habit shift: non-alcoholic tipples.

March 4, 2021

There’s something to be said for the ritual and romance of an evening cocktail. In a year that’s been so terribly monotonous, to say nothing of impossible, I think it’s nice to home in on any of the habits that can make things feel even marginally better. Enjoying an evening drink even in non-pandemic times can demarcate the space and time between the work day and the everything-else-day. There’s simple pleasure in the time spent making something a little bit bubbly, a little bit herbacious, a little bit bitter, or flowery, or maybe all of these things at once. Looking forward to anything special that’s JUST FOR ADULTS, NO KIDS ALLOWED, well, in year of non-stop parenting, that’s nice, too. Drinking a cocktail feels rarified and special and fancy. When most everything else feels anything but, I say cheers to that.

Still, especially in a crap year, falling into a pattern of drinking a cocktail or a glass (or two) of wine every single night wasn’t doing me any favors in the coping department. A few months ago when I found myself starting to troll the internet for tips on waking up every morning less miserable, it occurred to me that starting with eliminating a nightly drink might be a place to start. (I appreciated Julia Bainbridge’s thoughts on the subject and am curious to peek inside her book!)

I still like to enjoy a delicious cocktail or a glass of wine once in a while, but I’ve been working on diversifying my diversions. Here, in the spirit of sharing, a few non-alcoholic drinks I’ve been enjoying lately:

Seltzer water: In what’s an understandably precious sounding update, we’ve started to receive a monthly delivery of Brooklyn Seltzer Boys bubbly water. It’s an old-fashioned operation that delivers the most bitingly bubbly seltzer directly to our door. The bottles work out to $4.50 each, which isn’t terribly much more expensive than a regular habit of buying LaCroix, and certainly less expensive than a bottle of wine. Cost notwithstanding, the whole enterprise feels luxurious, which is partially the point. I can’t in good faith recommend that everyone support their local bottling company delivery service, but if you’re in Brooklyn and enjoy very fizzy water and maybe also have a penchant for old-timey things, you wouldn’t be wrong to give them a try. Best enjoyed cold, cold, cold (never frozen).

Bitters: Once, in my pre-child days I attended a bitters making class and then came home, promptly forgot to ever agitate the jar and eventually lost track of it altogether. Now older and wiser, I take delight in buying my bitters. I love Bittercube’s Jamaican No. 1 and I recently I gave myself the gift of a Dram Apothecary Bitters Set.

These bitters are beautiful, which is of course what I noticed first, but they’re also delicious to add into seltzer (or spirits) or even tea, et cetera! For folks who abstain from alcohol entirely, they’re glycerin-based and alcohol-free, which is nice to know! The Palo Santo Bitters are my favorite.

CBD Seltzer: I’ve tried my fair share of CBD seltzers recently and I can’t really say they all pass muster. Still, some are yummy and feel appropriately special for the task at hand (which is, remember, feeling special). I don’t have any particularly strong evidence on whether the CBD is doing a huge amount to chill me out, but I do enjoy a good placebo effect. I like Dram Apothecary’s CBD Seltzers best of all, which are dangerously for sale at our nearest grocery. (Now that we have our own seltzer delivery, I’m curious about adding their water-soluble CBD mixer to my kitchen mixology practice.)

Curious Elixirs: If mixing anything at all feels like too much work, or if you just want to rely on someone else’s expertise, these are delicious cocktails—minus the booze—in a bottle. We were recently able to try a whole box in the form of their Monthly Variety Pack and honest to goodness, they’re so good and fun and wholesome?!

The elixirs have a vaguely healthful taste—the way that a good Bloody Mary can—which is nice. But I also appreciate that they don’t tip all the way toward vegetal in the way of, say, a wheatgrass juice. They’re effervescent and come ready for drinking, though I’ve also diluted mine slightly with seltzer for a lighter taste and I would describe that as success, too. Maybe most importantly, they’re not sweet or cloying like most mocktails out there! We’ve loved them all, but my personal favorite is the No. 4—a non-alcoholic take on an Aperol Spritz that’s super refreshing. James and I have both decided we could drink the spicy, margarita-inspired No. 2 nightly. (All the better with a salted rim.)

Amass Riverine Non-Alcoholic Spirit: Beautiful bottle and branding aside, the non-alcoholic Riverine from Amass is a real delight. It tastes fancy and adult—though the lack of the alcoholic burn takes a minute to get used to. Like the bitters, this works as well as part of a classic cocktail as it does in anything mock. I especially like it mixed with tonic water and lime, like a slightly smoky gin and tonic minus the next day’s headache.

