As the unofficial hype woman for non-alcoholic cocktails, Julia Bainbridge, a New York City-based writer and host of The Lonely Hour podcast, is also somehow the polar opposite of a stickler for sobriety. "In the end, my taste buds should drive my decisions about what to drink," she says. Her preeminence in the booming booze-free movement isn't focused on doing without-in fact, many of the cocktails in her book, Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You're Not Drinking for Whatever Reason, are extra in the best way possible, encouraging readers to whip up syrups and source special ingredients, from umeboshi vinegar to dried butterfly pea flowers, for maximum payoff.
She is, however, a self-declared stickler for semantics. "I have mixed feelings about calling the alcohol-free concoctions we're increasingly seeing for sale 'spirits,'" she says. "They're packaged in bottles beautiful enough to be given real estate on any bar cart, but spirits, by definition, contain alcohol-more alcohol, in fact, than bitters, amaros, aperitifs, or other things you'd find in a liquor store."
Times are a-changin', though. When Bainbridge filed the manuscript for her book in 2019, Seedlip (the key ingredient in a Jardín Verde, at right) was the only product of its kind, a "nonalcoholic distilled spirit" made through a proprietary maceration, distillation, and filtration process. Since then, the category has exploded, and we'd say that's partly from Bainbridge championing the bars and brands that are creating nonalcoholic ingredients that rival their boozy counterparts in terms of creativity, complexity, and deliciousness. (For some of her favorite bottles, see below.)
"Ghia's French founder, Mélanie Masarin, stopped drinking alcohol a few years ago, but she didn't want to miss out on a cultural ritual in France: apéro, or the apéritif hour. 'Most mocktails I found were too sweet,' she told me. 'I wanted a drink that had a kick to it but that wasn't overly sugary.' So she created her own. I prefer Ghia with seltzer and a hit of lime juice-in a chic piece of stemware."
Buy It: $33 at drinkghia.com
"Amass just launched Riverine this year. Crisp and evergreen, it will transport you to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Unlike many alcohol-free spirits, Riverine can be drunk on its own over ice, but I think it's best with a splash of good tonic water. Its light sweetness balances Riverine's angelica root, cardamom, and sumac, and the bubbles breathe life into the juniper, apple, mint, sorrel, and thyme."
Buy It: $35 at amass.com
"One of three products from London-based 'botanical alchemy' brand Three Spirit, Livener contains a mixture of guayusa, guava leaf, and schisandra berries that's meant to be energizing. I just like it because it tastes like berries and tea up front, with some fiery heat on the back end. Try it with a little bit of grapefruit juice and soda water or even mixed with kombucha, if you like."
Buy It: $39 at threespiritdrinks.com
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis