What Sober-Curious Bartenders Drink—Plus 7 Nonalcoholic Recipes to Try

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Feeling sober curious? Skip the Shirley Temple and try these bartender-approved alcohol-free spirits, beers, and drink recipes.

What does it mean to be “sober curious”?

When you think of sobriety, you probably imagine someone who completely abstains from alcohol.

After all, the term is often linked with the road to recovery from alcohol abuse or dependence.

Being sober curious, on the other hand, involves reassessing your relationship with alcohol.

Maybe you’re curious how your body would feel after a monthlong break from booze. Perhaps you’ve decided to nix the nightly glass of wine and shift to occasional social drinking.

Sober curiosity marks an openness to new ways of drinking and socializing, whether through a Dry January, Sober October, or by cutting back on alcohol without giving it up.

The growing sober-curious movement

In the summer of 2020, Kerry Benson, RD, and Diana Licalzi, RD, authors of Mocktail Party: 75 Plant-Based, Non-Alcoholic Mocktail Recipes for Every Occasion and self-described “sober-curious dietitians” based in Philadelphia and Boston, respectively, decided to go alcohol free.

This experiment spurred a passion for at-home mixology without the hangover. The resulting sober-curious journey sparked an alcohol-free online community and two recipe collections.

“Short-term challenges like Dry January give individuals an opportunity to question their relationship with alcohol in a way that is very approachable,” says Benson. “Data suggests that people who participate in these challenges may reduce their alcohol intake long term.”

And while some people found themselves reaching for the nearest bottle during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, others used the time as a way to explore their sober curiosity.

“The pandemic has also spurred a lot of people to question their drinking habits—ourselves included. We definitely believe that the sober-curious movement is more than a fad or a trend—it is here to stay,” Licalzi says.

Reasons to reduce alcohol intake

There are reasons to cut alcohol from your life entirely—if you have an addiction, for instance. But there are also good motivations for temporarily avoiding booze:

Benson and Licalz list several other health-related arguments for drinking less alcohol:

Finding sophisticated options for sober-curious people

A quick internet search will reward you with dozens of Shirley Temple-like mocktails: syrupy sweet, colorful, and often fizzy.

Most sober-curious adults want something that feels more sophisticated.

So I asked some experts to divulge their favorite nonalcoholic beverages. I tapped Benson and Licalzi; Chris Marshall, founder of the original Sans Bar, an alcohol-free bar in Austin; and Annie O’Donoghue, head mixologist at Sans Bar STL in Saint Louis.

After a day of zero-proof cocktail creations and mixing mocktails for strangers, what do they still want to drink?

Here are the zero-proof products and mocktail recipes they reach for again and again.

What do sober and sober-curious bartenders drink?

Here’s a peek at the bottles and cans our bartenders and home mixologists keep stocked for themselves. (However, keep in mind that drinks that mimic the look, smell, or taste of alcohol-containing drinks may not be safe or appropriate for someone in recovery from an alcohol abuse disorder.)

Nonalcoholic spirits

  • Wilderton Earthen. Marshall calls this spicy, lapsang souchong tea-infused spirit “the most imaginative liquid I’ve ever encountered,” while O’Donoghue praises its distinct, one-of-a-kind flavor.

  • Seedlip Spice 94. “[This has] its own unique botanical flavor that was made for zero-proof cocktails. I mean, why should [alcoholic] cocktails have all the fun?” says O’Donoghue.

  • Amethyst Lemon Cucumber Serrano. Marshall puts Amethyst spirits in an elevated “third wave” category.

Nonalcoholic wine

Nonalcoholic beer

According to our sober-curious experts, these beers are tops when it comes to nonalcoholic brews.

Premixed drink

Next up? The experts’ seven go-to zero-proof cocktail recipes.

Organic Ginger Ale Sodabhofack2/Getty Images

Ginger Spice

Makes 1 serving.

This recipe from O’Donoghue uses one of her go-to spirits: Wilderton Earthen.

Ingredients:

1-inch piece of ginger, sliced and peeled

Lime peel

2 large ice cubes or spheres

​1½ oz. Wilderton Earthen

½ oz. Heirloom Bottling Co. Ginger Beer Mule Mix Syrup

5 oz. Dry Botanical Bitters & Soda (Bright/Herbal flavor)

Instructions:

  1. In a rocks glass (short, wide tumbler often used for an old fashioned), place the fresh ginger and lime peel.
  2. Add one large ice cube or sphere and stir with a bar spoon for 10 seconds to allow the ginger and lime essential oils to distribute.
  3. Empty the glass of ice and herbs, then add a fresh cube or sphere.
  4. Add Wilderton Earthen and Ginger Beer Mule Mix Syrup.
  5. Stir and top with Dry Botanicals Bitters & Soda.
  6. Garnish with a lime peel.

resting booch face mocktailCourtesy Meredith Marquardt/Annie O'Donoghue

Resting Booch Face

Makes 2 servings.

