The Best Nonalcoholic Drinks & Spirits of 2021
Whether making your own NA cocktail or opening a ready-to-drink beverage, going booze-free just got more delicious. So, leave the Shirley Temples to the kids; there are plenty of sophisticated non-alcoholic options virtually indistinguishable from the classics.
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Taste of Home, via retailers
For cocktail lovers, when faced with a situation where alcohol isn’t a good choice, the options used to be pretty sad. Club soda with a twist is boring, and many mocktail recipes are overly complicated. However, over the last couple of years, the options have grown dramatically. Non-alcoholic options of gin, whiskey, rum, tequila and more are hitting store shelves with more coming every day.
Europe is definitely leading the exploration of this emerging beverage category but many US brands are rising to meet the challenge. We explored as many brands as we could get our hands on, sipped them, mixed them into cocktails to come up with our favorites.
James Schend/Taste of Home
How We Selected the Best NA Spirits
It’s no secret, I love a good cocktail; my go-to is the classic Manhattan. And no matter where I travel, I’m always looking for the local distillers to sample. I’ve sipped whiskey across Ireland and Kentucky, sampled gin in England and savored rums in the Caribbean. But when it comes to evaluating non-alcoholic spirits, I wanted to bring in a panel of experts. I reached out to Kurt Schrader and his team of elite bartenders at Sazzy B’s in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Together, we sampled dozens of contenders, mixed a slew of cocktails and picked our favorites in a number of categories.
We evaluated each one on flavor, appearance, aroma and body. Brands that tried to imitate a certain spirit were judged on how close they got. Those that created their own unique blends were judged by their flavor and ability to mix into cocktails. Our last criteria was availability. We’ll be honest, finding many of these brands will be easiest online in the US, but as the category expands you will start to see more of these hitting your local store shelves.
Courtesy Ritual Zero Proof
Best NA Tequila: Ritual Zero Proof
It definitely had a tequila aroma and the agave flavor really came through. The spice level was balanced and reminded us of good añejo tequila. But it was the body that put it over the top. Instead of a watery texture, it had the same body and viscosity of a good tequila.
Best NA Gin (Part 1): Drink Monday
I’ll be honest, picking a favorite non-alcoholic gin was really tough. There are a lot of options on the market, many coming from Europe. Our tasting panel was split on the best so we reserved the right to pick two winners.
Drink Monday was the first of our top picks. First, you can’t ignore the amazing art deco esque label. But once you open it you know you have something pretty close to the real deal. It’s a very citrus-forward gin with lots of grapefruit and lemon pith flavor.
Best NA Gin (Part 2): Free Spirits
Our second-best gin pick comes from Free Spirits. This gin version also is citrus-forward like the Drink Monday version but this one has a pronounced juniper flavor, along with delicious coriander notes.
As one judge noted, “This tastes like gin to me!”. It worked beautifully in a Cucumber Gin Smash, in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to know it didn’t have alcohol.
Best NA Rum and NA Bitter Liquor: Lyre’s
Of all the brands, Lyre’s probably has the widest number of offerings. They run the full gamut of liquors, liqueurs and premixed canned cocktails. Their Dark Cane Spirit has aromas of burnt sugar, vanilla and molasses, everything you’d want in a good rum. Mixed into island-inspired cocktails, it worked beautifully and it ended up as our pick for Best Rum.
While we like their rum, it was their Italian Spritz that really wowed us. Personally, tasting an Aperol Spritz made with Aperol next to one made with Lyre’s Italian Spritz, it was very challenging to tell them apart. It had that wonderful bitter flavor but still retained the rich vanilla undertones.
Best NA Whiskey: Spiritless Kentucky 74
Since I’m a whiskey lover, this one was another of the harder ones for me to judge. All the nonalcoholic whiskeys were never meant to be sipped straight, and that’s normally how I drink it. So I had to suspend my judgments drinking it neat and focus on how it would taste mixed into a cocktail.
Spiritless Kentucky 74 was the tasting panel’s favorite due to its amount of oak, subtle tobacco flavor and good mouthfeel. The aroma was also something that set it apart, having a lot of similar characteristics to other aged whiskeys. To me, I thought it was very reminiscent of a good corn-based whiskey.
Seedlip is undeniably the most recognized brand of nonalcoholic spirits. One of the first to market, founder Ben Branson released his first products in November of 2015 and it’s been a hit ever since. Available in three varieties, Grove 42, Spice 94 and Garden 108, each blend is unique with numerous cocktail options for each.
Best Pre-Mixed Mocktails: ISH
To say I am impressed with ISH is a huge understatement. I don’t envy companies trying to imitate classic cocktails because they are so iconic and recognizable but ISH has done the best job overall of making beverages that taste like the original that we’ve seen.
