At some point after pet names but before cohabitation, new couples ritually engage in the disclosure of genetic abnormalities. I had just finished revealing to my girlfriend that my left foot is a full inch longer than my right—a vexing cross to bear for someone who loves shoes as much as I do—when she removed her sock to show me a splotch on the nail of her big toe. “My dad and I both have this weird toenail,” she explained. “He was in a motorcycle accident, and he’s had it ever since.”
Somewhere deep in the recesses of my brain, adjacent to the quadratic equation and state capitals, the nasal voice of a sixth grade science teacher called out. “I’m pretty sure Lamarckian genetics has been disproven,” I said gently. “Plus, that looks like a nail fungus to me.”
A week later, my girlfriend found herself on an antifungal medication so toxic that she was required to report for regular liver testing. She was also required to cut back to almost no alcohol—a vexing cross to bear for someone who loves beer as much as she does. Two months of near-total teetotaling was a misery for her, but it’s a gain for any readers embarking on a Dry January or a Nine-Month Pregnancy. What follows is a round up of some of the non-alcoholic beverages she sampled during her trial, which we then put before a panel of beer-loving friends for the ultimate no-ABV taste test.
Presumably there are some good non-alcoholic beers out there; I just haven’t had them. BrewDog has a super hoppy option called Nanny State, and Mikkeller makes a couple that aren’t available in the US. But chances are your local supermarket only stocks the usual suspects: O’Douls, Becks, Clausthaler, Coors, and the like. We sampled the Clausthaler since it had the most aesthetically pleasing label, and I say that without shame. It smelled malty, and my girlfriend optimistically remarked that it “looked like beer.” It went downhill from there. “Each sip is a reminder of what you can’t have,” one taster noted. If I’m eating a vegan meal, I don’t want the enchiladas made with cashew “cheese” and seitan “barbacoa.” Give me the curried chickpeas or the farro salad—delicious food that is vegan by default. The same applies to when I’m not drinking. Skip the wan imitation of the real thing and opt for something completely different instead.
Pok Pok Drinking Vinegar, tamarind flavor
This concentrated vinegar, when mixed with seltzer and a squeeze of lime, checked a lot of boxes for our panelists. “Certain foods trigger my thirst for a beer—burgers, pizza, some Asian food,” one remarked. “I think this would satisfy that itch.” Tart, refreshing, and lightly fruity, we would reach for this instead of a sour.
With its sleek packaging, 750 ml bottle, and indiscriminate use of umlauts (“Contains nö alcohol), TÖST is trying to position itself as an alternative to Champagne that is more grown-up than Martinelli’s. The aroma reminded one taster of the Body Shop, but the flavor—white tea, cranberry, and ginger—was pleasantly nuanced and floral. One taster raved, “Drinking the Clausthaler made me feel cranky. This one is fine.”
Seedlip, Spice 94
Seedlip has been producing “distilled non-alcoholic spirits” since 2015, and its offerings now include Garden (herbal and green), Grove (citrusy), and Spice (woody and warm). Much like how most non-alcoholic beers are brewed normally and then have the alcohol removed, Seedlip is distilled like a gin before the booze is stripped away. We sampled the Spice variety with tonic and as a substitute for gin in a cocktail with Concord grape syrup and rosemary. It was bitter and spicy, pleasant for sipping, and unlike anything else we tried. At $45 for a 700-milliliter bottle, it’s priced the same as artisan gin, which maybe will help you trick yourself into thinking it’s really alcohol?
Spindrift, grapefruit flavor
Unlike La Croix and other “essenced” sparkling waters, Spindrift is made with a bit of fruit juice. If you grew up in a household where your mom stretched the orange juice concentrate by adding a few extra cans of water, it’s like that, but much better! Grapefruit Spindrift is what got my girlfriend, normally an IPA drinker, through her two months of near sobriety. “It doesn’t make me feel like I’m drinking a beer,” she explained, “but it hits some of the same notes. It’s carbonated. It’s a little bitter from the grapefruit. It comes in a tallboy format. My thirst is thoroughly quenched.” At her peak, she would kill a six-pack a day and worry about being out of Spindrift range for too long. While she would like to make it known that SHE DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM, she does still buy it by the flat, even now that she’s back off the wagon.
This was the sleeper hit of our tasting. Identical in hue to Big Red, Sanbitter is, well, bitter. Think of it as a non-alcoholic, carbonated amaro, similar to Campari or Cappelletti. Made by San Pellegrino, it comes in adorable tiny bottles that you should absolutely repurpose as bud vases. Our favorite Sanbitter application was over ice with soda and lime, but Sanbitter with orange juice and a little seltzer made for a delightfully booze-free, brunchy Garibaldi. One panelist declared it the Summer Bev of 2019: “If I’m at the beach and my friends are pulling out beers, I could pull out a Sanbitter and be very happy.”
Illustration by Remo Remoquillo