New Trend: Raise a Glass to Zero-Proof Cocktails With These 9 Alcohol-Free Recipes

The rise in craft cocktails sans alcohol is something to celebrate.

couple with cocktails

 Photo by Biancca Wallace

They say it’s bad luck to toast with an empty glass or to toast without taking a sip to seal the deal. But if you’ve chosen not to drink alcohol, raising a glass with plain water or club soda doesn’t feel quite so celebratory—and what’s a wedding without a few toasts? Enter the zero-proof cocktail.

A zero-proof cocktail is a beverage with no alcohol involved. Instead of a juice base, it involves a non-alcoholic spirit alternative, which our experts say, can achieve the flavor and complexity of a cocktail sans alcohol.

First things first: Don’t call it a “mocktail!" This new evolution of social drinking is just as carefully crafted as its boozy cousin, without the buzz (or the hangover!). As bartenders, mixologists, and at-home aficionados explore everything from shrubs and house-made bitters to botanical alternatives to vodka, whiskey, and gin, it’s becoming even easier to choose not to drink without feeling left out. So whether your wedding guest list includes a few mothers-to-be, you’ve got friends or relatives who are sober, or you know some of your guests might just choose not to drink, it’s worth adding a zero-proof cocktail or two to your wedding beverage menu—and we’ve got the expert scoop on how to make it happen.

What is a zero-proof cocktail?

“It’s a cocktail with no alcohol involved,” explains Carley Gaskin, mixologist and co-founder of Hospitality 201 in Chicago. “In the past, when guests ordered zero-proof cocktails the would get something juice-based that was heavily sweet. Now, with new non-alcoholic spirit alternatives, you can get the flavor and complexity of a cocktail without alcohol.” Adds Samantha Biszantz of UpRooted Events and Root & Flower in Vail, Colorado, “A zero-proof cocktail should be, well, a cocktail! It should have the complexity of a cocktail, but without the booze.”

Meet the Expert

What makes a great zero-proof cocktail?

The secret to a great zero-proof cocktail lies in the balance. “Whether you’re using alcohol or not, we start by balancing sweet and sour or sweet and bitter, then add complexity with spices, herbs, or other savory notes,” Biszantz explains. If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic version of a classic cocktail, try to replicate drinks that have less booze to begin with. “For example, it’s a lot easier to make a zero-proof take on a margarita, Paloma, or even a gin and tonic—which all use alcohol-free mixers—than drinks that are all alcohol like a negroni or an old fashioned,” Biszantz advises. Gaskin continues, “Just removing the alcohol leaves you with only juice and sweetener, so you do want to replace it with something that has some of those bitter or herbal notes.” That’s where a zero-proof spirit alternative can come in handy, helping you balance those flavors without the booze. So, what are your options?

  • Gaskin loves Ritual, which makes non-alcoholic alternatives to gin and whiskey. “You can substitute them one-to-one in a recipe and really keep that flavor profile you know and love," she says.
  • Biszantz turns Seedlip as an alternative because of the product’s complex use of botanicals. “It’s not a copycat gin but has a selection of unique herbal and botanical flavors that each bring something special to a zero-proof cocktail," she says. "You get the complexity that a gin or tequila can add to a drink, just without the alcohol.”

And, of course, there is a whole world of zero-proof cocktails beyond simply swapping in a non-alcoholic alternative. “We’ve found that the best way to make a great zero-proof cocktail is through the use of shrubs,” says Biszantz. "Just mixing a great shrub with soda water can produce a complex non-alcoholic drink!”

A shrub is a base of vinegar—most often apple cider vinegar—and a sweet element like sugar, honey or agave, which is enhanced with fruit, spice, herb, et cetera.

Can zero-proof cocktails be made in batch?

Ready to serve a crowd? The shrub model is perfect for large groups at your wedding. “Once made, shrubs keep for a very long time, and they’re easy to mix and serve quickly. We usually do a two-to-one ratio of sparkling water to shrub, add ice, and then top with a garnish.” So it’s just as easy as pouring a cranberry juice and soda, but with way more payoff in the flavor and satisfaction departments. A punch is another creative way to batch an interesting drink and make service easy. “In fact, I love mixing a great zero-proof punch that’s delicious on its own, and then adding a splash of spirit for guests who do want alcohol in their drink,” Gaskin suggests. Turn to teas, citrus, and a bit of sweetener to create a punch with a bit of bitterness, spice, and freshness.

