Drinking well comes easily. Not drinking well, however, can be more of a challenge. Whether for reasons of health or exhaustion, everyone needs a break on occasion, but it doesn’t mean you have to skip the bar to hang out at home. The options for no-proof and low-proof beverages have been growing as people are getting inspired to create their own bitters, syrups and sodas. Bartenders, in particular, have a lot of insight into what to drink while taking a time-out from drinking alcoholic beverages.
Bitters and soda make for a natural order that won’t get you buzzed and actually has some health benefits. Deborah Williamson, owner of Cecil & Merl bitters, extols the health benefits of what is essentially an adult soda. “The digestive benefits of bitters are pretty long-standing,” she says. “If you overindulge — in alcohol or food — and have bitters immediately after, they’re known to help with any sort of bloating, aiding along the digestive process.”
“My classic go-to is Angostura bitters with soda, sometimes garnished with fresh mint or orange peel,” says Jacyara de Oliveira of Chicago’s Sportsman’s Club. “It’s a pretty safe order that most bars can execute.”
Longtime bartender Justin Lane Briggs has a personal take as well, recommending a non-alcoholic cocktail with sweetened ginger juice, lime juice and aromatic bitters in soda. “Delicious, and quite good for me — besides the sugar,” he says.
If you’re not looking for alcohol but would appreciate a caffeine buzz, Club-Mate — the thinking person’s Red Bull — is becoming more popular at bars in the United States, where it’s usually mixed with vodka. It’s a German soda that uses South American yerba maté tea as its base, making for a strange but interesting acquired taste. It promises a sustained supply of caffeine with a less harsh come-down than other energy drinks, and it is completely natural — a trend that’s catching on for many choice beverages.
“I can certainly say that kombuchas, shrubs, and drinking vinegars are having a moment,” says longtime bartender Justin Lane Briggs. The passion for local, well-made kombucha definitely goes beyond the realm of yogis and fermentation nuts. “I’m loving the spots that have kombucha on tap,” says Skurnik Wines & Spirits representative Nicole DeCicco. “I recently had some kombucha ginger beer by Kombucha Brooklyn that was low proof — 2 percent or so — and it was fantastic. I would drink it over beers most days.”
For Brittany Leach of Lush Life Productions, a Lillet Blanc on the rocks with a twist of orange is the best low-ABV option. “It’s easy to drink, and a solid bet for lengthy meetings because you can have more than one,” she says.
Another popular choice are coconut water non-alcoholic cocktails. Mindy Kucan is a bartender at Portland’s Hale Pele, a tiki bar. “The owner of the bar, Blair Reynolds, has a syrup line with 11 different syrups ranging from orgeat, which is an almond syrup, to hibiscus grenadine and passion fruit,” she says. Using them as inspiration, “One of my favorite go-to non-alcoholic drinks is a spin on the classic Brazilian Batida.” (Recipe below.)
Briggs also fashions virgin cocktails using juices with simple sweeteners. A favorite combines lime, grapefruit, pineapple and bell pepper juice with a pinch of salt and bit of cane syrup. “I might even add a dash of hot sauce,” he notes.
There’s a lot more behind bars to inspire non-alcoholic drinks that go beyond plain bitters and soda. From refreshing non-alcoholic cocktails to probiotic-packed kombuchas, these recommendations prove that, sometimes, going out is good for you.
Virgin Brazilian Batida
- 1 1/2 oz coconut water
- 1/2 oz passion fruit syrup
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1/2 oz coconut cream
Pour all ingredients in a shaker and shake with cubed ice. Pour into a Collins glass and top with club soda or sparkling water. Garnish with a lime wheel.