There are many virtues to going sober, whether it’s short-term or for the long haul. Darren Marble recently extolled the virtues of long-term sobriety for the savvy business owner, while contributor Jesse Stormer explained the detriments of alcohol as king of the empty calorie, taking away from our daily allotment of caloric intake without adding virtually any nutritional value. Whether taking a break from drinking for a month or for keeps, sobriety is unquestionably beneficial for your waistline, clears your head, helps you stay hydrated, and gives your liver a well-deserved respite.
Although many social norms have made it tricky to eschew alcohol, temporary sobriety is a growing trend, with both Dry January and Sober October gaining popularity over the past few years. That said, if you are a social drinker, it’s sometimes nearly unfathomable to consider a “good time” to take a break from booze. January is a reasonable choice as a time to convalesce from the holiday gluttonfest, but what about October? How will you brave myriad Halloween parties without finding yourself empty-handed? Or worse—without boring everyone to death with your repeated explanations of why you’re doing Sober October when they eye your can of Diet Coke?
Never fear: the NA Bevs are here.
With a large part of the Millennial generation now matured into the age where drinking three cocktails gives us a raging hangover, more and more consumers are looking for alternatives to the traditional nightcap. This makes taking a break from drinking more accessible than ever. Even pop star Katy Perry got on the bandwagon with her adaptogenic non-alcoholic apéritifs, De Soi, and if you hit a health-oriented, somewhat upscale grocery store, you’re likely to find an astonishing number of near-beers, fake spirits, and mocktail options now at your fingertips.
Of course, not all of these are created equal. Some taste like dirt—cough, De Soi, cough, cough—while others taste like nothing at all—I’m looking at you, overpriced fake vodka water. And many of them cost at least the same as a mid-range bottle of the real thing, which is a touch galling. But if you think of it as paying to improve your health—and you buy options that are actually delicious—it can feel like a worthy investment rather than making a sucker out of you.
I myself took a break from drinking during my recent fitness journey, and I found I deeply missed the ritual of it, and the taste of beer. (True to my German heritage, to me, heaven is a good cold beer with a sandwich.) So I did a pretty substantive bit of thoroughly unscientific research, which I thought I’d share in support of your spirit-free adventures. Of course, you can do your own hunting on sites like DrinkNoLow or Proof No More, but to save yourself a bit of trial and error, here are the best of each kind of booze that I’ve discovered.
Beer lover that I am, let’s start off my fav for “near beer:” almost anything from Athletic Brewing Company.
Created with athletes in mind, these are craft-brewed non-alcoholic beers that are low-calorie and low-carb without losing out on good flavor. I’m a huge craft beer fan, and these make me feel like I’m not missing out at all, which is a pretty big deal.
This brewery makes any number of styles, from a wit to a copper-style Mexican lager to a hazy IPA. As a German girl, I dig a traditional or easy drinking beer, so my favorites are:
Oktoberfest: this 65 calorie märzen is impressively tasty. It’s got all the malt backbone you’d expect from a proper Oktoberfest bier, but with none of the booze. Plus, the can is cute, and you’ll blend right into the lederhosen/dirndl-wearing masses with one in hand.
If you’re a gluten avoider—and even if you’re not, I’d also recommend the Upside Dawn Golden Ale. With just 45 calories and 10g carbs a pop, you can fit in a can or two without breaking your caloric budget for the day, sating that craving.
Honorable mention goes to Athletic Lite, which is an even lighter beer version, but still nails that bitter bite. This only has 25 calories and 5 carbs, so this is my favorite, because I can have two instead of one of the previous. Or, you know, four instead of two. (I am German, I like to drink beer voluminously. It’s my culture.)
Even better in serving my desire to chug beer without the actual beer is the new trend of hop waters. Like the name indicates, these are sparkling waters that, infused with hops, evoke the flavor of beer without any calories. (Basically imagine if La Croix made a beer flavor.)
While these don’t have any calories, they do, however, cost money—and most of them cost the same amount as regular beer. So as much as you could pound them down like La Croix, for your wallet’s sake, I encourage you to treat them more like… well… a treat!)
Lagunitas’ Hoppy Refresher is for sure my absolute favorite of these—it somehow stands alone as a delicious, refreshing beverage independent of whether or not it reminds you of beer—while I’d say Hoplark’s 0.0 Citra and Sierra Nevada’s Hop Splash are a tie for second. (Note: I’ve tried other Hoplarks and they didn’t cut the mustard for me.)
Of course, even though it’s my absolute favorite, I’m aware that many people don’t like beer. So if that’s not what you’d be missing in your Sober October, you could sate your jonze for wine instead with Freixenet’s 0% rosé champagne.
Non-alcoholic wine is a little trickier to nail than beer because the alcohol contributes to mouthfeel and all that fancy shit sommeliers go on about. I’ve tried a few other NA wines, and most of the reds wound up tasting a little bit like grape juice to me, even when they had the correct dry flavor, since they didn’t have that added viscosity from the alcohol, which also gives wine its “legs”. Bubbles, however, completely mask the fact that alcohol has been removed, and since there’s not really such a thing as a heavy-bodied sparkling wine, the lack of viscosity from alcohol is easier to forgive in this style. I legitimately couldn’t tell this 0% sparkling rosé from a regular bottle of champers—nor could my friend, who was delighted to discover we could drink this in the park without risking a “drinking in public” ticket from the NYPD.
While there are other good 0% sparkling wines on the market, this is for sure one of the best for the flavor and the price, running only around $10/bottle. Also, if you want to live like a bon vivant, one serving size is a whopping half a bottle.
The final frontier of NA bevs is, of course, the mocktail, and its composite parts of ABV-free spirits. I’ll break this down into the flagship staples of a bar and more obscure spirits that make for a varsity level mocktail over your standard whiskey coke.
First, for the price and the quality, Ritual Zero Proof can’t be beat for their unreal liquor replacements. They’re all natural, high quality, award-winning, and cost less than a fancy bottle of the same booze—around $28/bottle. Keep in mind, these are made to be mixed: like NA wine, these won’t dupe you if you’re drinking straight or on the rocks with no mixer, because they don’t have the viscosity of alcohol. However, when mixed in with soda, coke, or any other mixer, these are uncannily similar to their boozy cousins, and taste really high quality.
My personal favorite is the rum, which has a gorgeous aroma of Madagascar vanilla and spicy gingery zip to it. It makes a lovely NA Cuba Libre—with a wedge of lime, ice, and Coke Zero, you’ve got a delicious and satisfying treat for the end of your day that only dings you two carbs.
If you’re going to be on the wagon more long term and you’re a big fan of mixology, it might be worth checking out Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Spirits. This is truly next level in upping your NA drink game. Lyre’s carries virtually every variety of ingredient you could want to make any number of cocktails, from Manhattans to Negronis to Amaretto Sours. My absolute favorite from them is their version of Aperol, Lyre’s Italian Spritz. Basic bitch that I am, Aperol Spritzes are my favorite drink, summer or not. Putting a shot of Lyre’s into the previously mentioned NA sparkling wine is the best and most convincingly real mocktail I’ve ever tasted. A friend of mine recently got pregnant and was mourning the loss of her cocktails, so I got her a bottle of this when she was visiting New York for her birthday. We added it to her sparkling water at dinner and she didn’t feel like she was missing out one bite.
That said, Lyre’s products cost pretty much the same as normal booze, so gird loins for some sticker shock—there won’t be any anesthetizing alcohol to soothe the blow to your wallet. But if having a high quality mocktail to end your day or offer up at a party would bring you joy, then I say it’s worth it. And if you don’t finish it this month, there’s always January.