If you were old enough to order a beer in the early ’90s, you might remember O’Doul’s or Kaliber as the lonely nonalcoholic options behind the bar. You might also remember that neither was particularly memorable in the flavor department. To order a nonalcoholic cocktail was considered odd, unless you were 8 years old and wanted a Shirley Temple.
A generation-plus later, going dry no longer means going without. The booze-free desert of my youth has morphed into a wildly interesting metropolis with more choices than ever before. The latest renditions of nonalcoholic beer actually taste like beer (and good beer at that), as I discovered this fall at the Natural Products Expo East in Philadelphia. I learned about Ritual Zero Proof, a new line of gin, rum, tequila and whiskey — sans alcohol; the Chicago-based company is poised to change the way we think about cocktails because it is that good at replicating (and maybe even replacing) the real thing.
These recent finds have this sober-curious, moderate drinker in deep dive mode, similar to a long ago “aha!” moment after my first bite of a Field Roast plant-based frankfurter. If the facsimile is delicious first, why not?
Since walking the convention floor a few months ago, I have built my own spirits-free bar at home, starting with the names that I scribbled (and sampled) at the expo. What follows are my tasting notes and what I’ve learned along the way. We have thrown a few recipes into the mix no matter what kind of bar you keep. P.S. The ginger simple syrup also works beautifully with a mugful of lemon tea.
Please note that as part of an emerging industry, many of these products are still not widely available in grocery stores. We have compiled a list of Lancaster businesses carrying some of these nonalcoholic brands and online ordering details for the others. As more of us experiment with Dry January and redefine our relationship with alcohol, it’s my hope that these products find their way onto the shelves of Pennsylvania Fine Wines & Good Spirits stores.
Ritual Zero Proof Alternatives:
Gin, rum, tequila, whiskey.
As much as I love the creativity of fashioning craft cocktails, mixed drinks typically make me sleepy. That I might be able to play with mixers but without the lethargy is very appealing.
My trio of 750 milliliter bottles, ordered directly through the company’s website, included rum, tequila and whiskey, spirits that I already enjoy in alcoholic format. After several rounds of mixing and experimenting, I was especially taken with the tequila and rum alternatives (and less so with the whiskey, which I found a tad too smoky).
— My favorite combinations so far: The Ritual margarita; tequila and soda (especially good with the extra effervescent Topo Chico); a tequila (or whiskey) sour, with homemade sour mix (Recipes on Page E4).
— I made a ginger-infused simple syrup and loved the results no matter what I added.
— The low-calorie count (10 calories per 1.5 ounces) is an unexpected bonus.
— As a self-described spirits sipper, I suggest playing to Ritual’s strengths as a cocktail mixer. I liked it less when mixed with eggnog or apple cider, which tend to mask the taste of alcohol anyway.
Founded by a guy who had to give up alcohol after a Crohn’s disease diagnosis, this Calgary, Alberta-based company is brewing six different styles of nonalcoholic beer.
Because I really enjoyed sampling the Partake IPA at the expo, I ordered 24 cans from its website. I am curious about its Dark/Stout and test its mettle in marinades and in my stout gingerbread.
— “It smells right,” said my IPA-loving husband. “There’s a lot that’s dead on — the bouquet, the aftertaste, the mouthfeel on the tongue.” A local friend echoed his sentiments: “There’s a hoppy sharpness/bitterness along the tongue,” he said. “But there’s still some malt, too.” For this craft beer newbie, who is merely looking for delicious, this beer gets a thumbs up.
— It’s low in calories. The IPA is 10 calories per 12-ounce can (calorie counts vary slightly, depending on style).
— It’s less widely available than other NA craft beers, including Athletic, Brew Dog and Grüvi, but I am hopeful that will change next year.
Acid League wine “proxies”
Due to a weather-related shipping delay, I have yet to receive my box of wine “proxies” from this Toronto-based startup. Just a year old, Acid League launched with a line of seasonally inspired, unfiltered “living” vinegars, which has informed its recent foray into wine facsimiles.
Combining juice (sometimes but not always including grapes), tea and bitters, Acid League’s proxies are designed to mimic the mouthfeel and texture of drinking wine but challenge a wine lover’s notion of what wine tastes like. I’m excited to taste “Fruitcake,” which blends Riesling grapes, goji berries and an infusion of cascara, made from dried husks of coffee berries. I will share my tasting notes as soon as they are available.
ALL DAY MARGARITA
From Ritual Zero Proof.
Makes 1 serving.
- 2 ounces Ritual Tequila Alternative
- 1 ounce orange juice
- 1 ounce fresh lime juice
- 1/2 ounce simple syrup
- Lime slice or wedge
- Salt, for rimming the glass
1. Combine all the ingredients into a shaker and add ice.
2. Shake thoroughly and pour through a strainer into a cocktail glass.
HOMEMADE SOUR MIX
Adapted from Ritual Zero Proof.
Makes 5 to 6 servings.
- 1/2 cup simple syrup
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1. Place all the ingredients in a shaker or jar fitted with a lid and shake well to combine. Keeps well in the refrigerator for about one week.
RITUAL TEQUILA OR WHISKEY SOUR
I like this cocktail without the traditional egg white. Add it if you prefer.
- 2 ounces Ritual Tequila or Whiskey
- 2 ounces sour mix
- 1 egg white (optional)
1. Place all the ingredients in a shaker without ice and shake well.
2. Pour over ice into a rocks glass.
HOMEMADE GINGER SIMPLE SYRUP
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sliced fresh ginger
1. Place all the ingredients in a medium pot and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
2. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and let cool. Keeps well in the refrigerator for a few weeks. Really good with the Ritual rum or tequila.