What about all of you? Enjoying more or less of anything special lately?

For the curious:

Our ice cube tray.

Our squat glasses and our taller glasses.

Our bottle opener.

Our linen dish towel.

This post includes several affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links.

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  • Reply Brynn March 4, 2021 at 6:19 pm

    Love these recommendations, Erin! I’ve also been finding it necessary to pivot away from drinking alcohol and have been having fun making my own soda syrups. Recently my two faves are rose cardamom and citrus!

  • Reply Kristin Markov March 4, 2021 at 6:20 pm

    I am a huge Topo Chico fan, but a monthly seltzer delivery sounds delightful and a special. I wish there was something like that available in Los Angeles!

  • Reply Liz Parsons March 4, 2021 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks for this post. I don’t do alcohol, and in a time of “mommy needs a glass” marketing, this is welcome and helpful. ❤️

  • Reply Judith March 4, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    I love a good mocktail! Thanks for helping to expand my repertoire.

  • Reply Tamara March 4, 2021 at 7:08 pm

    I read Julia’s book in December from the library and might just purchase it; it is well worth a look through. One of my fav spirit free drinks from the book is also the simplest: limon e sal (lemon and a pinch of salt in bubbly water). I also really love athletic brewing’s non-alcoholic IPA. It’s bitter and floral and just perfect. Makes a really good shandy with grapefruit juice added too.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 4, 2021 at 8:17 pm

      Oh I’m so glad to hear that! Off to add salt to my seltzer!

    • Reply Jamie March 4, 2021 at 11:36 pm

      That sounds delicious.

    • Reply Inga March 6, 2021 at 2:03 pm

      I just tried this – and it is delicious! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Reply Mullica March 4, 2021 at 7:36 pm

    I’m really enjoying that more people are interested in more interesting non-alcoholic beverages. As someone who is naturally super sensitive to alcohol it’s a drag being surrounded in a culture that highly prioritizes drinking alcohol. I’m also excited for Boisson in Cobble Hill to open up!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 4, 2021 at 8:18 pm

      Someone just told me about it on Instagram! Sounds like it might be open! Excited to stop by.

  • Reply GM March 4, 2021 at 7:58 pm

    My husband and I did dry January and I couldn’t believe how my mood shifted. I was hit with a wave of calm/happiness/chill that was just missing before. Also have three kids and the nightly 1-2 glasses of red wine creeped up on me since Covid started. I would feel a daily rage that was reminiscent of a horrible PMS. What else is there to look forward to at the end of the day but that wine? But in January I would drink green tea and find ways to push through that 5pm aching for a drink. So since February I am back to wine but have only allowed it on Thursday, Fri, Sat. I miss the calmness of January though….
    Erin…how do you decide now when to have that drink? Does it feel like a constant conversation in your head?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 4, 2021 at 8:20 pm

      I hear that! For me, deciding to have a drink or not has been mostly haphazard, but generally also only having an occasional drink on a weekend evening!

    • Reply Rebecca March 4, 2021 at 11:22 pm

      I could have written this. I did dry September and October, January, now Lent. Alcohol, for better or worse, at my age, with three kids, in this political and cultural craziness, makes my anxious feelings raw and angry. I love a nice small glass of Pinot as I make dinner — Erin’s description of the pivot to my own time in the evening resonated — but the combination of this anxious age and this nagging recall of an article showing health risks increase for women who drink more than three beverages a week was too much. Then, thanks to the breaks, I had to consider the obvious connection between moderate daily/near-daily consumption, mood, sleep quality, and my waistline. And now I’m trying to decide if it’s a habit worth mucking with at all.

    • Reply April March 5, 2021 at 1:34 pm

      I was in a similar place – 2 young kids, drinking a moderate amount of wine very regularly. I’ve since read several books about going sober and at this point I’m deciding I don’t drink anymore. It was too much mental anguish to make myself wait until the weekend, and constantly think about if/when/how much I was going to drink. For me, it’s been way easier to just say, I don’t drink. A little sad but having special non-alcoholic drinks has helped a ton. Whatever you decide, good luck to you.

  • Reply mado March 4, 2021 at 8:59 pm

    One of the lovely little perks of living in Quito is the weekly delivery of a case of locally-bottled sparkling water in reusable glass bottles (although nowhere near as picturesque as yours haha). It definitely adds a bit of luxury. Kombucha + sparkling water is still my go-to non alcoholic fancy drink.

