The Steady Rise of Zero-Proof Spirits | New Jersey Monthly

By | November 11, 2020

A new crop of spirits is making its way into liquor stores and cocktails. One fundamental thing distinguishes them: They’re zero proof.

As more people abstain from or reduce their consumption of alcohol—not just during Sober October or Dry January—the category of alcohol-free spirits keeps growing. The majority of brands, like Seedlip, Ritual, Kin Euphorics and Curious Elixirs, have launched in the last five years. According to a recent report from the International Wine and Spirits Record, nonalcoholic spirits are a category that will continue to gain pace.

“We’ve arrived at a time when consumers are increasingly more attuned to wellness, both in terms of sugar and calories, and also mental health,” says Julia Bainbridge, author of the new cocktail book, Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason (Ten Speed Press). 

While researching the book, Bainbridge drove across the country visiting bars and bartenders that were increasingly expanding their booze-free offerings. Many utilized nonalcoholic spirits to craft complex, zero-proof cocktails (pro tip: don’t call them mocktails). Some of Bainbridge’s favorites include Ghia, a botanical aperitif, and Gnista, which uses wormwood to achieve bitter notes.

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One method used to produce a nonalcoholic spirit involves distilling the botanicals individually, then re-distilling them to remove the alcohol, and finally, blending the alcohol-free distillates with water to create a balanced, intriguing and sophisticated beverage. That is how Seedlip makes their line of expressions: including Spice 94, flavored with allspice berries, cardamom, citrus peel and bark; and Garden 108, which uses English peas, hay, hops and other herbs. Each is best served as a base, topped with tonic water, club soda or ginger ale.

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Seedlip, first of the current crop, was launched by Ben Branson in London in 2015. Two years later, Seedlip was available stateside, including in New Jersey, where you can find bottles at Cambridge Wines in Morristown and CoolVines in Jersey City. Bartenders embraced the brand, says Branson, “because they recognized the real need for an adult option to offer nondrinkers. It’s just good hospitality to be able to offer someone the same level of attention, detail and overall experience.”

Drawing on his experience in the drinks industry, John deBary, Momofuku’s former bar director and author of Drink What You Want (Clarkson Potter), launched his own line of non-alcoholic aperitifs called Proteau. Focused on balancing bitter, floral and fruit notes, the drinks are made through infusing or steeping (like tea). The botanical and tart Rivington Spritz is flavored with hibiscus, chamomile flowers, rhubarb, gentian and strawberries. It can be sipped chilled on its own, or as an ingredient in a zero-proof cocktail. Above all, it’s intended to be consumed with food, such as a charcuterie board or even smoked ribs.

The zero-proof category is expanding quickly. “The quality of American spirits, beers and wines has improved over the past couple decades, and drinking standards will continue to be raised,” says Bainbridge. “For those who want to moderate, it’s never been better.”

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