‘Tis the season to raise a glass – to friends, family, and the future. And for those participating in “Dry January” – to lowering the alcohol to zero. Whether you’re sober curious, designated to drive, or cutting out booze completely, the growing trend toward mindful drinking has given way to a myriad of options for keeping a clear head without sacrificing taste.
Lakefront Brewing in Milwaukee developed an NA version of its popular amber Riverwest Stein, and it’s got all the malt and hops balance one would expect from the original. In fact, this might be one of the best near beers you’ve ever tasted. In light of the near beer’s warm reception, the brewery also added NA versions of Extended Play IPA and Eastside Dark to its lineup.
Non-alcoholic wine is often based on juice. But dealcoholized wine is actual fermented wine sent through spinning cone columns in a low-temperature vacuum steam distillation process. The alcohol and wine flavor compounds come out in separate stages, but the latter are added back into the final product. Wines produced by Fre and Ariel Vineyards use this process with good effect.
For the juice-based cousins, consider Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery in Door County, which uses Montmorency tart cherries to make Cherry Spumante and a Honeycrisp Apple version as well. Wollersheim also offers a Sparkling White Grape Juice. Another convincing option for some New Year’s Eve toasts is the Canadian-based Grüvi, which delivers Bubbly Rosé and Dry Secco in individual 275ml bottles with 50 calories. (The company’s Golden Lager took Gold in the non-alcoholic beer category at the 2022 World Beer Cup.)
Mead or Not Too Mead
White Winter Winery in Iron River is best known perhaps for its mead (honey wine) and cyzer (a cross between mead and hard cider), but it also makes an absurdly delicious zero-alcohol Blueberry Spritz with actual blueberry juice, available in 4-pack 12-oz. bottles. It also offers raspberry and black currant spritzes in the spring.
Soda So Good
Originally made in the Driftless Area, Wisco Pop is now produced at Karben4 Brewery in Madison. The ginger soda (not spicy) is phenomenal and shows residue from the actual ginger used. The strawberry also tastes like actual strawberry, unlike many imitators. The limes, lemons, ginger and cane sugar used to make the ginger soda are all organic. Don’t skip out on the cherry, which is like pie in a bottle! Don’t want the sugar? Brewers also make Sparkle: unsweetened sparkling waters with ginger, lime or lemon.
Ready to Drink
RTD mocktails offer a bit more complexity than your average soda. The mission of women-owned, Wisconsin-based Kul Mocks is to be “Boozeless, not boring!” The company created six flavors, including Strawberry Mock-arita, the Mock Mule, and even a Mock G&T, which all use natural flavors to mimic traditional cocktails. A mix of cane sugar, stevia, and monk fruit extracts keep these under 50 calories per can. A nice bonus!
Get creative and assemble your own sober bar – a “so-bar,” if you will.
Sold in large bottles, zero-alcohol liquor replacements are built with flavor profiles to easily swap in for traditional cocktail recipes. Some brands, such as Drink Monday – which produces non-alcoholic whiskey, gin and mezcal – add a complex peppery quality that mimics the mild burn of alcohol. Other varieties, such as Seedlip, have a distinctive flavor that might call to mind the botanical character of a gin. Seedlip Spice 94 comes in a 700ml bottle and is a “warm, aromatic blend of allspice and cardamom with fresh citrus top notes to balance the long bitter finish.”
Then, bring in your mixers. Top Note, based in Milwaukee, offers a variety of aromatic non-alcoholic tonics – Bitter Lemon, Indian Tonic, Ginger Beer – that will kick up the character of your mocktail. Siren Shrubs is a Wisconsin-based, women-owned company producing, you guessed it, shrubs! This sweetened vinegar-based mix of aromatics and fruits is concentrated, so a 16-oz. bottle will last awhile since you only need a splash at a time.
A couple dashes of bitters bring balance and depth to a cocktail, but the typical varieties are north of 20% alcohol by volume. In fact, many flavor extracts use alcohol as the extraction agent – check your bottle of real vanilla in the cupboard for reference. But as Ira Koplowitz of Bittercube in Milwaukee rightfully points out, the FDA’s definition of “non-alcoholic” for near beers and such is not zero, but “less than 0.5% alcohol by volume.” Bitters come in a small bottle with an eyedropper and amounts in a cocktail are often one or two dashes (<0.05 oz.) in a full drink of six or more ounces. Depending on how strict you are, that still qualifies as NA under FDA guidelines.
Confused? Skip the math altogether and seek out All the Bitter from California, which produces its products without any alcohol and offers six varieties including Classic, Orange, and Lavender-Chamomile. We can all drink to that!
Click here for more Wisconsin-made NA beverages to try.