What about beer drinkers?

If your guests are more of the beer-drinking type, there is a new wave of craft non-alcoholic beers that are a far cry from the bland and watery NA beers of the past. They’re full of flavor, available in every style from wheat to punchy IPA, and are brewed with enough care to tempt even the most devoted of full-strength beer drinkers. A few favorites:

  • Athletic Brewing Co., out of Connecticut, offers a flagship Run Wild IPA, which features the bitterness from a blend of five hops and a malty body, and Upside Dawn golden ale, a floral and refreshing brew that is also gluten-removed, alongside seasonal brews like a citrusy double IPA and an extra-dark stout.
  • Wellbeing Brewing Company in Missouri brews a citrusy, malty Heavenly Body Golden Wheat and a spicy, floral Hellraiser Dark Amber, which are available in both cans and kegs to fuel your party.
  • Also look for Nanny State from BrewDog in Ohio, a malty and hoppy “near beer” with a good dose of bitterness.

Whether you’re sober, pregnant, the designated driver, or just don’t feel like having booze, the rise in craft cocktails sans alcohol is something to celebrate. Check out the zero-proof cocktail recipes below—they're sure to satisfy your craving for a craft beverage, all guaranteed to be hangover-free.

01 of 09

Goose & Gander

zero-proof cocktail

Courtesy of Momed

Looking for a drink that's a bit, well, bitter? Try this one from Momed in Los Angeles. “The key to making a great non-alcoholic drink is to treat the drink as a proper cocktail, not just mixing juices together and calling it a day,” says Mark Stone of Momed. “Bitters are a good way to add complex layers, and pickling fruit and using the salty brine also adds amazing depth to your drink.”

 To make, you'll need:

  • 1/2 oz gooseberry brine (from pickled gooseberries)
  • 3 whole pickled gooseberries
  • 4 Thai or Persian basil leaves
  • 1/2 oz pineapple gum
  • Yuzu tonic (East Imperial brand is a great option)

Directions: Muddle all ingredients, add ice, then top with yuzu tonic. Garnish with a fresh gooseberry.

02 of 09

Pom & Pom

zero-proof cocktail

Courtesy of Genever

Another favorite? Ths fresh and fruity beverage from Genever in Los Angeles. “A fresh and floral version of an Arnold Palmer, this cocktail combines a slight spice from fresh ginger syrup with tartness from lemon and pomegranate, brought together with the floral notes of jasmine green tea,” says Jessie Smyth of Genever. “Allow the tea to brew longer and you can trick your palate into believing there is some sort of bitter amaro in the drink! Just be sure not to get too close to the bride with this one—the pomegranate juice will stain a white dress.”

To make, you'll need:

  • 1 oz ginger syrup
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 oz pomegranate concentrate
  • 2 oz jasmine green tea

To make ginger syrup: In a blender, combine two parts ginger and two parts boiling water with 1 part sugar. Blend into a liquid and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain out ginger pulp.

To make jasmine green tea: Brew jasmine green tea using four servings of tea to every one cup of boiling water. The longer you let it brew, the stronger and more bitter it will become.

Directions: Combine all ingredients, add ice and shake, then strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs and an edible flower.

03 of 09

Turmeric Shrub

zero proof cocktail

Courtesy of UpRooted Events and Root & Flower

This rec comes from UpRooted Events and Root & Flower in Vail, Colorado. “We first created this shrub to use in our take on a Penicillin, which is classically made with Scotch, but it is delicious on its own with some sparkling water!”

To make, you'll need:

  • 4 parts lemon juice
  • 1 part honey
  • 2/3 part apple cider vinegar
  • 2 parts chopped ginger
  • 1 part turmeric
  • Cinnamon sticks, cloves & allspice

Directions: Blend everything except the cinnamon sticks, cloves, and allspice. Add the spices and allow the flavors to meld, then strain. Combine two ounces of shrub and four ounces of sparkling water in a cocktail glass, add ice, garnish, and serve.

