It wasn’t too long ago that ready-to-drink zero-proof options were pretty much limited to seltzer, soda, or juice. I’ve spent many a party sipping on a Perrier, which —while lovely— just isn’t as much fun as sangria or a gin and tonic.
The sudden explosion of adult alcohol-free options is terrific, whether you are keeping sober, or just cutting back on the drinks. But wading through the sea of choices, which sometimes lean heavily on sugar or artificial flavors to mimic boozy siblings, or tout healthy add-ins like adaptogens that may not contribute in a positive way to the taste, takes a lot of time. Believe me, I’ve tasted some pretty awful stuff lately. But you don’t have to. I’ve collected a few of my favorites – while some may have healthy ingredients, they do not taste like health drinks. But rather something you’d grab from a cooler at a party or sip to unwind while making dinner.
St. Agrestis Phony Negroni: This is my favorite of all the ready-to-drink zero-proof beverages I’ve tried recently. Which is no surprise, because St. Agrestis also makes some of my favorite ready-to-drink boozy tipples (box Negronis, yes please!). The bitter-sweet balance and mouthfeel of a Negroni is hard to imitate without booze– I’ve tried mixing my own using zero-proof spirits and nothing was exactly right. But somehow, the Brooklyn-based magicians at the Italian-inspired spirit and cocktail producer have managed —and it’s vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, and has all-natural coloring. Made using the same combination of all-natural citrus, botanical, and herbal ingredients in their spiritous version, but using alternative extraction techniques and solvents to provide nuanced notes of juniper, citrus, and the classic bitterness that consumers of the traditional Italian cocktail expect. Additionally, gentle carbonation has been added to help mimic the bite that alcohol typically provides. ($59.99 for a 12-pack of 200 ml. bottles, available direct at www.stagrestis.com/shop)
Betera: Betera is more akin to a glass of wine than a cocktail – something you’d easily enjoy with food. Pour it into a stemmed glass if you’re feeling fancy. Naturally non-alcoholic and developed by hospitality veterans, Betera is subtle, steeped with organic botanicals like elderflower, cinchona bark, and turmeric. At only 16 calories per bottle, but without artificial sweeteners, it is barely sweet with no weird aftertaste. They currently have three offerings: Rhubarb-Hibiscus, Elderflower-Lime, and Ginger-Orange. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite. They tout range of helpful properties: anti-inflammatory lemongrass and ginger, vitamin-rich orange peel and rhubarb, and antioxidant hibiscus and turmeric. But I’m just drinking them because they taste good. ($35 for a case of 12, free shipping. During January 2022, enter code DRYJAN15 to save 15 percent. Also this month, Betera will be donating 2% of each sale to the Independent Restaurant Coalition.)
Remedy Kombucha: A good kombucha –raw and unpasteurized—is a tasty way to get a refreshing boost of energy, and perhaps also improve your probiotic health, but some can be overpoweringly sour or weird. I like Remedy’s flavors – especially the peach – and find they are nicely balanced. This Australian company started with a brew on founders Sarah and Emmet Condon’s kitchen table in Melbourne almost 10 years ago. While it now produces more than 90 million cans and bottles per year, each can is still made the old school way – handcrafted in small batches and long aged brewed for 30 days using a strong, healthy, live culture that is a descendant of the very first batch, which purportedly dates back at least 50 years, originating from a couple of German backpackers who brought it with them to keep making kombucha on their travels. Comes in Ginger Lemon Kombucha, Peach Kombucha, Mixed Berry Kombucha, Raspberry Lemonade Kombucha and Blood Orange Switchel – and it doesn’t require refrigeration. ($21.99 for a 12-pack and $38.99 for a 24-pack on Amazon).
Curious Elixirs: Launched in 2016, Curious is the OG of ready-to-drink nonalcoholic cocktails. Their adorable retro packaging is only the start of the appeal – they now have six selections, evoking everything from a spritz to a painkiller, all crafted with the care of an artisanal mixologist. Currently, Elixir No. 4 – a booze-free take on the Aperol Spritz made with blood orange, green mandarin, non-alcoholic Prosecco, American ginseng, turmeric, and holy basil, is my favorite, but Elixir No. 7 – intended to evoke a champagne cocktail – is on the horizon and I can’t wait. ($36/8 Cocktails in 4 Bottles; $89/24 Cocktails in 12 Bottles).
jeng: These hemp-infused, ready-to-drink cocktails emulate classics like a gin and tonic, a Moscow Mule, and a Paloma, all in a handy 12-oz. can. I am a particular fan of the jeng & Tonic, with natural juniper, lime, tonic flavors and 11 mg. of CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that is naturally found in hemp. Unlike THC, CBD does not make you “high,” though some people claim it helps them feel relaxed. I didn’t notice that effect, but it’s pleasant anyway. ($20 for a four-pack)