  • Reply Crista C March 4, 2021 at 10:04 pm

    This is a habit shift in our home, too. We have been drinking Ghia, which is a non-alcoholic aperitif. We mix it with tonic water and put it in a fancy glass. It’s a perfect way to mark the end of the work (from home) day without any groggy side effects. I would definitely recommend Ghia, and thanks for sharing your tips!

  • Reply Amber March 4, 2021 at 10:29 pm

    Just a small PSA — I live in Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys deliver to me too. I love it!

  • Reply MEL March 4, 2021 at 10:38 pm

    Thank you so much for normalizing not drinking! I quit drinking in January 2020, and now in hindsight I see truly what a miracle it was that I got sober before the deadliest year most of us have or will ever see. And I’m not just talking covid…alcohol related deaths have spiked during the pandemic and I’m not at all surprised. I don’t know if I’d have survived a global pandemic had alcohol been an available tool in my toolbox. I truly do feel like “the luckiest”. Sending love (and bubbles!) to you and yours! xo

  • Reply Megan March 5, 2021 at 12:19 am

    Plan seltzer water with a splash or two of apple cider vinegar. Simple, but tasty.

  • Reply Stacey March 5, 2021 at 12:25 am

    My husband and I splurged a few months ago and got an Aarke carbonator (functional AND pretty!), and it’s drastically reduced the amount of alcohol we drink. As people who could go through a carton of La Croix in two or three days, it’s nice to have a constant supply of seltzer available without having to find a place to store all those cans in our tiny apartment. We’ve been experimenting with bitters/mixers with the seltzer, and the things we’ve tried have been so delicious that we hardly ever pop open a beer or bottle of wine anymore.

  • Reply Szilvi March 5, 2021 at 2:58 am

    I’m on a kombucha kick since late last year – as a 30-something single in London, having pubs/bars closed was a big cutoff. We’re lucky to have a great selection of great craft brands in the UK to make me feel a bit fancy sitting in front of a screen on weekends. Cheaper, healthier and swear-to-god better tasting, than most things I’d pick in a sport bar.

  • Reply Sophie Brauer March 5, 2021 at 3:09 am

    If you like the taste of pastis there is antesite from France, in many different flavours, without sugar, but always with a licorice-y base.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 5, 2021 at 10:17 am

      Oh man, I can’t tell you how many times I have muscled through a generously offered but very much disliked pastis. Every time I think surely my tastes must have evolved but then, alas, no can do!

  • Reply emily March 5, 2021 at 8:54 am

    i started taking a nightly bath instead of having a nightly drink… bath salts and a few bubbles, and i get all the relaxation with no after effects (except for soft skin!)

    bitters and soda water sounds like a nice addition!

  • Reply Heather March 5, 2021 at 9:00 am

    a splash of homemade grenadine in seltzer is amazing! (i think the orange blossom water is important, and you can add more than the recipe calls for, if you like)

  • Reply L March 5, 2021 at 10:23 am

    I’m so excited for these recommendations – from comments too! COVID has brought my nightly drink count up and this article confirmed that it’s something for me to work on – https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/04/well/alcohol-cancer-risk.html – thank you for these new rituals which, with a bit of patience, I think will bring me more joy with a bit less grog

  • Reply Sid March 5, 2021 at 12:52 pm

    Great post! Exciting to hear about some options I’d never seen before. I’m curious to see how Amass compares to Seedlip which I found VERY underwhelming.

    I’ve been really enjoying Fever-Tree (https://fever-tree.com) mixers without the booze. Their “light” (reduced sugar, no artificial sweetener) Ginger Beer has a great spicy kick to it if you like ginger (on ice, with a fresh squeeze of lime). Same with the Lemon Tonic. Now if only I could find something non-alcoholic and not sweet that’s served warm or room temp for those nights when I don’t want a cold beverage…

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 5, 2021 at 1:24 pm

      Ah, I’ve tried Seedlip just once at a party, so I can’t say I have a very accurate recollection. I’d say the Amass is more…savory? I am not an expert at describing drinks…I like Fever-Tree, too! Though even a gingerbeer is usually sweeter than I want. Agreed entirely, none of these really replace the room temp glass of red wine on a winter night!

      • Reply Alexis April 6, 2021 at 1:05 am

        It is so refreshing to have healthy non alcoholic beverages acknowledged and appreciated. I do not drink alcohol and am proud I don’t.. This is a wonderful alternative to my La Croix habit but not available where I live. Reading your clever combinations gives me incentive to find a way to make this.

