For a long time, sober folks knew the drill when it came to toasting a new flame, a lifelong love or anything else, for that matter: Pour a glass of a certain famous sparkling, sweet-ish apple cider. That old standby "has a time and a place," said drinks expert and longtime restaurant pro John deBary. "But, you know, let's do a little better."
You may be surprised to hear you actually can do better if you're abstaining from alcohol this year (or every year). Just in the past few years, the number of nonalcoholic, or "zero-proof," beverage brands has skyrocketed, and many people, sober or not, are lining up to try them.
Taste and quality are keeping pace, thanks to drinks maestros like deBary, a former bar director at the Momofuku restaurant group who later launched his own nonalcoholic drink brand, Proteau. Before the brand's discontinuation, sober customers emailed him, saying, "I was able to feel included in these rituals that are very normal for a lot of people that can be very isolating for people who are not drinking."
Derek Brown is another leader in high-quality nonalcoholic drinks, a former award-winning bar owner who published Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No- and Low-Alcohol Cocktails in 2022. Not long ago, the choices were, "'We have a Shirley Temple or Coca-Cola or lemonade,' and you feel like a child when you're an adult human and you want an adult, sophisticated drink," said Brown, who now abstains from alcohol. "That time is over. It's a new era."
Brown and deBary shared some favorite recipes for nonalcoholic drinks they've created that anyone can make at home. Some are perfect for an elegant Valentine's aperitif, others for a cozy winter afternoon. All use alcohol-free products (0.0% alcohol), except where noted; one recipe contains an optional ingredient considered "non-alcoholic" by the FDA, with less than 0.5% alcohol by volume.
If you feel that a nonalcoholic beverage will remind you of alcohol in a way that triggers you or could endanger your sobriety, you should avoid these.
But for those who enjoy the craft of mixing drinks and choose to avoid alcohol, making and serving concoctions like these can be "like a form of self-expression that was not accessible," said deBary.
Nonalcoholic Champagne Cocktail
Coat a sugar cube with bitters and add to a glass. Pour chilled nonalcoholic sparkler over cube and garnish with lemon peel.
Twelfth Night Cider
- 1 gallon unfiltered apple cider
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 6 whole cloves
- 6 inches fresh ginger, sliced
- 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- 1 whole peel of lemon
- 4 baked Honeycrisp apples*
- 1.5 cups Spiritless Kentucky 74 (optional; contains less than 0.5% alcohol by volume)
Tie spices in cheesecloth and add to liquid. Boil ingredients for 15 minutes and strain. Add baked apples to cider. Ladle and serve hot in a mug with a cinnamon stick.
*For the apples: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Add apple cider to the bottom of the baking dish along with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Cut holes in the apple core and add cinnamon stick. Bake for 30–45 minutes, depending on apple size, and periodically baste with liquid.
Original recipes © Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No- and Low-Alcohol Cocktails with 60 Recipes, by Derek Brown, Rizzoli New York, 2022. Images © Nole Garey.
Recipes by John deBary, drinks resident at Food52:
Serves 1. Multiply all ingredients by 5 to make a pitcher for a group.
- 4 ounces nonalcoholic sparkler, such as Thomson & Scott "Noughty" (or seltzer, in a pinch)
- 1 ounce Grapefruit, Jasmine & Green Tea Syrup (below)
- 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
Grapefruit, Jasmine & Green Tea Syrup
- 2 medium grapefruits
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 green tea bag
- 1 "blooming" jasmine tea ball
- 1 cup chilled filtered water
- Build in a stemware glass or large cocktail coupe. Add the nonalcoholic sparkler first, then the remaining ingredients. Swirl the drink gently to combine.
Grapefruit, Jasmine & Green Tea Syrup
- Wash the grapefruits thoroughly with soap, water and a scrubby sponge. Towel dry. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the grapefruit zest into strips. Combine the peels and sugar in a resealable plastic or silicone bag. Compress the air out and let sit for 12 to 16 hours at room temperature, massaging the mixture every few hours to extract the oils from the peels. You'll know it’s ready when the peels are translucent and the sugar is gooey.
- Meanwhile, combine the tea, jasmine ball and water in a small container, and let sit for 12 hours in the refrigerator. After 12 hours remove the solids and let the infusion reach room temperature.
- Stir together the tea infusion and the grapefruit sugar mixture, then strain through a fine-mesh filter or sieve. This syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or 4 weeks if frozen.
Watch deBary prepare this recipe, in this handy video! And for more information about it, read his notes at Food52.
Lower East Side Glögg
Serves 4 to 5
- 1 (750 milliliter) bottle Proteau Ludlow Red (0.0% alcohol; still available at some retailers, or try an alcohol-free red for a nonalcoholic glögg recipe in general)
- 1 cup cold brew coffee (store-bought or homemade)
- 2 small oranges, zested
- 1 hachiya or fuyu persimmon, chopped into small chunks
- 1 4-inch piece of Ceylon cinnamon, crushed
- 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
- 12 juniper berries
- 1/2 whole nutmeg seed, finely grated
- 1/2 teaspoon non-alcoholic vanilla flavoring
- 1/4 cup Grade B maple syrup
- Raisins and whole almonds, for garnish
- In a medium pan on the lowest possible heat, combine all ingredients except for raisins and almonds. Heat mixture until steaming, stirring frequently to prevent it from boiling. Cover and turn off heat. Let steep for 60 to 90 minutes. Once cool, strain through a gold coffee filter and discard solids.
- To serve, add to a clean pan and bring back up to steaming, careful to not let it boil. Once warm, ladle into a heatproof mug with a handful of raisins and almonds to top off.
- Make-ahead notes: You can make this drink up to two days in advance. After straining, transfer to a container and keep in the refrigerator, and reheat as needed.
Watch deBary prepare this recipe! And for more information about it, read his notes at Food52.
Photo credit: Aaron Robin.