I’m a big advocate for having zero-proof cocktail options on hand for any occasion, and the holidays are no exception. (For those not familiar with the term, ‘zero-proof cocktails’ are the same as mocktails, it just sounds better).
When it comes to our guests, we don’t always know where someone’s coming from – perhaps they’re struggling with alcohol issues and can use the unspoken encouragement of having zero-proof options available, or they may have a big event the next day and simply don’t feel like drinking.
I recently did a podcast on this very topic, joined by Melanie Warner Spencer, editor of five regional magazine publications including Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes, and author of an information-packed lifestyle blog, Bon Vivant, on MyNewOrleans.com.
Melanie brings the party wherever she goes – in spite of, some may say, the fact that she’s in the midst of a personal six-month alcohol-free challenge. Spirited and full of fun, you would never realize that she didn’t have a traditional cocktail in hand at every social event.
Your Zero-Proof Toolkit
Here’s a summary of our top recommendations for stuff that you probably already have on hand that can make booze-free sipping easier than ever.
Kombucha. Lightly carbonated and rich in probiotics, kombucha alone can be a cocktail replacer, or use it as a mixer in zero-proof cocktails to add a pop of bubbly.
Herbal tea. From fruity to spicy to floral, it’s an easy (and calorie-free, sugar-free) way to add flavor to zero-proof drinks.
Flavored sparkling water. The brands are limitless, as are the flavors. Mix and match your favorites, and don’t be afraid to add a splash of kombucha or a few drops of bitters.
Fresh fruits, veggies, herbs. Muddled, infused into tea or simple syrup, or just used for garnish, produce is an easy way to add that extra something.
Infused simple syrups. Melanie experiments with a variety of flavors infused into simple syrups – and notes that a plant-based no-calorie sweetener like Swerve can be used to keep added sugars in check. Just use water and sweetener in a one-to-one ratio, stir to dissolve and bring to a simmer. Add a few handfuls of fresh herbs (rosemary and mint are two of Melanie’s go-to herbs) or a spice like chopped ginger. Simmer to infuse, then pour into a mason jar to store. “I like to leave the herbs in, it looks so pretty,” says Melanie. “It also makes a lovely little gift for the holidays or a hostess gift.”
Bitters. If you haven’t experimented with bitters, you’re in for a treat – they’re one of the key ingredients – besides alcohol – that makes a cocktail taste like a cocktail. Melanie describes bitters as “the distilled-down concentrate of botanicals and essences,” making them an excellent way to impart flavor into any drink. Another tip from Melanie: She likes to keep a little bottle tucked into her bag, so she’ll have bitters on hand wherever she winds up.
Upgrade Your Zero-Proof Toolkit
Zero-proof spirits, wine and beers have surged in popularity, thanks in part to the trend of alcohol-free challenges and lifestyles. Each use different methods of distilling to end up with a zero-proof product, and all have incredible recipes on their websites and social media accounts.
They vary widely in taste, quality and price, however, so – lucky us – Melanie has done much of the work for us, sampling and experimenting with many of these newer brands.
Most of these are available online only – but ask your local wine or liquor store to stock them – it will also help local stores to realize that there’s actually a market for alcohol-free options.
Ritual Zero Proof Spirits. This is one of Melanie’s favorite brands, including her favorite gin alternative. “I drink it as a part of zero-proof cocktail concoction, but I also love to sip it neat or on the rocks. It has a bit of a bite, and you can really smell and taste the botanicals. There’s also a bit of heat to it, mimicking the sensation of heat that you find in typical alcohol-containing spirits.”
Drink Monday. This is another of Melanie’s favorite brands, with the added bonus that the bottles are just stunning. Their alt gin, she notes, is a bit more mellow than Ritual’s, if that’s more of what you’re looking for.
Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Spirits. “They’ve just gone crazy with their line; it keeps winning all sorts of awards! They have a huge range of alternative spirits, from gin to vodka to spiced rum, triple sec or even absinthe,” says Melanie.
Seedlip Non-Alcoholic Drinks. Unlike the other three brands, Seedlip doesn’t try to mimic any type of spirit; each of their zero-proof spirits has its own unique flavor profile.
Zero proof wine. This is a tough one. Most are just too sugary sweet, more like grape or apple juice than vino. One that Melanie has discovered – and loves – is Vin Zero by Hillstreet Beverage Company. Her top recs are their Sparkling Brut Rosé and their Chardonnay (which is more like a light pinot grigio, she notes). The prices are moderate as well, at $11 to $13 per bottle.
Two other brands that are getting a lot of press – and accolades that they taste “just like the real thing” are Sapiens and Surely. Melanie doesn’t have a taste-test review for these specifically just yet (I haven’t tried them, either); and the price point is a bit higher. Stay tuned for our take on these in the months to come.
Zero proof beers. There are a lot of non-alcoholic beers, though many do still contain low levels of alcohol. Heineken’s 0.0 beer with truly zero alcohol gets the thumbs up from Melanie, along with a few other craft brewers with nonalcoholic beers that she really likes: Athletic Brewing Co., Hairless Dog Brewing Co., and Wellbeing Brewing Co.
Festive Zero-Proof Cocktail Recipes
Melanie has included a variety of zero-proof drinks on her blog, including her Mellow Michelada, Melanie’s Mighty Tasty Mexican Margarita and her Zero Proof French 75, and here’s a roundup of a few of my other current faves:
LOVE Pink Drink | by Big Easy Bucha
Makes 1 serving
- 4 ounces Big Easy Bucha’s Bayou Berry Kombucha
- 2 drops El Guapo Love Potion No. 9 Bitters
- Fresh herbs or edible flowers for garnish
Serve over ice in a rocks glass.
Per Serving: 17 calories, 4.5 grams carbs, 1.5 grams sugar
Avocado-Cilantro Mockgarita | The Eat Fit Cookbook
Makes 1 serving
5 cilantro leaves
1/4 lime, juiced
1/4 lemon juiced
1 ounce fresh orange juice
1 ounce apple juice
Muddle avocado and cilantro in bottom of glass. Squeeze in lemon and lime. Add ice, orange juice and apple juice. Shake well. Serve over ice.
Per serving: 105 calories, 10 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams sugar
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a registered dietitian + nutrition journalist in New Orleans, and founder of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit restaurant initiative. Tune in to her podcast, FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @MollyKimballRD. See more of Molly’s articles + TV segments at www.mollykimball.com.