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Sophie Wood hasn’t had a sip of alcohol since Sept. 9, 2021. And no, she didn’t have a “problem” with alcohol, as most people assume when she turns down a cocktail.
The twentysomething Instagram personality and creative strategist had never been a huge drinker — and when she did imbibe, only one or two drinks left her feeling sick the next day. On top of that, Wood also noticed that drinking made her anxiety worse. So she decided to stop for a bit and quickly realized she’d completely lost the urge.
Though popular culture would likely stigmatize Wood’s choice or imply she lives a boring life lacking fun or social activity, she’s far from alone in making this change.
According to a 2019 survey conducted by IWSR, a drinks market analysis group, 52% of US customers reported that they were trying to reduce their alcohol intake. Depending on the state, about 9% to 21% of people in the US don’t drink at all, according to Alcohol.org.
“There are lots of reasons why people decide to not drink anymore,” said Sally Adams, an associate professor in psychology at the University of Birmingham. Of course, one big reason to stop drinking is an alcohol use disorder, or what’s commonly known as alcoholism. But there are many other reasons why drinking can be problematic. “To have a problem with alcohol doesn't mean you're pouring whiskey on your cornflakes, as it were,” she said.
Adams’ research focuses on hangovers, alcohol harm reduction, and sobriety. She said that an increasing number of people want to quit or cut down on drinking simply to improve their health — and she happens to be one of them.
Alcohol has a long and well-studied impact on the body; it can increase anxiety, interrupt sleep, raise cancer risk (particularly breast cancer), damage the liver, and affect the brain, especially if you drink to excess.
Small amounts supposedly have heart health benefits (even that’s debatable), but if you exceed the recommended amount — which is typically one drink per day for women and two drinks a day for men — your heart attack risk goes up.
“The thing about alcohol that we forget sometimes is that it is a drug,” Adams said. Alcohol is psychoactive, which means that it affects the central nervous system. “It's capable of changing the way that we think, feel, behave, and that's one of the reasons I think alcohol is so widely used,” she said.
Talking about moderation is more acceptable
Before you come at us, we’re not trying to convince anyone to stop drinking! Alcohol, of course, is safe for many people if they don’t consume too much.
However, drinking alcohol has become so ingrained and normalized in day-to-day life that choosing not to drink is often frowned upon. Similar to Wood, I have never been a big drinker. After just a few drinks, I often feel nauseous, become bloated, experience tension headaches, or find myself strangely congested. Then comes the anxiety over the shaming I’ll have to endure if I choose to stop without a legitimate excuse. (Preferring to avoid feeling awful has not been deemed legitimate in my experience.)
If anything, alcohol inhibits my fun, yet I’m labeled as “no fun” if I abstain. That seems to be changing on a larger scale, albeit slowly.
“I think we are on the tail end of decades of marketing dollars making us feel like alcohol is the life of the party and the default is drinking, and so I think it's gonna take a little bit of time to fully break down these stigmas,” said Mélanie Masarin, founder of nonalcoholic aperitif Ghia.
Adams agrees that there’s huge change on the horizon. “There are so many groups of people who are sober or sober curious. There's a lot of great “quit lit,” as it's called. There are great books like The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober and The Sober Girl Society Handbook." The latter, by Millie Gooch, has also become an online community that focuses on the idea that being sober can be fun.
While participation in Dry January and Sober October has blown up in recent years, the trend also appears to be extending beyond those months.
The market is catering to nondrinkers
More and more companies are popping up to fill that nonalcoholic adult beverage gap.
Sure, some people feel comfortable simply saying no to booze and choosing water. But if some tasty, healthier-than-booze drinks can make the transition a little easier for others, why not make those available?
“There’s a demand for it,” Adams said. “I think there is a generation coming through who really care about their health and well-being, and they’re choosing not to drink or to drink in moderation.”
A study by Red Brick Road, a London-based creative agency, found that 49% of Gen Z’ers say their online image is always at the back of their mind when they go out socializing and drinking, while 76% feel it is important to be in control of all aspects of their life at all times. Another study by the equity research division at European bank Berenberg in 2018 found that respondents in their teens and early 20s were drinking over 20% less per capita than millennials did at the same age, and 64% of Gen Z respondents said that they expected to drink alcohol less frequently than older generations.
Based on answers from these survey respondents, it seems like a combination of increased concern for health and well-being along with the risk of being captured uninhibited on camera (and posted to Instagram) may play a role in deciding to forgo alcohol. However, that doesn’t mean people don’t want something chic and Instagrammable to drink.