Their SpritzISH is their take on an Aperol Spritz and they’ve nailed it. The color, the flavor, the effervescence, is all spot on. The DaiquirISH is a ready-to-drink canned cocktail as good as most versions I get in bars and restaurants.
The only downside is availability. One of our core requirements in judging was it had to be widely available and this amazing brand out of Copenhagen, Denmark, is a little more difficult to find but it’s so good we had to include it.
We weren’t sure what to expect when we opened the three bottles from Three Spirits. They aren’t trying to mimic an iconic spirit but instead, went off-road and created three unique distilled spirits; Livener, Social Elixir and Nightcap. I was intrigued watching the panel taste because everyone had a very different reaction as they sipped each one. Personally, I loved the Livener. It sounds corny but the first thing I thought of was “this is what happiness tastes like”. I’m groaning at my own statement but that’s what I wrote on my tasting sheet so deal with it. It was evenly split as to who liked what. Some agreed with me while others loved the dried fruit flavors of Social Elixir and another group was drawn to the Amaro qualities of the Nightcap.
We all agreed on one thing; these were all well-rounded and very adaptable. You could sip them straight, with a splash of tonic on the rocks or mixed into a unique cocktail.
Ceder’s, from South Africa, enters the non-alcoholic spirit space with four takes on gin. The entire panel quickly latched on to the Classic version, noting its similarity to a classic London dry gin. However, with its delicate pink color, the Pink Rose option was too interesting to ignore. I have experimented with the Pink Rose and found a 50-50 mix with high-quality tonic water in a coupe glass without ice to be my preferred way to enjoy it. It doesn’t cover up the unique floral flavors and you still get a pale pink color.
Cornwall, England is home to Pentire, a distilled, non-alcoholic spirit that captures the flavors and aromas of the local area. This vegan blend of local herbs, rock samphire, sage and Cornish sea salt for the Pentire Adrift, is a complex yet comforting blend of flavors. I enjoyed this a couple of ways but on the rocks with a splash of club soda, a sprig of rosemary and a twist of grapefruit was my favorite. I found this to be the best thirst quencher after an afternoon of cutting the lawn.
From the taste and aroma to the packaging and branding, Kin Euphorics is sophisticated elegance on every level. And that should be no surprise since one of the founders is a supermodel. They’re now hitting the marketplace with two new canned, ready-to-drink beverages.
Kin Spritz is bitter and herbaceous with a nice ginger kick. With a touch of caffeine, this is definitely something to get you up and moving. Their Lightwave aims at the opposite end of the spectrum. Flavors of lavender, vanilla and passionflower beautifully blend to create a calming, mind-relaxing elixir they claim is like “naked forest bathing at midnight”. This will definitely be enjoyed at my next full moon celebration or trip to the forest; attire to be determined.
Campari lovers, Ghia is for you! This is bitterness at its best. Billed as an aperitif to help kickstart your appetite, Ghia is a gluten-free blend of riesling grape juice, herbs and orange that can be enjoyed straight or on the rocks for the bold and brave.
For the rest of you, try mixing it with sparkling wine, club soda or tonic water to balance out the astringent qualities. If you’re looking for a ready-to-drink option, Le Spritz is already spritzified (yes, I made that up) so you can enjoy it on the go.
There is nothing subtle or diminutive about Bonbuz. A complex intensity slaps you right out of the gate and lingers longer than you’d expect. With each passing second, you start to taste a lot of citrus, ginger and lemongrass. A very long, powerful finish is one of its hallmarks, one that can stand up to a lot of powerful mixers.
Try mixing it with honey or agave syrup to help balance that initial bitter jolt and add a healthy squeeze of fresh lime juice for a fun twist on a virgin Margarita. If you’re into big, bold flavors, this is one for you to try.
If you’re looking for canned ready-to-drink options unlike anything you’ve ever tried, then Sparkling Botanicals from Rishi needs to be on your list.
These combinations are some of the most sophisticated blends I’ve come across. Try flavors such as Dandelion Ginger, Black Lemon, Elderberry Maqui and my personal favorite, Grapefruit Quince. My first sip, I wondered what this was and couldn’t tell whether I liked it. But, a few more sips and I was hooked.
Touted as the beverage that symbiotically works with your body, Gist, offers up three delicious ways to get a daily dose of prebiotics. Great right out of the can, the Hibiscus with Lemon Balm, Ginger with Rooibos and Chamomile with Rosemary are fun options for your next party, get-together or lunch at your desk.
When I’m not drinking bourbon, odds are pretty good I’ve got an intensely hoppy beer in my hand. Lagunitas is taking their years of brewing knowledge and offering up a non-alcoholic beverage, Hoppy Refresher, focusing solely on the hops. Three different hops to be exact; Citra, Equinox, and Centennial hops. It’s a hop-lovers dream that’s refreshing straight out of the bottle but is also a great mixer for a non-alcoholic gin.