O’Donoghue’s Resting Booch Face is the perfect poolside summer drink. For video instructions with slightly different citrus ingredients, watch her Instagram demonstration.

Ingredients:

Salt (to taste)

Sugar (to taste)

Chili powder (to taste)

1 lime, sliced

Crushed ice

1 orange, sliced

½ grapefruit, sliced

2 oz. orange juice

2 oz. lime juice

6 oz. KomBlu ginger kombucha (Remedy’s Kombucha is similar, if KomBlu is unavailable in your area)

2 oz. ginger beer

Instructions:

  1. Mix the salt, sugar, and chili powder on a small plate.
  2. Wet the rim of each glass with a lime wedge, then dip the rim into the mixture on the plate.
  3. Fill each glass partially with crushed ice.
  4. Add slices of lime, orange, and grapefruit.
  5. Pour in the orange and lime juices. Add the kombucha, then stir.
  6. Top with ginger beer.
  7. Stir gently with a bar spoon.

mocktail muleCourtesy Kerry Benson, MS, RD/Diana Licalzi, MS, RD

Mocktail Mule

Makes 4 servings.

Like the mocktail above, this Benson and Licalzi creation also includes probiotic-packed kombucha.

Ingredients:

2⅔ cups ginger kombucha

¼ cup lime juice

2 cups plain seltzer water

Ice

Lime wedges (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Combine the first three ingredients in a pitcher and stir.
  2. Fill four copper mugs with ice.
  3. Divide the mixture among the mugs.
  4. Garnish with lime wedges.

Cold Refreshing Classic Mint Julepbhofack2/Getty Images

Nonalcoholic Mint Julep

Makes 1 serving.

One of Marshall’s favorite drinks is a classic mint julep made with nonalcoholic whiskey from Spiritless.

Ingredients:

6 mint sprigs

½ oz. simple syrup

Crushed ice

2½ oz. Spiritless Kentucky 74

Powdered sugar (to taste)

Instructions:

  1. Gently muddle three to four mint sprigs with simple syrup in a julep cup.
  2. After muddling, rub the mint around the cup walls, then remove.
  3. Fill the cup halfway with crushed ice.
  4. Add Spiritless Kentucky 74.
  5. Fill to the top with crushed ice.
  6. Garnish with extra mint sprigs and a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

Homemade Espresso Martini CocktailRimma_Bondarenko/Getty Images

Caffeino Martino

Makes 1 serving.

Another O’Donoghue classic, this zero-proof martini includes a jolt of caffeine.

Ingredients:

4 oz cold brew concentrate

1 oz. Seedlip Spice 94

¾ oz. simple syrup

Coffee beans for garnish

Instructions:

  1. Add everything but the coffee beans to a mixing glass or cocktail shaker.
  2. Shake vigorously (the more you shake, the better the foam will be).
  3. Strain into a chilled martini glass.
  4. Top with two coffee beans.

Matcha Mock-jitoCourtesy Kerry Benson, MS, RD/Diana Licalzi, MS, RD

Matcha Mock-jito

Makes 2 servings.

One of Benson’s and Licalzi’s favorite zero-proof cocktails, this mojito offers antioxidants from matcha tea and electrolytes from coconut water.

Ingredients:

20 mint leaves, plus extra for garnish

1 teaspoon agave nectar

1 cup coconut water

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon matcha powder

Ice

1 cup seltzer

Instructions:

  1. Muddle the mint leaves with agave nectar in the bottom of a cocktail shaker.
  2. Add the coconut water, lime juice, matcha powder, and ice.
  3. Shake vigorously.
  4. Fill two highball glasses with ice.
  5. Strain the shaken mixture into the glasses.
  6. Top with seltzer (½ cup per serving) and stir.
  7. Garnish with mint sprigs.

Piña Col-nadaCourtesy Kerry Benson, MS, RD/Diana Licalzi, MS, RD

Piña Col-nada

Makes 4 servings.

This dietician-crafted mocktail gets its creamy texture from low-calorie cauliflower.

Ingredients:

4 cups frozen pineapple

1 cup frozen cauliflower or cauliflower rice

2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (from a carton)

½ cup canned coconut milk

A couple of squeezes of fresh lime juice

Pineapple slices, orange slices, or maraschino cherries for garnish

Instructions:

  1. Combine all drink ingredients (but not garnish) in a blender.
  2. Blend on high until well combined.
  3. Divide the mixture among four margarita or hurricane glasses.
  4. Garnish with fresh fruit.

Sources

Leandra Beabout
Leandra is an Indiana-based freelance journalist and content writer with a background in education. She has written for a variety of publications, including CNN, Lonely Planet, Greatist, and Fodor's Travel.