In 2020, the IWSR reported a 30% increase in US sales for no- or low-alcohol content drinks, which made up about 3% of the market overall that year. Considering all of these studies and market trends, those sales are only expected to continue increasing.
Ghia is one of many alcohol-free spirits that has hit the market with the intention of offering an alternative beverage that’s not a soft drink or juice-based mocktail with tons of sugar.
“A lot of people assume that Ghia is for people who don’t drink, but 80% to 85% of our customer base is actually people who identify as drinkers and are just seeking moderation,” Masarin said.
Nick Bodkins, who cofounded Boisson, a retail store for nonalcoholic spirits, agrees.
“There’s this enormous assumption that everyone's going to drink unless you’re an alcoholic and you can’t,” Bodkins said. “There are plenty of people that come in like that [who have given up alcohol completely], but for most people it’s a night off or a drink off or a week off for whatever reason. It’s far more like a journey towards health and wellness.”
Bodkins believes this has a lot to do with the fact that nonalcoholic beverages have ingredient transparency, or a label that discloses the contents and nutritional information, which is something that many liquors lack.
Some, like Ghia and Ritual, are exclusively taste-based, while others like Kin Euphorics and Three Spirit claim to be slightly mind-altering in a beneficial way. Read the label; many of these drinks contain caffeine, vitamins, herbs, or other ingredients intended to hop you up or calm you down, which may not be recommended if you're pregnant or on certain medications.
When Marcus Sakey first launched Ritual Zero Proof, he said the nonalcoholic liquor company initially got trolled by people who could not understand why someone would create a zero proof liquor.
“The answer is easy — because you're dieting or driving or training or feeding a baby or it’s Tuesday night or you've already had two. I mean, I can go on all day. And the thing is, those arguments are resonating in the culture. People understand very quickly once they realize that we’re not anti anything. We’re just giving you other options.”
Sakey likened the growing market for alcohol alternatives to that of meat and dairy alternatives. “There was a recent study that showed that 95% of people buying meat and dairy alternatives aren’t vegetarian or vegan,” he said. “They’re buying them just because they want balance. That’s exactly where we are. Many of our customers also enjoy alcohol; they just want another option.”
If you’re one of those people who would like another option beyond Dry January, these are some of the best nonalcoholic beverages you can buy, according to experts in the field and some of my own personal taste testing. Keep in mind that if you are in recovery for an alcohol use disorder, experts do not recommend consuming drinks intended to mimic the taste and feel of actual alcohol, as it may be triggering.
Note: If you’re looking to try multiple products on this list, Boisson allows you to buy a variety of brands all in one place and in one order. There are five NYC locations (and coming soon to a city near you), or you can buy online since it ships anywhere in the US. (FYI, Boisson did provide some of these products for us to try for this article.)
You know choosing to give up drinking for mental and physical health has become trendy when Bella Hadid does it. Not only is she practicing this lifestyle, she also cofounded nonalcoholic beverage company Kin Euphorics with Jen Batchelor. It now offers four different products that fall into one of two intentional categories: energize or relax. The original Kin Spritz promises to awaken the mind with a proprietary botanical blend that supposedly calms the nervous system. It also has caffeine to give you that little extra boost along with its citrusy ginger flavor. The Lightwave, on the other hand, should help mellow you out with more vanilla and floral notes. It contains reishi mushroom powder, which is used to reduce stress and lessen fatigue, L-theanine, an amino acid that may help ease anxiety and stress, and L-tryptophan, which the body converts into serotonin and may affect mood.
Promising review: “As a non-drinker, I’m on the lookout for fun, bubbly, satisfying alternatives to wine and cocktails, and Kin does scratch that itch! I’m picky too! Will buy more!” —Isabel Gillies
What else to consider: A celebrity spokesperson can sometimes be a deterrent for thoughtful buyers, but I actually found Kin (Lightwave in particular) to be the best tasting of all the nonalcoholic products I tried that are formulated with these kinds of supplements. It’s also possible that a can of the Lightwave did help me wind down for bed, but I was admittedly already quite exhausted. One important PSA: There’s a warning about drinking Kin if you’re under 18, pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking SSRI antidepressants like fluoxetine or sertraline. As is the case with any supplement, Kin advises consulting with your doctor if you have any sort of medical condition that could cause a bad reaction.
Best for: the perfect balance of taste with a dash of functionality.
You can buy an eight-pack of Lightwave from Kin Euphorics for $30.
