Low-alcohol and non-alcoholic cocktails continue to pop up on cocktail menus, but if you’re a host or homebody looking to cut the booze down or completely out of your cocktail routine, you’ll need to build a functional non-alcoholic or low-alcoholic home bar.
These last two months in quarantine has meant a lot of the same for most of us. A fun spin on home happy hour could certainly help perk things up and take the sting out of month three. For those who don’t drink or prefer a lighter libation, a non-alcoholic or low-alcohol bar can provide all the fun of traditional mixology, with none of the other unwanted stuff. But where do you start building your non-alcoholic bar?
I recently spoke with Davide Segat, Director of Bars for the Edition Hotels about the subject. Segat notes that options for non-drinkers used to just be water, overly-sugary soft drinks, or juice, the latter two of which often contain tons of acidity and just fill you up—not ideal for having more than one. All of this made him conscious of people who don’t drink and the “very limited” offerings available to them. The non-alcoholic cocktail was eventually born but relegated to a “simple recipe without much thought.” Thankfully some important people paid attention, and now, according to Segat, “everything has changed.” We can have good non-alcoholic drinks on any given night out, and even at home.
There are some amazing and truly innovative new non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic products on the market to help one build a zero-proof or low-alcohol home bar without the booze. From spirits to bitters, bar tools, bar carts, and books, here are some essentials to get started.
“This brilliant company took away fermentation and made a distilled spirit that works as sort of a gin,” says Segat. Seedlip was crafted specifically for a non-alcohol imbiber. The non-alcoholic line of botanical spirit has three distinct flavor profiles (aromatic, citrus, and herbal) but most versatile is the Garden 108, with delicate notes of peas, hay, spearmint, rosemary, and thyme, which pairs nicely with tonic water, citrus, or perhaps even tea.Buy Now
This is a new low-alcohol, gluten-free vodka made in Newport, Rhode Island. At just 50 proof and 58 calories per serving, Keel is a nice smooth option for cutting the booze down on your favorite vodka-based cocktail like a Cosmopolitan or Moscow Mule. Check to see if it’s stocked at a liquor store near you.Buy Now
Bitters are essential for any bar but especially a non-alcoholic or low-alcohol version. You can think of them like seasonings. They generally (technically) have some alcohol so if you’re going full n/a, look for one that bills itself as such. Otherwise, keep a bottle of classic Angostura bitters on hand to build cocktails in addition to some more nuanced flavors.
These options from Woodford Reserve bring notes of spices, cherries, chocolate, and orange, and are all aged in bourbon barrels.Buy Now
Aperitifs add more body and structure to a cocktail than bitters. Segat says to “think of them like secondary ingredients after the base spirit.” They carry all sorts of flavors like rich fruit, dry citrus, smokiness, cherrywood, clove, spice, and nuttiness.
This producer of low-alcohol aperitifs based in Sonoma County is betting that folks want a more health-conscious way to drink cocktails. Their line of aperitifs in flavors like ginger yuzu, bitter clove, and citrus flower are both low-ABV and made from natural ingredients. Remember, there is indeed alcohol in Haus but it makes a nice substitute for full alcohol gin or a light spritz in a collins glass with soda water on a hot day.Buy Now
For Drew Lazor, author of “Session Cocktails,” vermouth is key. “We’re quick to think of it as nothing more than an adjunct in a martini or Manhattan when it can just as easily be the star of a drink. Look at historic drinks like the Bamboo (dry vermouth, fino sherry, bitters) and Old Hickory (sweet and dry vermouths, bitters). There are some really cool American-made vermouths on the market nowadays, but I still think the best place to start is with a French brand like Dolin, whose dry, sweet, and blanc vermouths deliver excellent quality at a fair price point. Just don’t forget to refrigerate your vermouths and use them as quickly as possible!Buy Now
Session Cocktails: Low-Alcohol Drinks for Any Occasion
For recipe ideas, Drew Lazor wrote the book on low-alcohol cocktails.
English brand Æcorn also makes a line of non-alcoholic aperitifs distilled from grapes that Segat swears by and stocks at his bars and restaurants for the Edition brand.Buy Now
Once you have a good n/a spirit selection you need some good mixers. Edition Hotels proudly serves the range of Llanllyr SOURCE mixers at their bars including tonics, soda waters, ginger beers, sodas, and more. “With the full range of their products and lots of fresh fruit (namely citrus) you have everything you need to make amazing drinks at home.”Buy Now
Another robust bar ingredient well-suited for a low- or non-alcoholic cocktail. Mix in some floral Seedlip or low-alcohol vodka for a spicy, refreshing, pseudo-adult beverage.Buy Now
Bloody Mary mix is a great choice for the non-boozy adult beverage but is something you shouldn’t cheap out on. The bad ones are bad and if you see a lot of artificial ingredients or cheap sweeteners like corn syrup, put it gently back on the shelf. Bloody Revolution in Austin is a good one to have on hand, if not a bit spicy, and comes in flavors like pickle and habanero. Or make your own Mary mix.Buy Now
Of course, you’ll need a handsome cocktail shaker but for an advanced garnish game, consider this stunning bar tool kit with rack. All the hardware you’ll need for measuring shots, shaking ‘tinis, and twisting citrus.Buy Now
Check out our glassware buying guide to stock your bar with the classiest cocktail vessels around.
Bars & Bar Carts
Alcohol or not, this bar cart is both a functional and stunning addition to your living or dining room. Vintage-inspired with a burnished gold finish, the rolling, two-tiered cart has enough space for your bottles, mixers, tools, and anything else. It can be easily moved to follow the party but also locked in place for stability.Buy Now
This slightly more cost-effective mid-century model also has the space you need to create great cocktails and store all your goods, with glass shelves for easy cleanup.Buy Now
Header image courtesy of Haus.