I Tried Alcohol-Free Spirits and These Are the 14 Best Ones
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I taste-tested dozens of alcohol-free drinks and spirits to find the best booze replacements you can use to create no-alcohol cocktails (or even use for sipping). Here are my reviews of the 14 winners.
Choosing no-alcohol drinks
Since completing my first “Sober October,” I’ve forgotten to pour my regular glass of wine each evening. For years, this has been an evening ritual, one I legitimize by pointing to wine’s health benefits.
Somehow, a month-long break from the bottle truly shifted how I approach drinking—at least for now. I suddenly categorize alcohol as a weekend reward rather than a suppertime standard. That’s a good thing.
Alcohol-free months are “a reset” for the brain, a chance to set better boundaries around drinking, says Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, a Chicago-based registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods. I suppose it’s also why certified sports nutritionist and Whole30 founder Melissa Urban warns of the psychological impact of using alcohol to magnify joy or quell sadness.
Is “sober curious” a trend, seasonal challenge, or lifestyle?
I can’t remember the first time I heard about Dry January. Chris Marshall, CEO of Sans Bar, an alcohol-free bar in Austin, says he noticed sober challenges becoming popular around 2015.
“This was around the same time the sober-curious movement started to gain traction,” he says. A 2020 report from The Nielsen Company, a global marketing research firm, shows that 21 percent of U.S. consumers became “sober-curious” in January 2019. The report also showed that 46 percent of alcohol abstainers swapped their libations for soft drinks, while 43 percent switched to water.
According to Marshall, sober-curious—or “sober-sometimes”—people tend to “still drink, but are seeking ways to reduce or eliminate alcohol from their lives.”
Delicious, nonalcoholic spirits mean there’s plenty to drink whether you’re seasonally sober curious, reducing your overall intake, or giving up alcohol for good. (Ready to give it a try? Check out these Dry January tips.)
Health benefits of reducing alcohol intake
Whether you’re participating in Dry January or overcoming an alcohol addiction, you will likely experience a slew of health benefits from abstaining from alcohol in general. Shanta Retelny notes several: deeper sleep, a better mood, improved digestive health, and possibly weight loss (since booze adds to your daily calorie count).
However, while the sober-curious can experience health benefits when switching to zero-proof spirits, nonalcoholic beers, and mocktails, these beverages may not be the best choice for those overcoming an alcohol addiction.
Some alcohol-free beverages contain trace amounts of alcohol, and mimicking the smell and taste of alcohol-containing drinks may trigger cravings and relapse in some people. (If you are a heavy drinker or have an alcohol use disorder it can be dangerous to abruptly stop drinking—consult a physician to help decide how and what beverages are safe to consume on the road to recovery.)
Where to find zero-proof spirits
It’s hard enough finding nonalcoholic wine and beer at my local supermarket or liquor store. For spirits, I shopped online. Some bartenders keep a small supply of nonalcoholic spirits—Seedlip is quite common—but you won’t find many of these brands at your local bar.
Most no-ABV (alcohol by volume) spirits are available on Amazon or Better Rhodes, an online marketplace that only sells alcohol-free beverages. You can also order these spirits from the brands’ own websites.
How I tested nonalcoholic spirits
With the recent explosion of zero-proof products on the market, it was necessary to narrow down this taste test to spirits only. I’d already handpicked the best mocktails on the market. I also spent a week searching for the best alcohol-free beers for readers. We’ll save wine for another day.
I rounded up as many no-alcohol spirits as I could get my hands on. My partner and I made notes on aroma, flavor, finish, and mouthfeel. We gave bonus points to those spirits that offered up an alcohol-like burn. We tasted each neat, over ice, and topped with soda water, tonic, or ginger ale (depending on the bottle’s recommendations).
After testing over two dozen nonalcoholic beverages in the last month, I’ve narrowed down five clear zero-proof winners, followed by nine more solid options for rounding out a booze-free bar.