The idea for Ghia stemmed from Mélanie Masarin’s own health journey. When she cut back on alcohol to remedy some stomach issues, she noticed a massive gap in the market for people like her who don’t want to drink but still love food, gathering, and socializing. Sweet mocktail offerings did not complement the food she was ordering, so she wanted to create something that would feel more grown-up yet still celebratory. Ghia is “an invitation,” she said, since the intention was to make everyone feel included. The second priority was taste.
“We really have this ingredient philosophy where we want to create formulas that are ingredient-first,” Masarin said. “We have no added sugar in our drinks. Everything that we source has to be really clean.”
The result is this light apéritif full of herbals and botanicals that come together for a floral, slightly citrusy taste. It’s designed to be mixed with sodas, bitters, fruit juices, or any of your favorite flavors for the nonalcoholic cocktail of your dreams. If you’d prefer the convenience of a premixed can to pop open and enjoy, Ghia also offers Le Spritz in ginger beer or club soda blends.
Promising Review: “I’m a touring musician and decided to give up drinking recently. Needless to say, there are still many occasions where it feels awkward to not have something festive in my hand. This product checks all the boxes for me. Cheers to making sobriety hip!!” —Mark
What else to consider: If you’re someone who’s easily swayed by stellar branding (like myself), you won’t be able to resist Ghia. But that’s OK because people actually seem to love it. The reviews are pretty outstanding. Though some note that it’s a bit expensive and frighteningly easy to blow through a bottle, they still think it’s worth the money for such a high-quality product.
Best for: apéritif lovers or anyone looking for a super-natural nonalcoholic spirit that may transport them to the Mediterranean.
You can buy a bottle of Ghia Apéritif from Ghia for $33.
“We sell more Leitz sparkling Riesling and sparkling rosé than any other brand,” Bodkins said. “Their rosé is 100% German pinot noir rosé, and Riesling is 100% German Riesling, and it's delicious.”
The sparkling wines in general tend to be the bestselling categories at Boisson, and Leitz is apparently one of the more recognizable producers. The reason Bodkins can call this nonalcoholic wine 100% German Riesling is because it actually starts as a regular alcoholic wine that goes through a dealcoholization process. This process, as he explains, involves putting the wine into a vat and lowering the air pressure until the alcohol boils at room temperature. When you add the carbonation to turn it into sparkling wine, it helps enhance the flavor profile, which includes apple, citrus, and yeasty notes in this variety.
Promising Review: “As someone who has decided to cut back on their alcohol consumption, I’ve been trying lots of non-alcoholic wines — very few are satisfactory. But this sparkling non-alcoholic Riesling was absolutely delicious. I’m going to keep bottles on hand at all times for celebrating!” —Kimberly Zerkel
What else to consider: This alcohol alternative is strictly crafted for taste without any additives for de-stressing or calming nerves. It comes in cans or classic wine bottles, though if you’re not going to consume the bottle all at once, the carbonation may fall flat. For individual use, cans may be the way to go.
Best for: toasting something celebratory, hosting a festive dinner party, or breaking the habit of sipping a regular glass of wine at the end of the day.
You can buy a can of Leitz Eins Zwei Zero Sparkling Riesling from Boisson for $7.
Another celebrity-backed brand in this category, De Soi was started by Katy Perry and Morgan McLachlan (who also happens to be a master distiller for Amass Botanicals). Knowing that celebrity spokespeople don’t always mean high-quality products, Bodkins assured, “Don’t let the Katy Perry thing fool you. She did an amazing job with Morgan. We’re the only retailer in New York that they gave the brand to launch with, and it’s legitimately delicious.”
De Soi was inspired by the French ethos of pleasure and restraint. They make three varieties of nonalcoholic apéritifs, all with natural botanicals and adaptogens, which are herbal substances said to enhance the body’s ability to combat stress. Available in bottles and cans, Champignon Dreams is intended to facilitate relaxation with green tea, passion flower, and reishi mushroom, which comes through in the earthy taste with notes of strawberry and grapefruit.
Promising review: “This is the most nuanced of the three flavors and was a total delight. Reminds me of summer time.” —Anthony A.
What else to consider: Despite promising to help you relax, there is green tea (which has some caffeine), so it’s more for easing into the evening after work than sipping before bed. Again, bubbles mean you want to consume fairly quickly after opening a bottle.
