The Best Mocktails to Try This Dry January (and How to Find Your Signature Zero-Proof Drink)

With the end of the holiday bustle now in sight, many are turning their attention toward goals and aspirations for the New Year. If your resolution list includes Dry January,  you’re not alone. 

A broader trend toward wellness and mindfulness has led some to reconsider their alcohol consumption. Celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Jennifer Lopez, and Natalie Portman are open about embracing an alcohol-free lifestyle, and many others have followed suit — including those in the beverage industry.

A market of delicious non-alcoholic (NA) options has blossomed, and suddenly, those who wish to forego drinking — for any reason — can explore a world of exciting possibilities.

If you number among the sober-curious, read on to explore our suggestions for budding zero-proof mixologists below.

Reimaging the Mocktail for the 21st Century

The word mocktail first entered the lexicon in the 1930s, during Prohibition, and for many years, “mocktail” was synonymous with a cloyingly sweet beverage underpinned by soda or fruit juice.

During the era of Prohibition, mocktails assumed a space of prominence out of necessity. Source: US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division.

You may have fond memories of enjoying a Shirley Temple or virgin piña colada as a special treat during childhood, but these syrupy drinks likely lost their appeal as you matured.

Hence, there has been a recent shift from mocktails to zero-proof cocktails. This new designation for today’s NA concoctions distinguishes them from their simpler predecessors. Today’s alcohol-free beverages are nuanced, layered, and made with the same attention to detail that informs the crafting of traditional wines, beers, and spirits.

Exploring the World of Zero-Proof Beverages

As the realm of NA drinks expands, you may wonder how and where to find your entry point.

While you can read up on the dozens of producers and trends online, there’s no substitute for lived experience. Fortunately, top chefs and bar professionals are now including zero-proof drinks on beverage lists alongside traditional cocktails.

Countless restaurants in the Boston area are serving up delicious NA tipples. You may try:

  • Oleana. Visit this Mediterranean mainstay in Cambridge for meze and a mocktail. Its current list of NA cocktails plays with flavors like sumac, cardamom, and juniper — all perfect for the colder months.
  • Bar Vlaha. Reservations at this Brookline hotspot are hard to come by, so why not scope a seat at the bar? Once you’re settled in, you can enjoy a zero-proof drink alongside a slow-roasted lamb leg from the charcoal grill.
  • Grill 23. While a traditional steakhouse may conjure images of a magnum of full-bodied Napa red, Grill 23 also serves up NA cocktails to imbibe alongside its fine cuts of beef.
  • Bar Mezzana. Bar Mezzana serves up alcohol-free twists on classic cocktails to complement its coastal Italian menu. Sample a Phony Negroni or NA brambleberry spritz with your crudo or antipasto.
  • Citrus & Salt. If you typically enjoy a fruit-forward margarita or mojito with your tacos, you may delight in the agua frescas on the menu at this playful Mexican eatery.

Tips for Becoming a Zero-Proof Mixologist

Once you’re ready to begin crafting your own NA beverages, some guiding principles can help you design a well-balanced concoction.

Understanding taste and flavor is essential to creating a delicious drink of any sort; our primer on food and beverage pairings offers some vital background on the science behind our senses.

When it comes to zero-proof cocktails, specifically, these points can further guide you toward a delectable outcome:

  • Check the label. Producers of NA spirits understand that this world is new for many people. They often include serving suggestions or drink recipes on their packaging to help you enjoy your purchase.
  • Step up the flavors. The intensity from the ethanol in an alcoholic beverage like a martini or old fashioned makes it a slow sipper. You can create a similar sensation by amplifying specific tastes and flavors in your mocktail. Experiment with spice/piquant, tart, sour, and bitter. Bitters, especially, come in a wide range of flavors and can add complexity to your creation.
Bitters can add depth and dimension to your mocktail.
  • Go for the garnish. Our sense of smell plays an essential role in our overall experience of flavor. A garnish like a singed orange peel or candied ginger cube can add interest to your zero-proof drink.
  • Consider mouthfeel. One arena in which some NA spirits struggle is texture. It’s difficult to recreate the viscosity of a real digestif or the velvety quality of a bourbon. Adding suitable mixers to your mocktail can recapture some of these physical sensations. For example, a dash of the thick syrup from Luxardo maraschino cherries can add body to your faux Manhattan.
  • Have fun. Experimenting with any sort of mixology should be an enjoyable experience. Delight in tasting and tweaking your beverages to get the most out of your sensory journey.

Zero-Proof Spirits and Mocktails to Try

The world of NA beverages is vast, and there are compelling approximations for every kind of spirit. If you wish to find a stand-in for your favorite liquor, these are some of our favorites.

  • Seedlip offers three types of distilled non-alcoholic beverages. Garden 108 can act as a gin or vodka base with its fresh and clean herbals, including peas, spearmint, thyme, and rosemary.
  • CleanCo’s blanco tequila evokes the unique flavors of agave, smoke, and pepper you’d find with the actual liquor.
  • Spiritless offers its Kentucky 74 bourbon in a traditional or spiced variety. Both convey the smoke and oak you’d enjoy in the genuine article.

If you’d prefer to leave the mixing to the professionals, the world of NA beverages also serves up countless pre-made mocktails. These brands are among the ones we enjoy.

  • Ghia offers bright and zippy mixed mocktails in its Le Spritz line. Enjoy the bite of its ginger option or the heat of the sumac and chili variety.
  • St. Agrestis’ Phony Negroni perfectly captures the bitter edge of its alcoholic cousin. 
  • Curious Elixirs serves up a range of pre-mixed mocktails. Its No. 5 stands in for an old-fashioned with cherry and smoke, while its No. 2 has a dark and stormy vibe.
  • Ish also offers mixable spirits, but its canned mocktails — most notably, the spritz — are standouts.
  • Parch makes its NA cocktails using agave, which makes them a great tequila-based drink alternative. Parch’s Paloma is especially delightful.

If you count yourself among the sober-curious, there’s never been a better time to explore the world of zero-proof drinks. Whether you have long-term plans to abstain from alcohol or simply wish to play with dynamic new beverages, we know you’ll find options to intrigue your palate and expand your drink repertoire. Cheers!