    • Reply Emma March 6, 2021 at 2:04 pm

      Agree! Loving the regular addition of seltzer and saving alcohol for a weekend occasion, but something warm/room temp is still missing…

  • Reply April March 5, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    It’s like you’ve read my mind with this post! I have decided to stop drinking alcohol after reading several books (This Naked Mind, We are the Luckiest, Quit Like a Woman) and realizing it really makes my anxiety and depression worse. I’m so glad there are fun non-alcoholic options. I also just bought myself the Dram bitters set and it is super fun to add different flavors to sparkling water. I would love a seltzer delivery option – that is very cool. I hadn’t heard about Curious Cocktails but they sound great – buying the sample pack! I also have tried Ritual’s gin, tequila, and whiskey alternatives. They are a good option to feel like you’re having a cocktail and want to make your old favorites.

    • Reply Victoria March 7, 2021 at 5:19 pm

      I love that ice cube tray but mine (same, Onyx, etc), but my metal pieces have fallen out of line and I can’t use the lever to break ice anymore. Erin, know of any good tutorials to bring my ice tray back to use?

      If you’ve done this yourself, I’d love to see one of yours!

  • Reply Lindsey March 5, 2021 at 5:05 pm

    Yes! I am an herbalist, and my go-to low alcohol beverage is mixing tinctures with seltzer and lime. Most tinctures are made in an alcohol base, but you’re putting in like 15 drops, so I consider these drinks “non-alcoholic enough” for me. I make my own tinctures, but you can use any tinctures that you would buy at a health food store or apothecary. I love mixing chamomile and ginger tincture together with lemon and seltzer. Also, Tulsi and Rose tincture with lime and seltzer. I’ll sometimes put a touch of honey too, or use an herbal elixir. It has been helpful when I need a change of pace and don’t want to have wine. You also get the medicinal benefits of the herbs you choose!

  • Reply Elle March 5, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    Thanks for this post, Erin!
    I’m getting married this fall and would love to offer sophisticated, non-cloying, alcohol-free cocktails that would appeal to everyone – ideally prepared by a bartender so it still feels fancy and celebratory. Does anyone know of a bar/beverage truck/service that would cater that type of thing in the NYC-Hudson Valley area? I’ve exhausted my searches!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 7, 2021 at 6:40 pm

      Just learned of a brand new non-alcoholic shop called Boisson in Brooklyn! They might have good leads!

  • Reply Ella March 6, 2021 at 12:16 pm

    Loving shrub as a special non-alcoholic drink. Apple cider vinegar and fruit mixed with bubbly water (or plain) both delicious and feels like a good digestive choice. Many companies out there but this is my favorite (husband and wife team, the ginger and chili is lovely): https://applestatevinegar.com/collections/shop-shrub-and-vinegar

  • Reply Miriam March 7, 2021 at 3:38 pm

    Thank you so much for this post, and for sharing your stories as we slog through the bitter ends of the pandemic. I too recently decided to cut back on the alcohol crutch, but I realized what’s been missing is giving myself something to look forward to at the end of the day. Because cooking dinner while cramming in less distracted parenting just hasn’t been cutting it on the end-of-the-workday-treat front . . . I’m excited to try some of these recommendations!

  • Reply Victoria March 7, 2021 at 5:21 pm

    I love that ice cube tray but mine (same, Onyx, etc), but my metal pieces have fallen out of line and I can’t use the lever to break ice anymore. Erin, know of any good tutorials to bring my ice tray back to use? (Also a proud owner of an Aarke- it was life changing and more reliable than our old soda stream)
    If you’ve done this yourself, I’d love to see one of yours!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 7, 2021 at 6:36 pm

      Oh darn! This hasn’t happened to ours!

  • Reply Sarah March 7, 2021 at 5:43 pm

    I think about alcohol consumption all the time, as I work(ed) in craft beer for years, but I also know that alcohol has strong effects on me. Really happy to see some of the discussion here (like how do we decide?).

    For my own recommendation: Hop Tea is delicious, and the hop flavor is awesome. 3/4 of their flavors are caffeinated, which is a drawback for me, but still really satisfying for anyone looking for hop flavor without alcohol. And while I’m a diehard La Croix fan, in the Before Times, I started buying some sparkling NA cider or something when I had parties. Hits the “fancy” spot w/o the ABV.

  • Reply Mackenzie March 8, 2021 at 1:36 pm

    I gave up drinking alcohol and my last drink was on October 31st, 2020. Halloween, I know. I was using alcohol “to cope” one too many times and it was affecting my mental health never mind the physical symptoms and what was happening with my body.

    It is nice to see posts like this especially when “wine-o’clock” is celebrated so much in today’s culture.

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