To be frank, I did not love the taste, but my boyfriend was a huge fan. He said it tasted like Campari, the bitter Italian aperitif, which makes sense since I do not enjoy Campari, but he’s a big Negroni guy (the Campari-based cocktail) so I trust his feedback (reviewers agree). He also said it made him feel a bit more “chill” and “mellow.”
Best for: unwinding after a long day with a faux Negroni.
You can buy a pack of four cans of De Soi Champignon Dreams from Boisson for $25.
“The rum is our newest, and I think it’s our best,” Sakey said. “It’s really flavorful. It's got a beautiful, beautiful nose to it, a wonderful sort of ripe banana and toasted spices as undertones.”
Ritual Zero Proof products (also including whiskey, tequila, and gin alternatives) are meant to be a direct liquor replacement, allowing you to preserve the flavor in all of your favorite cocktails without the alcohol. Dark rum offers a great starting point since it’s generally full of warm spices that are easily replicated with natural ingredients. As Sakey mentioned, this one highlights ripe banana along with vanilla, burnt orange, toffee, cloves, and star anise. He also mentioned that it’s the company’s most popular product and was recently awarded 98 points from the Beverage Testing Institute, making it the highest rated nonalcoholic spirit of any kind.
Promising review: “The flavor profile of your zero alcohol Rum is sublime. I’ve been a rum aficionado for over 60 years and at one time had a collection of 23 different rums. I thought after my rheumatologist told me I could no longer enjoy my favorite libation that I’d terribly miss this great tibble. But, fortune has smiled on me. Now I can enjoy my ‘cocktail’ without any worries.” —Richard S.
What else to consider: Almost every reviewer noted the intensity of the spice in this rum alternative, which some liked and some didn’t, so maybe consider your spice preferences before buying. Many also noted that they didn’t love drinking it alone, but mixing it into your favorite rum cocktail was a great experience.
Best for: spiced rum lovers, those craving the burn or bite of alcohol while trying to abstain or cut back.
You can buy Ritual Rum Alternative from Ritual for around $30.
If you’re a craft beer drinker who’s veering away from alcohol but actually loves the taste and complexity of an IPA, Run Wild may be your saving grace. It’s brewed with a blend of five Northwest hops with bitterness to balance and a specialty malt body. Athletic Brewing promises that none of its beers will be watery or tasteless as some might fear in a nonalcoholic beer thanks to its innovative method of brewing the beer without the alcohol.
Promising review: “I am a lover of IPAs and this is a fine substitute! I highly recommend for those times when you don’t want the effects of alcohol, for whatever reason.” —C.
What else to consider: This will probably not taste exactly like your favorite IPA, but reviewers seem to feel that it’s as close as you can get. It’s also a great option if you’re abstaining for dietary purposes since it's calorie and carb count are low and doesn’t have any artificial sweeteners.
Best for: anyone seeking craft beer without the kick, a lighter IPA option with similar taste but no hangover.
You can buy a six-pack of Athletic Brewing Run Wild IPA from Boisson for $15.
Personally, I think The Starter Pack by Three Spirit is the coolest concept on this list for anyone looking to socialize without alcohol. It’s basically a curated nonalcoholic apéritif beverage pack to complement your evening from start to finish. Each bottle also tells you how it’s best served, but if that doesn’t sound good to you, just hop onto Three Spirit’s website for more recipes.
You start with Livener, which is intended to help you feel energized and ready to go out thanks to the guayusa, guava leaf, and green tea. It does have a subtle fruity, floral flavor. However, the most potent taste to me was the apple cider vinegar, giving it a slightly more intense kombucha-like flavor. Then you move on to the Social Elixir that’s meant to naturally elevate your mood with lion’s mane mushroom, yerba mate, and damiana, a wild shrub historically believed to ease anxiety (there is no more than anecdotal evidence of this). This one tastes more rich and earthy, which is why Three Spirit suggests balancing it out with ginger ale and an orange garnish. Lastly, to help you wind down and ease you into sleep mode, you have Nightcap. This one tasted VERY woodsy to me, but I also sipped it straight rather than diluting it with soda or anything else. Again, my boyfriend loved it and felt that any oaky whiskey fans would very much enjoy it as well.
Promising review: “I knew of the effects of some of the plants and mushrooms used in these drinks, but I never expected them to work this well together... and to taste amazing at that! Love all three, though definitely addicted to having a regular Nightcap.” —Joey S.
What else to consider: Both Livener and Social Elixir contain some caffeine, which does help you feel a bit more energized but would be understandably problematic for anyone who is trying to avoid or is highly affected by caffeine.