Monday Zero Alcohol Gin (Top Pick)
This clear, zero-calorie spirit was my No. 1 pick of the bunch. Tasting nonalcoholic spirits is a tricky business. We wanted to award points to those who succeeded in matching the aroma and flavor of alcohol. Still, we also knew there is no way to match the light, blooming burn of alcohol. Monday Gin came very, very close.
This spirit has a pleasant, juniper-and-cucumber aroma. It’s slightly tangy with a slow, delicate burn that moves from the tip of the tongue to the back of the palate. Monday Gin is deliciously drinkable neat, on the rocks, or mixed up for a classic gin and tonic.
Lyre’s Italian Orange (Top Pick)
This Campari alternative is sweet, smooth, and delightful. Lyre’s Italian Orange has 25 calories per ounce compared to most apéritifs’ 100-plus calorie total. This spirit has a pleasing aroma of orange and blood orange, with a hint of dark chocolate complexity.
Though the flavor was a little too sweet for me to enjoy neat, it’s incredibly approachable with a splash of soda water. Also try it on the rocks with an orange peel garnish. With a little chill and garnish, Lyre’s Italian Orange tricked our tongues into thinking it was alcoholic.
Wilderton Lustre (Top Pick)
Despite collecting over a dozen bottles of nonalcoholic spirits in my kitchen this month, the bottle of Wilderton Lustre is nearly empty. I reached for it again and again—as a palate cleanser after some of the less-tasty spirits, as a zero-proof nightcap, or as a splash of botanical flavor in an afternoon glass of soda water or tea.
It’s important to note that you will not mistake Wilderton Lustre for alcohol. This spirit has a fresh, delicate citrus aroma and a mildly spicy orange flavor. Its weakness is its mouthfeel, which is flat and watery. Add a splash of soda water, lemon tonic water, or even a dash of bitters, and you’ll have a drink that tastes complex and completely adult.
Seedlip Spice 94 (Top Pick)
Seedlip’s aromatic spirit reminds me of cozy winter evenings spent by the fireplace. After opening the bottle, our noses were hit with the aroma of chai—a blend of cardamom, allspice, and clove. It smelled like drinkable potpourri.
This zero-calorie spirit has a dry, even astringent finish, which we considered positive since so many nonalcoholic spirits feel more like water on the tongue. As you’d expect from the name, Seedlip Spice 94 is loaded with warming spices. The cloves might be too overpowering, depending on your preferences. Still, you can temper it with tonic or ginger ale. Even the Seedlip website says to mix the spirits rather than sip them straight.
Spiritless Kentucky 74 (Top Pick)
Looking for an alcohol-free bourbon? Spiritless delivers. It has all the barrel-aged, smoky, leathery, vanilla flavors of whiskey or bourbon—but without the alcoholic “punch in the mouth,” as founders Lauren Chitwood, Abby Ferguson, and Lexie Larsen said when the brand launched earlier this year.
It’s true: Spiritless Kentucky 74 doesn’t have an alcoholic kick. There’s a slightly sweet, smoky warmth, but no burn. You won’t mistake it for real bourbon if you drink it neat or on the rocks. But it’s a palatable substitute when mixed into a mint julep or old-fashioned. It’s by far the best nonalcoholic whiskey we tried.
Ritual Gin Alternative
Open a bottle of Ritual’s Gin Alternative and you’ll smell earth, grass, and a field of flowers. It has far less of a cucumber aroma than Monday Gin. But it still has a perfect juniper pop. The flavor starts gentle and citrusy, but finishes with a robust heat. The kick is the result of Ritual’s capsicum, found in all three of its spirits. (Ritual also sells one of the best non-alcoholic tequilas on the market.)
Lyre’s Dry London Spirit
Another gin-style spirit, Lyre’s Dry London delivers a bitter, light citrus flavor in just 3.5 calories per ounce. This gin-style liquid had a more potent lime and juniper taste than Monday Gin or Ritual Gin Alternative. It also includes quinine, which could be a bonus or drawback depending on your preferences.
