The Best Way to Stock a Non-Alcoholic Bar
The hottest ABV trend as of late? Zero-proof. More and more people are embracing a booze-free or "sober curious" lifestyle in which they consume less alcoholic wine and spirits (or none at all). For those who choose to go that route, there's no shortage of amazing alcohol-free options on the market, from non-alcoholic (NA) beer produced by giant companies like Heineken to small-batch, craft spirits.
"It's so exciting to see the growing interest in the non-alcoholic beverage space, especially as people look to expand their creativity and explore mixing up NA cocktails at home," says Laura Lashley, on-premise manager for non-alcoholic drinks company Seedlip. "There are so many exciting new products coming to market and new recipes to make at home."
"Alcohol is shifting from the cornerstone of social experiences to an ingredient that folks can include or omit," adds Becca Gardner, founder and CEO of Alt Distilling and innovator behind NKD LDY, a non-alcoholic spirits company. "As a result, creating a hospitable environment that is welcoming and inclusive to all means offering NA options that are on par with their alcoholic counterparts."
Read on for five simple tips to build a highly spirited non-alcoholic spirits cart, or upgrade the offerings you already have on hand.
Enjoy the Fine Art of Mixing a Drink
Booze-free tippling should be an occasion to let loose and enjoy yourself (sans hangover). "Half the fun of cocktails is the ritual," says Derek Brown, brand education director for Spiritless, a maker of barrel-aged NA drinks. "That has nothing to do with alcohol, per se. You can make delicious, complex NA cocktails at home or even mix it up, making cocktails we call 'halfsies.'" Brown's recommendation is half-bourbon and half of his brand's Kentucky 74, but feel free to get creative with NA gin substitutes (like Salcombe Distilling Co. New London Light and Lucas Bols Damrak VirGin 0.0), NA tequila substitutes (like NKD LDY Tequila alternative), and others.
Stock Your Bar Cart with the Essentials
"Many layers go into crafting beautiful cocktails—from the base, the pairing, the garnish, down to the stemware. It's all about creating a beautiful experience," says Gardner. To get started, here are some of the items experts recommend:
Spirit, Beer, and Wine Alternatives
Tequila, gin, whiskey, beer, and wine (red and white; a sparkling NA wine is especially nice to have for festive occasions). Check out our comprehensive overview of NA spirits.
Variety is key. "A classic start would be a few carbonated options, like soda water, ginger beer, grapefruit soda, and tonic," says Tacy Rowland, co-founder and co-owner of Slow Luck, non-alcoholic distilled beverages. To get a bit more creative, she recommends the Crisp & Crude CBD drinks for mixing, as well as BAWI agua frescas, and Sanzo sparkling waters. And cranberry juice and OJ are always a good idea.
Since NA cocktails can be just as complex as alcoholic ones, Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month, suggests having helpful tools such as an ice bucket, ice, a shaker, strainer, spoon, jigger, and of course, festive glassware on hand. A citrus zester and alcohol-free cocktail recipes and books (like Redemption Bar: Alcohol-Free Cocktails with Benefits by Catherine Salway) are nice to have, too. Brown also recommends the OXO small measuring cups for mixing up drinks and silicone ice trays for larger ice cubes.
Look for glycerine-based alternatives, as most bitters are ethanol-based, says Rowland. "Dram Apothecary in Colorado has an excellent and unique selection, and All the Bitter from California simulates all the classic bitter flavor profiles to perfection."
Lemons, limes, and oranges, plus "edible flowers are such a unique addition that provide decadent flavors" says Gardner, who also is a fan of having dried fruit and herbs readily available. You can also dress up mocktails with "fun paper umbrellas or [colorful] compostable straws," says Sophina Uong, chef and owner of Mister Mao in New Orleans. (Remember tip one above?)
Salt is the little-known ingredient star of alcohol-free cocktails, because it makes them richer and weightier while cutting out some bitterness, says Brown. "I make a salt tincture using four parts water to one part salt. Shake until the crystals dissolve. Add about six drops to drinks that are bitter or need additional body or weight," he says. "A perfect example would be adding salt tincture to a NA Negroni."
Store NA Spirits / Wine Correctly
Read labels carefully. "All products aren't created equal. Some require refrigeration while others need to be stored in a dark, cool place," says Gardner. An NA bar will likely include some refrigerated items and others that are shelf-life stable for three-to-six months," she says.
"Most NA ingredients have a shorter shelf life than their alcoholic counterparts," adds Lashley. "Making a shrub (a vinegar/syrup usually made with fresh fruit, herbs, etc.) is a great way to take a perishable ingredient and give it some extra shelf life."
Don't Overthink It
Keep it simple. "Before you try to make use of your rosemary-chocolate homemade bitters, make a really amazing whiskey sour," says Brown. "The classics are classics for a reason, and it's worth learning a few key classic recipes and then your creative drinks will be so much better." When in doubt, Rowland recommends keeping the three components of a well-balanced drink (whether it has alcohol or not) in mind while thinking what you'd like to mix: base, acid (usually lemon or lime) and sweet (syrup, sweetened mixer, etc). "If you maintain a balance of these three components, you're going to make some great drinks," she says.