04 of 09

Autumn in New York

zero proof cocktail

Courtesy of Getaway

“The Apple Som Cordial (a drinking vinegar or shrub) lends the drink both sweetness and a tart bite,” says Sam Thonis of Getaway in Brooklyn, New York. “The aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas!) gives the drink body, and the mint, turmeric, cardamom, and Dram Black Bitters combine to act as a medley of warming fall flavors. This drink definitely falls on the more complex end of the spectrum for our menu. Like many classic rocks drinks, it is made to be sipped and savored, not thrown back in one gulp.”

 To make, you'll need:

  • 1 1/4 oz. Apple Som Cordial
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. Dona turmeric concentrate
  • 1/4 oz. aquafaba
  • 3 dashes Woodward Extract Co. alcohol-free cardamom extract
  • 3 dashes Dram Black Bitters
  • 4-5 torn mint leaves

Directions: In a shaking tin, muddle the mint with the Apple Som Cordial. Add the rest of the ingredients, and shake hard. Pour into a rocks glass over a splash of seltzer. Garnish with an edible flower.

05 of 09

First Kiss

cocktail

Courtesy of Hospitality 201

This zero-proof cocktail is a recommendation of Hospitality 201 in Chicago, Illinois. In place of gin, it includes a Ritual zero-proof gin alternative.

For a cocktail, you'll need:

  • 2 oz. Ritual Zero Proof Gin alternative
  • 1 oz. hibiscus tea
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice (or squeeze of half lemon)
  • 1/2 oz. simple syrup

For punch, you'll need:

  • 1 bottle Ritual gin alternative
  • 3 cups hibiscus tea
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup simple syrup

Directions: Combine all in a shaker or tall glass with ice. Stir until well chilled. Serve over ice, garnished with a lemon wheel. For punch, combine in a bowl and stir well, then serve over ice and garnish with a lemon wheel.

06 of 09

Zero-Proof Penicillin

zero proof cocktail

Courtesy of Hospitality 201

This zero-proof cocktail is a recommendation of Hospitality 201 in Chicago, Illinois. It involves a Ritual zero-proof whiskey alternative, as mentioned above.

To make, you'll need:

  • 2 oz. Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey alternative
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 oz. simple syrup
  • 1/4 oz. ginger juice

Directions: Combine all in a shaker or tall glass with ice. Stir until well chilled. Serve over ice with a lime wheel.

07 of 09

Orchard Island

zero proof cocktail

Courtesy of Derossi Global 

This zero-proof cocktail comes from Derossi Global Cocktail Bars in New York City.

To make, you'll need:

  •  2 oz. coconut puree
  • 2 oz. green apple juice
  • 3/4 oz. lemongrass syrup
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 2 crushed ice cubes

 Directions: Whip two crushed ice cubes and ingredients together in a shaker until cold and frothy. Pour over pebble ice and top with additional ice. Garnish with apple slices and star anise.

08 of 09

Greenhouse

zero proof cocktail

Courtesy of Derossi Global 

Another rec from Derossi Global Cocktail Bars in New York City, this beverage is a zero-proof take on a classic refreshing cucumber cocktail.

To make, you'll need:

  • 10-15 mint leaves, pressed in bottom of Pilsner glass
  • 2 oz. cucumber juice
  • 1 oz. cane syrup
  • Juice of 1 lime

Directions: Combine juice and syrup over mint leaves. Top with pebble ice and garnish with mint leaves and a fresh orchid.

09 of 09

Forbidden Fruit

zero proof cocktail

Courtesy of Derossi Global

With a name like "Forbidden Fruit," this combo from Derossi Global Cocktail Bars in New York City already sounds enticing.

To make, you'll need:

  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • 3/4 oz. orange juice
  • 2 oz. grapefruit juice
  • 1 oz. oregano syrup
  • 3/8 oz. ginger syrup
  • Pinch of turmeric
  • 2.5 crushed ice cubes

Directions: Whip two-and-a-half crushed ice cubes and ingredients together. Pour over pebble ice and top with additional ice. Garnish with a turmeric-dusted lime wheel.

Cheers!

Related Stories