Best for: a nonalcoholic social lubricant and that little extra oomph while entertaining, or just a faux cocktail that’s great for sipping so you won’t feel left out.
You can buy The Starter Pack by Three Spirit from Boisson for $59.
Hiyo was founded by two friends who both had family members hospitalized for alcohol-related issues in 2019, so you know they are passionate about this product. Their goal was to create a better-than-alcohol drink that could offer a similar stress-relieving, mood-boosting effect. They use only premium, organic ingredients sourced from around the world that offer a natural lift accompanied by delicious flavor. My flavor preference is the peach mango seltzer, which features a blend of nootropics, a class of substances that claim to improve cognitive function, and adaptogens like ashwagandha, lion’s mane, L-theanine, and cordyceps, a species of fungi that has supposed stimulating effects, along with ginger and turmeric to combat digestive issues and inflammation.
Promising review: “Hiyo tastes great and a fantastic alternative to socially drinking alcohol — honestly I didn’t believe the effects at first, but I’m now a repeat buyer! Hiyo makes it easy for me to relax while helping me cut sugar and alcohol out for health reasons. Strongly recommend!” —Nicole B.
What else to consider: There were only a few reviews for this product, so I can’t make any sweeping statements about the consumer response, but the reviews that do exist are overwhelmingly positive. People note that it doesn’t have that chemical taste that some nonalcoholic seltzers and even spiked seltzers seem to have, which is always a plus.
Best for: all of my basic brethren who traditionally opt for a light, refreshing, and low-calorie spiked seltzer but may (even just occasionally) want the benefits without the hangover.
You can buy a can of Hiyo from Boisson for $4.
Ah, more ashwagandha. Curious Elixirs is another brand hoping to help you unwind without the buzz (its slogan is “shaken, not slurred,” which, as a James Bond fan, I love). However, these guys create perfectly balanced booze-free craft cocktails inspired by the classic versions. They require no extra effort or dilution — simply pop, pour, and sip, or drink it straight out of the bottle. The Juniper Cucumber Collins (#3) is its riff on a French 75/Tom Collins combo, and I found the slightly floral, lemony cucumber flavor particularly refreshing.
Promising review: “I love a good cocktail, but can no longer tolerate alcohol. I’ve been looking for something that doesn’t taste like soda or punch. All five of the ‘cocktails’” are delicious. Thank you!” —Julia Hinton
What else to consider: The inclusion of ashwagandha means that you should not consume this if you’re pregnant or have any other health conditions that generally require consulting a doctor before trying new supplements. The flavors can definitely be potent, so it may take some trial and error to find the one that best suits your palate, and some are surprisingly sweet for containing no refined sugar.
Best for: taking your nonalcoholic cocktail on the go to stay zen at the party despite that one annoyingly drunk acquaintance who won’t leave you alone.
You can buy Curious Elixirs #3 from Boisson for $10.
After my conversation with Bodkins, I was most intrigued by Aplós. While I haven’t tried this one myself, he described it as the first hemp spirit that he actually felt affected by. “I felt like after two cocktails that had Aplós in it that I'd had like half a bottle of wine,” which was surprising for him because like myself, he rarely has potent reactions from these types of drinks.
Granted, adaptogens and supplements affect everyone differently, but his experience seems promising if you are looking for a buzzy feeling from a nonalcoholic drink. He thinks it was due to the fact that each serving contains 20 mg of broad-spectrum hemp, intended to produce a calming and uplifting effect. Hemp is the plant cousin of marijuana that does not contain appreciable levels of the high-inducing THC but does contain CBD, which is thought to have other beneficial properties.
Promising review: “I am really enjoying the relaxing effects of this cocktail!! There are so many combinations, not missing the alcohol at all. In fact I think I prefer this as an end of work day beverage!! I highly recommend it.” —Patricia Massa
What else to consider: Some early reviewers were very much not fans of the taste, but the company says that it rebalanced the herbal citrus flavor profile. The ingredients were supposedly adjusted for more refined notes of yuzu, rosemary, basil, cucumber, and dandelion, so it seems to have improved the flavor. The company says that you should not consume if you are under 18 years old, pregnant, nursing, have any liver condition, or are taking medication (just consult your doctor if you’re unsure, but if you respond well to other CBD products and you’re not in any of those categories, it’s probably safe).
Best for: a postwork or end-of-the-night de-stresser that you can look forward to sipping as a transition from hectic to chill.
You can buy Aplós Non-Alcoholic Spirit from Boisson for $48.