“It’s what beer drinkers drink when they’re not drinking beer” was a catchy slogan for O’Douls in the early ’90s. But what do cocktail drinkers drink when not drinking cocktails? These days they’ve got more and more options.
Nonalcoholic spirits are bubbling up around town. Launched in 2015, Seedlip claims to be the world’s first distilled nonalcoholic spirit brand, and its ginlike beverages are sold at Whole Foods and Bristol Farms and used to mix drinks at numerous L.A. bars and restaurants. In August booze giant Diageo purchased a majority stake in Seedlip for an undisclosed amount, with a Diageo exec calling it “a game-changing brand in one of the most exciting categories in our industry.” Lyre’s, an Australian company with a line of 12 different spiritless spirits, from absinthe to vermouth rosso, hit the U.S. market in late November and is available at BevMo. Proteau, a new virgin aperitif created by New York bartender John deBary is due in Los Angeles soon.
Such products are satisfying a growing demand for alcohol alternatives. According to the World Health Organization, the number of booze drinkers has fallen by 5 percent since 2000. Wellness-obsessed millennials and Gen Zers are shying away from the sauce, tagging social media posts with #DryJanuary and #SoberCurious. “People are thirsty for nonalcoholic products,” says deBary. “It’s the next frontier.”
While requiring boozeless spirits to make a good mocktail might seem silly—can’t you just omit the hard stuff?—bartenders say these products are essential to making good virgin beverages.
“Seedlip offers these really sophisticated flavor profiles that aren’t easily obtainable in the nonalcoholic world,” says Kim Stodel, the beverage director at Providence in Hollywood.
These products aren’t only for making alcohol-free beverages, they’re also for shaking up lower-alcohol cocktails. DeBary says Proteau is great for making champagne spritzes. MeMento, an Italian aromatic distilled water currently seeking U.S. distribution, lists recipes for both nonalcoholic and low-alcohol cocktails on its website.
Some of the products aim to do more than make tasty virgin tipples. Brooklyn-based Kin Euphorics contains adaptogens—herbs that purportedly help the body handle stress—and nootropics—substances that some claim boost cognitive function. It’s served at various spots around L.A., from Chinatown cocktail den Apotheke to Alfred Coffee.
London’s Three Spirit sells alcohol alternatives touting similar effects. “Perhaps you’ll feel more connected, chattier, super-chilled or a little more up for whatever comes your way,” the website reads. The company plans to start selling in the U.S. this year.
For “people who love to go out…but who still want to be on form the next day,” says Three Spirit cofounder Tatiana Mercer, “we offer the dream.”
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