Lyre’s Dry London tasted best mixed with tonic water. The punchy bitterness got a little lost in soda water. Don’t miss these other non-alcoholic gins you should try.
Seedlip Grove 42
Seedlip is one of the most widely distributed nonalcoholic spirit brands. It’s the one you’re most likely to find behind the bar at your favorite restaurant. Just remember: Seedlip is not designed to be sipped straight.
Seedlip Grove 42 is the brand’s citrus product. The flavor tastes a bit like orange herbal tea, a bit like luxurious bath products smell. We loved that the mild flavor didn’t come across as trying too hard. Instead, Seedlip Grove 42 adds a complex brightness to juices, teas, and lemon tonic water.
Wilderton is a new brand that launched in November 2020. It will soon be available on Amazon, and I recommend snapping up a bottle of Lustre or Earthen. Which one you choose depends on your preferences. While I enjoy the lightness of Lustre, my partner preferred the warm, patchouli-infused Earthen spirit.
This one gets a little lost in soda water, but it’s an excellent spirit for enlivening ginger beer or hot coffee or tea. It’s also tasty sipped straight with a couple of dashes of bitters—though, again, the body is much flatter than alcohol.
Proteau Ludlow Red
Proteau nonalcoholic aperitifs are in a category of their own. Developed by John deBary, former bar director at Momofuku restaurants in New York City and author of Drink What You Want: The Subjective Guide to Making Objectively Delicious Cocktails, the tart flavor ensures extra-slow sipping. The beautiful bottles look like wine bottles, but the liquid within tastes more like a zippy, fruity switchel, a tart drink made from apple cider vinegar and ginger.
Ludlow Red offers a hefty helping of blackberry juice with a side of fig vinegar. You will feel the tang deep in your jawbone. Note that Ludlow Red should be served chilled. The cold temperature mellows the vinegar. The longer you let a bottle of Ludlow Red breathe, the smoother it will taste.
Seedlip Garden 108
Speaking of botanical aperitifs and spirits, Seedlip Garden 108 has a decidedly herbal aroma and flavor. This spirit is fresh and herbaceous. The aroma had notes of dill, while the taste was fresh-vegetable-garden-meets-citrus. I thought Seedlip Garden 108 brightened up beautifully with soda water and lemon. However, your local bartender probably has more complex suggestions for shaking up a refreshing cocktail on a hot summer day.
Lyre’s Dark Cane Spirit
If you’re a fan of dark, spiced rum, Lyre’s Dark Cane Spirit deserves a place on your bar cart. At 10 calories per ounce, this dark brown spirit is far more weight loss-friendly than most sweet spirits. The liquid has a strong butterscotch aroma and tastes of maple and vanilla. I found the flavor a little over-sweet, but you can temper this spirit with soda water or ginger beer.
Proteau Rivington Spritz
Proteau’s Rivington Spritz didn’t win me over, but that’s because I do not typically enjoy sparkling red spritzes. Perhaps I’m in the minority. Rivington Spritz includes strawberry, hibiscus, rhubarb, and Champagne vinegar. It could have easily erred on the side of sweetness. Instead, it balances the flavors of vinegar and fresh fruit. Drink this one chilled over a cup of ice to mellow the acid and highlight the startlingly complex flavor profile.
Ritual Whiskey Alternative
Ritual’s take on whiskey smells and tastes of liquid smoke. The mesquite is front and center, but the flavor somehow rounds out and mellows with each sip. This spirit also has a thicker viscosity than most zero-proof options, lending a hefty mouthfeel that isn’t precisely alcoholic but isn’t watery. Once the smoky flavor dissipates, you’ll find this sweet in the middle with a slightly spicy finish. It was not a pleasant spirit to drink straight. Still, at 10 calories per 1.5 ounces, it’s a reliable substitute mixed into an old-fashioned or bourbon smash. (Read a full review of Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey here.)