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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Strong

Put Down the Bottle. This is the January to Dry Out.

Curious Elixirs Take the Alcohol (and only the alcohol) out of Craft Cocktails

I remember non-Alcoholic beverages from when I was pregnant. They were fairly sad. Cranberry and a splash of soda anyone? No, but thanks. Those days are now long gone. A new category of impressive and impeccable dry drinks has risen from the ashes of excess. Now wines are getting stripped of alcohol, spirits are banishing the booze, and a world of cocktails are finding a wonderful sober side.

For those of us trying to take it down a notch after a year of quarantine, election stress, home-schooling, and grief, I’ve put together a list of my favorite ways to drink dry in January. This list is long, but even so it is not exhaustive. There’s a lot of growth in this category.

Hilary Sheinbaum's new book is devoted to drinking dry

For more ideas, check out this great story by fellow food writer Julia Bainbridge in the Times, as well as her book: Good Drinks. Also pick up a copy of Zero Proof Cocktails, out in a couple of weeks from Maureen Petrosky, and Hilary Scheinbaum’s new book The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month.

Zero-Proof Cocktails

This non-alcoholic aperitif ($33/bottle) is one of the most satisfying on the market. Inspired by Meditteranean aperitivo hour, Ghia is made from herbs and botanicals—ginger, rosemary, elderflower, orange peel, fig, yuzu and lemon. The combination is fantastic—vibrant, fresh and satisfyingly bitter, it’s perfectly shaken over ice on its own or mixed with sparkling water, tonic ginger beer. Order here.

Curious Elixirs are beautifully complex booze-free cocktails, handmade with the best ingredients and no added sugar in the Hudson Valley. Founded by John Wiseman, Curious’ bottled non-alcoholic “shaken, not slurred” beverages blend organic ingredients with adaptogens to help de-stress. Yes, please!

Like a Negroni? Try Curious Elixir No 1.— a booze-free spin on classic stirred cocktails like the Negroni. Favor a Dark & Stormy? Try Curious Elixir No. 2 — the spicy lovechild of the pineapple margarita and the Dark & Stormy. It's made with organic citrus, peppers, ginger, and the ancient Mayan herb damiana, to mellow you out while your taste buds tap dance. Enjoy over ice with a lime wedge.Love a Cucumber Collins or Bee's Knees? Try Curious Elixir No. 3 — inspired by modern cocktail classics like the Bee's Knees and the Cucumber Collins -- but crafted without alcohol -- then boosted with the power of ashwagandha, a plant used in Ayurvedic practice for over 5000 years to reduce stress, inflammation, boost memory and lower blood sugar. Fancy an Aperol Spritz? Try Curious Elixir No. 4 — a booze-free take on classic Italian aperitifs like the Aperol Spritz. But instead of alcohol, this Elixir is packed with the exotic citrus of blood orange and green mandarin, the fizz of non-alcoholic prosecco, and the cooling power of American ginseng, turmeric, and holy basil (tulsi) to help you de-stress. Curious Cocktails are $35 (8 cocktails in four bottles) and are only sold online at the moment. Get yours ASAP. Cheers!

Non-Alcoholic Spirits

The alcohol-free spirits category is expanding quickly and includes many different brands including Free Spirits, Ritual, Lyre, and Spiritless, among many more.

Seedlip Founder Ben Branson

One of the most popular in the market, Seedlip ($32) is a fresh and clean non-alcoholic distilled spirit perfect for mixing gorgeous herbaceous botanical cocktails at home. The company makes three varieties - Spice 94, Garden 108 & Grove 42, each with no artificial flavors. It has NO calories and is sugar-free. Seedlip is always best mixed (w/ Ginger Ale, Tonic, Club Soda, or as the base in cocktails), rather than sipped neat. Recipes are here, and ordering is here.

This women-owned company makes plant-based infusions ($29) that are low in sugar and high in flavor for mixing with cocktails, but they’re equally delicious with coconut water, seltzer or tonic water. There are a few varieties including Berry Beautiful, Love Elixir and Golden Girl. Order here.

These gorgeous non-alcoholic spirits are made with Adaptogens work by strengthening the adrenal system and moderating stress responses. They tend to be good sources of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, which helps to prevent cellular damage as well as Nootropics, supplements that may improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation. There’s High Rhode ($39, tart and floral), Kin Spritz ($47, a sparkling mix of hibiscus, ginger, and citrus) and Dream Light ($39, earthy, smokey and softly spiced).

