As Dry January comes to a close, many of us are swapping back to our standard drinks. But that doesn’t mean the non-alcoholic category is going anywhere.
According to the IWSR, the no- and low-alcohol category has reached almost $10 billion in value across key global markets. The research firm forecasts that no- and low-alcohol volumes will grow by more than 8% CAGR between 2021 and 2025.
As the category continues to gain traction, product ranges are extending in breadth and depth. There are non-alcoholic amaros, no-ABV ready-to-drinks, and booze-free base spirits that do an excellent job of emulating whiskeys, gins, rums, and mezcals.
So with this proliferation of products, which ones are worth watching? Here are my favorite frontrunners.
While many products in the non-alcohol space bill themselves as no-proof alternatives to spirits, Melanie Masarin has done an excellent job about making Ghia a beverage you just want to drink, regardless of alcohol content. It’s got cool-girl branding (Masarin is a Glossier vet, after all) and a recipe even a discerning cocktailer can get behind — bitter, sweet, botanical-packed and complex.
Ghia is both a chic option for teetotalers and an excellent way to lower the proof of a cocktail (regular-strength amaros generally clock in around 30 to 40% ABV). After the success of the initial spirit, Ghia recently rolled out a spritzed-up, sans-proof RTD.
Also in the amaro/aperitif realm, Katy Perry has recently launched booze-free, sparkling aperitifs De Soi, while John DeBary is making smart aperitif-adjacent sips at Proteau. Both underline that eyes are on the alcohol-free after-dinner and aperitif category.
Studio NULL Wines
While many non-alcoholic wines are, well, lackluster, NULL does an excellent job of channeling the nuances of wine into a no-proof options. Each bottle — there’s currently a bubble, a white and a red — is made just as you would a real wine before the alcohol is carefully removed. While they are dealcoholized, they don’t feel stripped of anything but the alcohol—there’s character, complexity, and depth. Case in point: a toned, crisp, Alsatian-ish white made with a blend of pinot gris and pinot blanc and a rippingly juice carbonic red that wouldn’t be out of place beside my favorite natural wine bottles. Essentially, Null Wine isn’t just a good non-alcoholic wine. It’s a good wine.
Mirroring Null, Acid League has been one of the consistently reliable options coming out of the non-alc wine sphere. This Toronto-based acid brand doesn’t bill its bottles as a replacement for real wines, rather, they’re making delicious beverages meant to be sipped and savored like wine. Take Audrey, a new bottle made in collaboration with Sean Brock, for instance: it’s made with syrah grapes, sumac, ginseng, cherry juice, red wine concentrate, Lindera Farms paw paw vinegar, Cascara Tea, and dried elderberry.
Interestingly enough, The IWSR has found moderation is the most common use of no/low products — 43$ of adults across the focus markets cite their purchase drivers as subbing in for the place of full-strength alcohol in certain instances. Only 17% of drinkers reported they were drinking no/low to avoid alcohol entirely. If you are sober or dabbling with moderation, CleanCo offers products that won’t interrupt your cocktail routine.
Part of CleanCo’s success is the variety and versatility in their portfolio — the brand offers a facsimile of traditional spirits and liqueurs, from clean tequilas to dark rums to flavored gins, plus two different RTDs: ‘rum’ and colas and ‘gin’ and tonics. Canned RTDs are slated to hit the US this year. The brand has been particularly savvy at molding to markets: gin was the focus in the UK, while tequila is being pushed in North America.
Another frontrunner in the spirits-alternative realm: Lyre’s, a no-alc brand that produces everything from Campari alternatives to Triple Sec and amaretto riffs. The brand just wrapped a major funding round, valuing the UK-based company at 270 million pounds ($360 million USD). This is a jump from a valuation of 100 million pounds ($134 million USD) earlier this year.
All the Bitter
While we now have non-alcoholic tequilas and rums, gins and amaros, one thing the category has been greatly lacking is a stand-up line of sans-alc bitters. Consider bitters a bartender’s salt and pepper — just a few drops add balance and depth to a drink. But bitters are notoriously high-proof, so if you’re abstaining, well, bitters aren’t on the menu.
Enter All the Bitters. The just-launched non-alcoholic bitters are rounding out the no-proof bar. Designed by former French Laundry sommeliers, these bitters replicate the profiles of classic bitters flavors, including aromatic, Peychaud’s, and orange. All three are sans proof and packed with flavor.
One of the buzziest sub-categories of the sans-alc space? Adaptogen-infused drinks. These options don’t just skip the booze, they’re packed with all sorts of other body-beneficial ingredients like proteins, hemp, vitamins, and probiotics. While many of these sound a bit like marketing mumbo-jumbo, Three Spirit makes surprisingly lovely functional spirits alternatives.
Three Spirit offers different iterations for every instance; Livener is vibrant and subs in for party-ready spirits, while Nightcap is well, a night-cap alternative best sipped on the rocks. The bottles are packed with nootropics, herbs, ferments and other health-adjacent ingredients and contain active compounds designed to alter the mood.