How to Create the Perfect Nonalcoholic Home Bar
New York Times, USA - Credit, Oliver Strand and Monica Khemsurov
From the essential spirit substitutes and how to mix them to the most striking glasses, everything you need to serve festive zero-proof cocktails.
It’s no secret that nonalcoholic cocktails are suddenly ubiquitous. Whereas until a few years ago, nondrinkers had to make do with cranberry-splashed club soda, now seemingly every noteworthy bar offers a Phony Negroni or a margarita-inspired mocktail. “There are so many people who are nonimbibing, for whatever reason, but who still want to be a part of the mood,” says Stacey Swenson, who designed the menu at the Swan Room bar in downtown Manhattan, which serves drinks including the Champaxne Cocktail (nonalcoholic sparkling wine, orange blossom and bitters) and the Chinola Mule (a tequila alternative with lime, passion fruit and spiced soda). The biggest change: teetotalers aren’t the only ones ordering them. “Nine out of 10 of our customers also drink alcohol,” says Nicholas Bodkins, one of the founders of Boisson, a store specializing in zero-proof spirits. “This is more of an ‘and’ than an ‘or.’” He gives credit for this shift to distillers, who, refining early iterations that often tasted soapy or medicinal, have figured out how to effectively extract the flavors of botanicals without the use of ethanol. Today, the best bitter aperitifs (the term for nonalcoholic alternatives to spirits like Campari and Aperol) have all the complexity and layered flavors of their boozy counterparts. They’re also easy to find — Boisson, for example, has locations in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and a forthcoming Miami store, in addition to an online shop — which makes stocking a home bar with nonalcoholic options a breeze. Here, the best bottles and other ingredients to have on hand. — Oliver Strand
The Essential Spirits
Figlia: With bitter orange and clove, this aperitif tastes like a more delicate Campari and is delicious mixed into a spritz or served over ice.
Wilfred’s: Akin to Aperol, it has sweet orange and gentian notes and is excellent in a traditional spritz or with tonic.
Ghia Signature Aperitif: Tart citrus, ginger and rosemary notes make it perfectly suited to a classic spritz.
Pathfinder: Bitter and complex like an amaro, it can be used as an aperitif or like a sweet vermouth.
Amass Riverine: With strong notes of juniper and coriander, it’s marketed as more than just a gin alternative — though it is perfect with tonic and lime on ice.
Three Spirit Social Elixir: Earthy and herbal, this pseudo-spirit lands somewhere between a bitter aperitif and an amaro.
Lyer’s Agave Blanco:Its toasty agave base has just the slightest spicy kick. Mix it into a margarita-like drink or enjoy on the rocks with soda water and lime.
CleanCo W: This bourbon-style whiskey alternative has the oaky flavor of an aged spirit.
Caleño Dark and Spicy: Comparable to a spiced rum, it’s excellent in a Cuba Libre with Coke and lots of fresh lime juice, or in a dark and stormy with ginger beer and a squeeze of lime.
Roots Divino Bianco: This complex, botanical take on vermouth comes in dry (with wormwood and rosemary) and sweet (orange peel and gentian root) varieties.
All the Bitter Aromatic Bitters: Comparable in taste to Angostura, it’s spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove and might, according to its maker, aid digestion.
French Bloom: A bubbly white wine made from chardonnay grapes, it can be used in place of Prosecco or Champagne.
The Best Mixers
Chinnoto: An Italian soda made with bitter citrus, it’s also excellent on ice with sweet vermouth or a bitter aperitif. Or try it as an alternative to cola in rum or whiskey drinks.
Ginger Beer: Barritt’s is the standard for a dark and stormy. For a less sweet version, consider Premium Ginger Beer from Fever-Tree or Maine Root Ginger Beer.
Soda Water: Schweppes and Canada Dry might be the benchmarks for soda water, but also consider Topo Chico, which has a mineral-rich tang.
Tonic: Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water, made from the quinine-rich bark of Congolese cinchona trees, is beloved for its just-bitter-enough flavor and refined fizz.
The Most Versatile Garnishes
Citrus: Lemons and limes are essential to any bar setup, and sliced orange is the standard spritz garnish. With its balance of bitter and sweet, pink grapefruit is a natural companion to aperitifs.
Olives: Bright-tasting Cerignola or Castelvetrano varieties are another excellent spritz add-on — and also good for a snack.
Fresh Herbs: A sprig of thyme, rosemary or tarragon adds another layer of aromatic flavor to a mocktail.
How to Make a Simple Nonalcoholic Spritz
When making mocktails, most zero-proof spirits can be used as 1:1 substitutes for the buzz-inducing classics that inspired them. One particularly delicious option: the nonalcoholic spritz. Light, dry and refreshing it’s also so adaptable that you can spend an entire summer perfecting your own signature variation. Below, a basic formula.
Mixing an Italian spritz is as easy as 3-2-1: Three parts Prosecco alternative (for example, French Bloom) and two parts bitter aperitif (try Figlia, Three Spirit Social, Wilfred’s, Pathfinder or Ghia Signature Apertif) with one part soda water. An orange slice is a traditional garnish, but muddling two or three citrus sections — lemon or pink grapefruit are also delicious — in the bottom of the glass results in an even brighter flavor. Another variation on the spritz uses tonic water instead of Prosecco: Mix two parts tonic with two parts bitter aperitif and one part soda water.— O.S.
What to Serve It In
Even the simplest cocktail can feel like the start of a party when it’s served in a beautiful glass. If you’re looking to upgrade yours, a good place to start would be these recycled-glass tumblers ($132 for a set of six) handblown in Oaxaca, Mexico; they’re charmingly wonky, with a rippled texture that suggests the wavy glass of antique windows, and sturdy, too. A more colorful alternative are the Italian fashion brand Sunnei’s Murano cocktail glasses ($96), which come in bold shades that mirror the signature stripes found on its clothing. Similarly distinctive are the Los Angeles-based artisan Cedric Mitchell’s cocktail tumblers ($180 for a set of two), which are designed to gently roll around when placed on a table, aerating and releasing the aromas of your drink. Unusual stemmed options include the satisfyingly chunky recycled-glass Oli wine goblets ($29) from the Danish housewares brand Ferm Living and the Italian designer Joe Colombo’s classic offset-stem wineglass for Arnolfo di Cambio ($295 for a set of two). The idea behind the latter vessel, first introduced in 1964: to allow partygoers to grip it securely with their thumb while holding their cigarette.
For storing and serving drinks, the long-necked Estelle decanters ($195) from the South Carolina-based company Estelle Colored Glass come in eight jewel-like hues, including pale sapphire and rose quartz. (Note that some zero-proof spirits require refrigeration, so check the label before leaving them out.) The angular Carafe N.2 ($400) from the storied Italian silversmith Bragagnolo Argenti — made from silver-plated hammered copper — looks like a piece of Modernist art. And the borosilicate Fritter glass pitcher ($150) by the French American designer Sophie Lou Jacobsen and the New York-based glass blower Grace Whiteside comes with a colorful stirring stick allowing it to double as a mixer. For finishing touches, you might consider a set of leaf-embroidered Italian linen cocktail napkins from the British designer Angela Wickstead ($235 for a set of 6) or a few of the New York-based designer Misha Kahn’s loopy little glass cocktail straws ($30 each). — Monica Khemsurov