, England

“Our favorite and most popular NA spirit has been Seedlip Garden 108, a fresh, herbal blend of peas and garden herbs including rosemary, thyme, and spearmint. It’s been the staple of some of our freshest and most popular nonalcoholic cocktails. It has the ability to be used in an NA Eastside or something less traditional.” —Bruce Childress, director of hospitality, Juliet, Margot, and Norah, Los Angeles

“What I find important in a spirit-free cocktail is the weight, and many NA spirits are missing this. But Wilfred’s Bittersweet Aperitif has the viscosity I’m looking for to create a ‘free-spirited’ spritz. The herbal nose and bitter citrus-rhubarb flavor backed with a little heat you get from the cloves give me all those ‘summer in Italy’ feels. I like to top it with Mediterranean tonic and an olive. Ah, la dolce vita!” —Devon McGrath, bar creative, Bayberry Garden, Providence, R.I.

“Lyre’s Italian Spritz is my go-to and favorite NA spirit because it hits all the marks you are looking for. It is a bitter orange NA spirit and can be used like Aperol or Campari. It is slightly sweet, but astringent and bitter enough to cut through and enhance other flavors you want to work with. In the summer, Lyre’s goes great with either fresh berry purees or syrups. The mouthfeel is solid enough to use as a flavor modifier and not get washed out while using Prosecco or blanc vermouth in low-proof applications. In the winter, it’s great to add hot tea and winter spices. But for now, when the weather is starting to rapidly increase, [add] two parts Lyre’s Italian Spritz, one part strained raspberry puree, and a half-handful of mint over ice topped with your bubble water of choice to make you look like a champ to all of your friends.” —Gabe Sanchez, beverage director, Midnight Rambler at The Joule, Dallas

“We like Ritual’s Rum Alternative because it really embodies the true flavors you’ll find in a traditional rum, but is also malleable enough to use in non-traditional rum cocktails. We utilize this NA spirit in our High Fashion cocktail to give the taste and appearance of a spirit-forward drink without having the high alcohol to match.” —Bobby Castro, bar manager and beverage director, Corbeaux Wine & Tea House, Temecula, Calif.

The article We Asked 25 Bartenders: What’s the Best Non-Alcoholic ‘Spirit?’ appeared first on VinePair.

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