We tasted 14 nonalcoholic wines and spirits. Here’s what you should try
There are many reasons why someone might want to attempt a dry January. Maybe you indulged a little too much during the holidays. Or you’re just looking to cut back on alcohol in the new year. Our colleague Jessica Roy is pregnant, so she’s been laying off the booze for months now. Whatever the reason, there are more options than ever for nonalcoholic beverages.
Demand is growing. The global nonalcoholic drinks market is forecast to grow from $923 million in 2020 to more than $1.7 trillion by 2028, according to marketing research company Fior Markets. An October report in The Drinks Business, relying on data from NielsenIQ, said online sales of the “low-and-no category soared with a 315% increase ... in the latest 12 months.”
We recently visited Soft Spirits — a new shop in Silver Lake that exclusively sells nonalcoholic beer, wine, spirits and everything in between — to pick up several bottles to sample. The following is a taste test of 14 nonalcoholic beverages including wine, spirits, aperitifs and a couple of drinks that don’t fall into any traditional category.
Surely Pinot Noir, $26.99
This may be the fanciest fruit juice cocktail on the market. The pinot noir grapes do lend a bit of spice, but the dominant flavors are grape juice and cherry. But while the wine may taste like fruit juice, it’s actually bone dry. — J.H.
Surely Rosé, $24.99
This tastes less like a rosé and more like a tropical party in a glass, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though it might not scratch that rosé itch. The inclusion of guava and passion fruit juices makes for a tart and tangy sipper, and the light carbonation might fool the tongue for a split second, but it’s more tropical fruit juice than wine. — S.B.
Noughty Organic Alcohol-Free Sparkling Chardonnay, $21.99
Both the nose and the flavor were on the milder side, with slight bready notes and just a touch of apple. If you put ice cubes in your glass of Champagne and they melted, this is what it would taste like. It was dry though, and a lot more like sparkling wine than apple cider. — J.H.
DHOS Gin Free, $24.99
Is spicy water a thing? It is now. While there is an initial wallop of juniper, pine and citrus, the flavor fades quickly into nothingness. All you’re left with is heat. But not the warming sensation typically associated with straight alcohol. Heat as in hot chile pepper hot. Yes, it tastes like spicy water. This not-quite-gin product is a better gin substitute when mixed with tonic. — J.H.
Lyre’s Dry London Spirit, $35.99
Meant to replicate the potent flavor of a dry, unadulterated gin, Lyre’s take on a classic London-dry style gets the job done in shockingly authentic fashion. It’s far too bitter to sip or shoot on its own, but a quality tonic and a wedge of lime draw out the botanicals and mellow its more overt stringent qualities for one of the most spot-on flavor replications of our taste test. — S.B.
Spiritless Kentucky 74, $35.99
If you’re just looking for that warm, caramelly bourbon smell, this is the bottle for you. But it was lacking in body and flavor and mostly tasted like watery apple juice with a splash of vanilla. — J.H.
Ritual Rum Alternative, $28.99
There was more viscosity and body to this spirit, which gave it an almost syrup-like quality. The flavors were bold with bursts of vanilla, spice, orange and toffee. And it was warming with a slight burn, similar to what you’d experience if you were drinking actual rum. Of all the spirits we tried, this was the closest to the real thing. We even tried it in a daiquiri, and it tasted like a daiquiri. — J.H.
Free Spirits “Tequila,” $37
One of the few no-ABV spirits to nail that burn in the throat, Free Spirits’ approximation of reposado tequila is surprisingly successful and a serious delight to sip — though it’s been specifically designed to mix well in a margarita. Vanilla, caramel and agave tones provide some of its sweeter notes, while a smokiness from white oak and a peppery burn give it that signature tequila bite going down. Some of its burn got buried when we used it in a paloma, but it still carried through; you might want to pour it with a heavy hand. — S.B.
This Tabasco-colored drink does what an aperitif is designed to do. It’s a bitter, herbal concoction that whets the appetite. The combination of yuzu, lemon balm, Riesling white grape, elderflower, orange, rosemary, fig and ginger ended up tasting overwhelmingly like grapefruit peel. I thought it was delicious. — J.H.
Wilfred’s Bittersweet Orange & Rosemary, £19 (approx. $25)
Meant to replicate Campari, this Wilfred’s aperitif shares the same citrusy bitterness and vibrant red-orange hue of the iconic Italian liqueur. But while Campari’s notes are more pith, cherry and clove, Wilfred’s incorporates more vanilla tones, rosemary, rhubarb and a whole bouquet of warm baking spices. It’s a little sweeter than its alcoholic counterpart (but by no means sweet), and still bound to get the job done in a no-ABV spritz or negroni. — S.B.
For Bitter For Worse Eva’s Spritz, $28
When we purchased this bottle we were told it’s like a cider, but as it turns out, it’s marketed as more of an Italian aperitivo. Really, it’s neither. Eva’s Spritz marches to its own beat: It’s carbonated, effervescent and juice-forward, and tastes like a shrub got dragged through a garden of rhubarb, citrus, grapes and beets. There’s a bitter edge, largely due to the roasted dandelion root, which helps balance all the sweetness of that juice. — S.B.
Seedlip Grove 42, $32
This is the lemon-infused water they serve you post-massage at a nice spa. The company says that the “sophisticated, bright, citrus blend” includes Mediterranean orange, lemon peel, lemongrass and ginger. All I got was lemon peel. It’s refreshing, but you can make it yourself. — J.H.
AMASS Riverine, $40
One whiff of this noncategorical spirit and it’s clear there are more than a dozen botanicals involved: The juniper, lemon peel, rosemary, thyme, coriander, sumac and a certain green-olive brininess are almost overwhelming on first sip, but Riverine mellows as it goes, eventually falling somewhere between a botanical gin and the most herbaceous spa water of your life. This is an easy sipper; simply add soda water and a couple of ice cubes and you’re good to go. — S.B.
Optimist Smokey, $35
“Smokey” is the name of the game, but the flavor note is far from overpowering in this complex and woody sipper. At the shop, it came recommended as a mezcal substitute, but there’s really no category for this spirit: Smoky lapsang souchong tea forms the flavor baseline, while botanicals, spices and herbs such as ginger, bergamot and geranium brighten it up. What’s more, this one’s local: Optimist is based in downtown L.A. — S.B.
Eat your way across L.A.
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