Regardless of your relationship with booze, nonalcoholic cocktails deserve your attention. For far too long softer drinks have had to languish in hard liquor’s oversized shadow, as if liquids are incapable of razzmatazz before 5 p.m. Why shouldn’t we have access to fancy drinks whenever we want? Doesn’t lunch deserve a classy, workday-appropriate beverage?
A fine libation can make life’s mundane moments feel like something special. That’s where canned and bottled nonalcoholic cocktails come in. They make it easy for us to taste the high life while we stand in line at the post office, or sit in traffic while driving the kids home from school. We can live la dolce vita at the beach without worrying about having a few too many in the sweltering summer heat. Maybe spend an afternoon sprawled across a picnic blanket, drinking and eating and curling our bare toes in grass until the fireflies come out, and waking up with neither a hangover nor a shred of regret.
For sober people such as myself, these premade, nonalcoholic cocktails allow us to enjoy social drinking without feeling deprived, or worse, like outcasts. Getting sober has a way of stripping you of little moments, like popping over to a neighbor’s porch for a drink or two after the children go to bed. I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing my own “adult” drinks with me to parties and barbecues because it gives me something to enjoy while helping me fit in. The few hosts that have greeted me with a cooler full of such beverages have won my heart forever.
Though the world of soft drinks is vast, the world of canned nonalcoholic cocktails can essentially be broken down into two different genres: Those trying to replicate traditionally alcoholic cocktails, and those that exist entirely as their own thing.
Some are built on a foundation of nonalcoholic spirits; others are more like craft cocktails, relying on botanicals and adaptogens to create unusual-yet-thrilling flavors; or blending of fruits, bitters and everything else good about a cocktail besides booze. They all have a place at my table.
Here are my favorites listed by their creators.
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Ernest Hemingway famously loved daiquiris but never touched them when he wrote. The canned version from nonalcoholic-spirits brand Ish is made with zero-proof spiced rum, delivering flavor comparable to the real thing while keeping the brain sharp enough for writing the great American novel. $19.96 for four cans.
An ice-cold gin and tonic is a lovely drink to enjoy on the stoop, the front porch or anywhere else you can take in a sunset. Ish makes a nonalcoholic gin we love for easy mixed cocktails, so it’s not surprising they make a fantastic canned G&T without a single drop of alcohol. $19.96 for four cans.
Roasted and pressed piñas from Mexican blue Weber agave form the base of tasty nonalcoholic margarita and Paloma alternatives. From there, a laundry list of bitters, herbs, botanicals, roots and adaptogens are added to create something that’s best enjoyed slowly and thoughtfully — preferably seaside. $40 for eight cans.
Relying on bitter adaptogens and guayusa to balance sugary tropical flavors, Recess’s spirit-free creates classic poolside cocktails (margarita, Paloma, mojito and mule) that you can tuck into the ice in your cooler. $29.99 for eight cans.
When it comes to nonalcoholic whiskey, Spiritless 74 is about as good as it gets. It’s no surprise, then, that the innovative reverse distillery makes canned “whiskey” cocktails, such as an old fashioned or whiskey sour, that taste like they’re straight from an old-man bar, and that is meant as the highest of compliments. $47.99 for 12 cans.
The Phony Negroni and Amaro Falso from this upstart Brooklyn brand are simply phenomenal; an effervescent magic act that might fool you into thinking they’re the real thing. $59.99 for 12 cans.
Their own thing
There are eight different nonalcoholic cocktails in the Curious Elixirs collection, and each one creates a unique experience. The No. 3 tastes like blue skies feel, with notes of alpine flowers and juniper mingling with cucumber, lemon and white grape. No. 7 is the thing to grab for a champagne brunch without the champagne cocktail — lightly bubbly with hints of elderflower, lavender and green tea. $40 for eight cocktails.
For Bitter For Worse
A fizzy bottle of Eva’s Spritz belongs on every sober brunch table, with earthy beet powder and bitter gentian root balancing out the pep and zing of rhubarb juice and sweet orange peel. A bottle of the Saskatoon is more suited to after-dinner drinking, with the gravitas of deeply red wine juicy with dark berries. $28 a bottle, or $22 for four cans.
The Fiore Firzzante is a stunner of bitter effervescence full of flavorful noise and wonderment, straddling the line somewhere between a bubbly aperitif and a sparkling mulled wine. It deserves to be enjoyed alongside a mountain of fine cheeses and a crusty baguette. $36 for six cans.
This drink-maker sets a gold standard for the sober set with its signature botanical aperitif, which stands in for Campari or aperol behind the nonalcoholic bar. Its canned Le Spritz pack makes a lightly bubbly, pleasantly bitter Ghia-and-soda portable, with a gentle sweetness from riesling grapes and yuzu juice. $60 for 12 cans.