These amaro club sodas are a “leisure” soda meant to evoke the long lazy afternoons of any Italian piazza. The company uses refreshing botanical blends from traditional Italian “leisure drinks” to evoke an on demand holiday. We could all use one. The sodas come in 4 different flavors and are priced at $36 for a 12 pack. Order here.

This botanical pop-up bar features good for you, beautifully crafted gut-healthy cocktails and mocktails inspired by Caribbean bush medicine! Check out their pop up bar for tasty nourishing coladas, herbal sodas, beers and cleansing herbal shots or order here. Prices range from $9-$48 depending on size and type.

Nzinga Knight created Brooklyn Sorrel ($25/bottle) as an ode to Sorrel, the West Indian, Caribbean non-alcoholic drink her father made and served during the holiday season. Her version is a gorgeous shade of garnet, richly flavored and complex with notes of hibiscus and spice, brewed and aged from a family recipe with an over 400-year Caribbean heritage. It’s a gorgeous mocktail and one that’s super festive for those looking for a special celebratory drink without the booze. Order here.

This line of alcohol-free spirits includes Bourbon, Tequila and Gin ($37 each). The spirits are crafted using a process called “Distillate Reconstruction.” According to the founders—friends from Marin County—”each one of the Free Spirits is crafted by identifying that spirit's unique fingerprint (all of the raw materials, flavors and interactions that give a traditional spirit its unique flavor profile).” They source those ingredients (like Blue Agave, White Oak and Juniper Berries) and distill them into natural flavors, extracts and botanicals. The spirit is then reconstructed to form something much bigger than the sum of its parts. And, instead of a fermentation process that generates alcohol, they infuse the source liquid with nutrients like B Vitamins and energy to help enhance your mood, the social experience, and your spirit. I tried the tequila and the gin and was really impressed. Order here.

Fluere is a spirito non alcolico made with the best ingredients and botanicals that issue a complex yet balanced taste and ensure the particular after-bite typical to alcoholic drinks. The Fluère brand is all about luxurious drinks for anyone who wants to live a more mindful life without sacrificing flavor and quality. Order here.

The Sampler from On the House Gifts

It’s hard to pick one, we know. Which is why we love this sampler set from On the House Gifts which includes six favorites ($219, nationwide shipping available). The set includes:

  • Lyre’s Orange Sec – 750 ml

  • Seedlip Spice 94 – 750 ml

  • Monday Gin – 750 ml

  • Ritual Whiskey Alternative –750 ml

  • Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice

  • Rose’s Grenadine

  • Bar tools set – Cocktail Shaker, strainer, jigger and bar spoon.

Order here.

Mixers. Shrubs and Bitters

Thanks to a creative and stunning collection of handmade mixers, shrubs, and bitters, anyone can create a mocktail with some seltzer water, tonic, or ginger ale, and fresh fruit for garnish. These mixers are truly the backbone of elevated non-alcoholic drinking at home. Here are a few favorites to try.

This is a particular favorite of mine. Girl Meets Dirt jams, bitters, and shrubs are made on the pastoral seaside San Juan Islands by Audra Lawlor, a former Wall Street executive who fled Manhattan with her new husband and two dogs to head West and start her own (island) story. Audra is best known for her savory and sweet jams, and also makes bitters, but her shrubs—seasonal flavors like Rhubarb, Plum, Spiced Apple, Quince, and Pear ($15 each)—are particularly stunning. They are delicious mixed with anything from ginger beer to tonic, to plain old sparkling water. Order here.

Element Shrubs were designed by a husband for his then-pregnant wife. (Aww!) Their line is phenomenal and because shrubs are vinegar based, they add a really nice zip to any mocktail. $12.99 each, order here.

I love these bitters in eggnog, hot toddies, or of course any traditional cocktail or mocktail. Shelley Elkovich and her husband, Jeff Heglie, tried 55 versions of For Bitter For Worse’s whiskey-like spirit before finding the recipe they liked. Their bitters come in three brews—Smoky (fig, smoke, maple), Eva’s (rhubarb and botanicals), and Saskatoon (berries, bitter botanicals, and fir). Order here.

Bitters and Soda is a brilliant little non-alcoholic delight in a can. Made by Hella Cocktail Company, the brand makes two variations of the soda. The Spritz Aromatic is bubbly and refreshing with notes of clove, allspice, bitter root, and orange peel. The Dry Aromatic is boldly unsweetened with notes of clove, allspice, bitter root and orange peel. Drink them straight from the can after a long day of homeschooling and cooking at the WFM office or also use it as a spirit free mixer for a bubbly mocktail. Order here, $29.99 per case of 12.

