As the nonalcoholic spirits category grows, so does an attention to the craft of spirit-free cocktails. And while some bartenders find freedom in building nonalcoholic recipes that are entirely removed from familiar templates, for others, replicating beloved classics, like the Negroni, represents an exciting challenge.
Constructing these zero-proof drinks can be as simple as swapping out the spirits for spirit-free alternatives. But in some cases, the cost, taste or texture of these nonalcoholic analogues makes them difficult to mix with, leading certain bartenders to create their own instead. Once the flavor is replicated, there are other considerations, too: matching the mouthfeel of an alcoholic drink, for example, or nailing the astringent “bite” that some spirits offer, both of which have become obsessive quests for bartenders across the country.
Whether your Dry January drinking plans include making a bespoke amaro or simply throwing together a built-in-a-glass spritz, to get you started, we’ve compiled bartender-backed recipes for 10 spirit-free takes on the classics.
A nonalcoholic take on the Negroni.
The Faux|groni from Brother Wolf in Knoxville, Tennessee, replaces each of the traditional trio of ingredients with an N/A option. Nonalcoholic vermouth, a gin proxy and lightly effervescent bitter Italian soda Sanbittèr come together, maintaining the equal-parts construction of the Italian classic.
At San Francisco’s Chezchez, Giffard’s Aperitif Syrup, which is made with bitter orange and gentian root, provides a Campari-like base that is combined with an N/A sparkling wine and bitter lemon tonic water for a spin on the Negroni Sbagliato.
It can be difficult to replicate the texture of a traditional spirit-forward cocktail, but a rich sweetener can help achieve the desired mouthfeel. At New York’s Barbuto, the N/A Old-Fashioned uses maple syrup, which harmonizes with the bourbon alternative at its base and imparts a satisfying texture to the resulting cocktail.
The spirit-free menu at the Swan Room at New York’s Nine Orchard has recently expanded to include new nonalcoholic takes on the classics, like a Sbagliato and an Amaretto Sour, as well as wholly original drinks. Included on this roster is the Champaxne Cocktail, which turns to nonalcoholic sparkling wine and a sugar cube infused with orange flower water to channel the same visual appeal of the celebratory original.
Alex Jump, formerly of Death & Co. Denver, pays careful attention to the texture of her N/A recipe, the Neon Moon, a zero-proof take on the fizz. Kefir whey and egg white add body to the cocktail, while a bright syrup of makrut lime leaf, lemongrass and shiso keeps the drink feeling light and refreshing, in typical fizz fashion.
At Garden Bar PHX, Kim Haasarud crafted an Averna-inspired “amaro” out of chicory, gentian root and Mexican Coke, among other ingredients; alongside cold-brew coffee and Demerara syrup, it serves as the base of the bar’s zero-proof take on the Espresso Martini. The bar also makes “Nopari,” a Campari alternative, that is used in aperitivo-style drinks.
An Espresso Martini featuring "noverna," a homemade amaro alternative.
To replicate the astringent “bite” of alcoholic spirits, Barbuto bar manager John Dillon incorporates Scrappy’s Bitters Firewater, a habanero chile tincture, into cocktails like his N/A Whiskey Sour. The inclusion of egg white gives the drink a fuller texture, while a brown sugar simple syrup imparts roundness and amplifies the flavor profile of Kentucky 74, a bourbon alternative.
Seedlip Garden 108, an herbal nonalcoholic spirit that commonly replaces gin, stars in the Southside riff at Maydan in Washington, D.C. A housemade fresh mint syrup ties the vegetal spirit and bright fresh lime juice all together, maintaining the key flavor characteristics of the shaken classic.
Habanero tincture is the key to giving this nonalcoholic drink its signature "burn."
Shrubs and vinegars often figure into nonalcoholic recipes to provide body and an acidic kick. In the Queen Garden Swizzle, Portland, Oregon’s Lydia McLuen turns to umeboshi plum vinegar, alongside Seedlip Garden and chilled mint tea, which lends a refreshing quality to this tropical swizzle.
At The Fox Bar in Nashville, Tennessee, the nonalcoholic take on the dirty Martini leans on an umami-forward brine that combines celery, rice wine vinegar, star anise and more. Pentire Adrift (a botanical, gin-like spirit), a dry vermouth alternative, housemade rosemary oil and the elaborate garnishes synonymous with Martini service make for a drink that echoes the complexity of any traditional dirty Martini.
Queen Garden Swizzle
A nonalcoholic Cobbler built on a base of Seedlip Garden.