The creation of James Beard Award winning chef Andy Ricker, Som’s mission is to bring craft cocktail culture to alcohol free beverages. His gorgeous drinking vinegars are made by hand using exotic botanicals, the freshest tropical fruits, and local Oregon berries. There are many terrific recipes on the website to help you mix up a beautiful mocktail at home. Order here, $18.99 each.

Born in Ohio, Simple Times Mixers produce fresh fruit mixers used by many top bartenders but they don’t need booze to shine. There are bright and beautiful seasonal flavor combinations including blackberry lemonade, blueberry basil, pineapple mule, and a holiday set that includes Pomegranate Mule, Chai Apple Mule, Cranberry Lemonade & Blueberry Basil Lemonade. Order here, $13.99 each.

This zero proof line of cocktail bitters, syrups & mixers that are non-gmo, soy free, gluten free, woman owned and vegetarian, too! Originally created as a line of bitters for use at a local bar in the French Quarter, El Guapo Bitters began distributing products after succumbing to mounting pressure from the folks behind Tales of the Cocktail and fellow local bartenders. El Guapo uses whole ingredients—no extracts, no essential oils, and no artificial flavorings are added. All the flavors are concentrated from fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. Order here, $14 each.

Cocktail & Sons

Lauren Myerscough has a line of beautiful and fun syrups, Cocktail & Sons, that can take your standard lemonades and club soda to a fun place. And it’s just about King Cake Syrup time!

Root is a women-owned cocktail mixer company based out of Bethlehem, PA that has created a delicious line of natural, organic cocktail mixers that can help you create delicious craft cocktails but also mocktails.

For the holidays, ROOT Crafted is promoting their Cocktail Party Pack ($29), which includes four, 4-ounce bottles of ROOT Crafted mixers as well as a ROOT Crafted jigger, The Holiday Hostess pack ($55) which includes one 32oz. bottle of Lemongrass mixer and two 16oz. bottles of Hibi Hibi and Au Pear mixers, and the Small Gift Box, which includes 2 16 oz. bottles of ROOT Crafted and a custom copper shaker. For stocking stuffers, they are promoting their The Burlap Gift Bag ($48) which includes one full size bottle of ROOT Crafted and a copper shaker.

These shrubs and switchels are another option for making amazing mixers with sparkling water or tonic. Order here, $16 each.

Non-Alcoholic Wine

I like to drink wine. Lots of wine. So this category is particularly exciting for me as we make our way into the first days of Dry January. There are only a couple of brands that I have tried, and I believe many more are on their way to market.

Sip Clean Rose

SipClean is a new alcohol-removed canned rosé ($16/4 pack) that’s actually really good. Their rosé is a blend of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from California, and it tastes like a very fruit-forward, drinkable California rose, but without the alcohol and calories of a typical wine. (Each can of SipClean equals two glasses of wine and contains 30 calories and 7 net carbs.) I drank it with my 11-year-old daughter Emily, which was really fun.

Here’s how it’s done. Traditionally, wine is made from specific grape varieties and left to ferment over a certain amount of time. During fermentation, sugar is converted into alcohol, providing an alcohol by volume (ABV). The SipClean winemaker uses state-of-the-art spinning cone technology to carefully remove the alcohol from the wine, preserving the natural flavors and bright aromas from the original grapes. The cones spin in a column, gently removing the alcohol from the base wine under a vacuum – leaving essential flavor and essence behind. Once the wine has gone through the spinning cone process, the finished product contains under 0.5% alcohol and retains the signature characteristics of the original grapes. Order here.

Noughty ($20) is a fairly remarkable, perfectly balanced Alcohol-Free Blanc de Blancs made from organic Chardonnay grapes. Created by Amanda Thomson, founder of Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne and Prosecco, the wine is created by technology created by Carl Jung, whose family has a patented method of de-alcoholization dating from 1908. Noughty starts as wine and retains all of its vinous qualities in the glass, fairly remarkable. Jung’s de-alcoholization process is clean & simple and as low intervention as possible.

Dry, with ripe apple notes, I was thrilled with the product. Others agree: “It is, hand-down, the best alcohol-free sparkling wine I have ever tasted, and one of the best alcohol-free wines I’ve tasted overall,” said Jancis Robinson of Wines of the Week.

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