Everyone loves a fresh start to the new year, but what about a dry one? Mocktail versus cocktail? This is the question many confront at the start of the new year. Lots of people have decided to leave alcohol in 2023, including several famous names, from Spiderman’s Tom Holland to supermodel Bella Hadid, who even co-founded her drink substitution brand, Kin Euphorics. This January, mocktails are in, and cocktails are out!
What Is Dry January?
The Dry January challenge, as we know it today, began to gain traction in the US in the early 2000s. Slowly, it’s become well-known; and for many a way to start the new year with a blank slate by spending the first four weeks of the year alcohol-free. Have you done the Dry January Challenge? My husband and I decided to do it this year. I’ll be honest, it’s been a challenge. I didn’t realize how much a cocktail before dinner and a nice glass of wine with dinner are a part of our nightly routine.
A month of sobriety hasn’t been easy, it’s allowed us to assess our drinking – how much we drink on a regular basis and why. Plus, there are some definite health advantages to minimizing alcohol consumption:
- Weight loss
- Better sleep
- Improved mood and energy levels
- Increased physical activity due to more energy; and
- Better diet due to better dietary restraint and fewer empty calorie intake.
Benefits of Tossing Booze to the Side
As we all know (maybe too well at times), alcohol takes a major toll on your body, leaving you with that nasty hangover and other long-term effects. It’s even shown to put people at a higher risk for cancer compared to those who don’t drink. On the other hand, mocktails give you the chance to improve your health while also making sure you avoid any morning repercussions.
We took the challenge seriously and decided to try some of the many mocktails and nonalcoholic spirits available now. After trying everything from nonalcoholic beer to bourbon to wine, I can report that nothing we tried can truly take the place of the taste alcohol but we did find some alternatives that we like.
My Top Mocktail Spirits
Let me introduce you to a few of the alcohol-free alternatives we tried out.
We had Pentire for the first time in a phony Gin & Tonic at SoHo House on South Beach. By itself Pentire tastes a bit flat, but once the tonic water is added in the flavor profile really puts you in the mind of drinking a G&T. We also tried Seedlip, another popular nonalcoholic gin; our preference is Pentire.
Another alternative for an evening gin-based mocktail is Seedlip’s Grove 42. Seedlip comes in a variety of flavors – blood orange, ginger, and lemon, just to name a few. I a bit of a gin purist, so the flavors didn’t quite work for me. But, if you’re new to gin or like flavored drinks, give this one a whirl.
Martini & Rossi Vibrante
I love Martini & Rossi’s Sweet Vermouth (the red version) on the rocks with a lemon twist. Vermouth is a fortified wine often used as a mixer in cocktails. Because it’s a fortified wine it’s got a lower alcohol content which makes it an easy drink to sip on when day-drinking or when you don’t want a full blown cocktail. So, I was delighted to learn that Martini & Rossi had a toe in the nonalcoholic spirit game.
Hand’s down, their Vibrante non-alcoholic L’aperitivo is one of the best on the market. The long-established Italian brand prides itself in the use of “master herbalists” who tailor the ingredients to each liquor. By following a similar process used to make Martini &Rossi’s signature liquors, their Vibrante has the same flavor profile as the real thing; I was blown away by it. I definitely noticed the herbal hints and a bit of sweetness and tartness. Pour this over ice with a little bit of tonic, and voila- you have the perfect mocktail!
If any kind of Spritz is one of your go-to cocktails, definitely give M&R’s Vibrante a try.
Wilfred’s Apertif was fine. It’s their version of M&R’s Vibrante. I didn’t love it over ice, it tasted a little bit artificial to me – their skill with the botanicals isn’t at the same level of Martini & Rossi. We doctored up our Wilfred’s cocktails with sparkling water and grapefruit soda and a little splenda and they were tasty.
Over the years, I’ve tried a variety of nonalcoholic beers. All of the big brands have a nonalcoholic version – Corona, Heinkeken, Coors, Blue Moon, etc. My favorite is Athletic Brewing, a company started by 2 friends in Connecticut who were originally home beer brewers. The mission of Athletic Brewing is to make a great beer that happens to be non-alcoholic. If you like beer, but don’t love the calories give this brand a try. Their IPAs are great and they recently started brewing a Belgian Ale too.
My Least Favorite Mocktail Spirits
Ya’ll know I’m a Bourbon Gal. I was tentative about trying a nonalcoholic whiskey, but Kentucky 74 has become quite the decorated non-alcoholic spirit, garnering multiple awards in the category. It contains subtle notes of vanilla, caramel, and oak; the flavor profile is on point, but unfortunately the taste is lacking. I love the look of the bottle and was excited when I learned that Kentucky 74 is a woman-founded business, but after trying it on the rocks, with ginger beer and then in a few bourbon cocktails I had to move on.
Throughout the month of January what I have missed the most is a nice glass of red wine. I admit it, by the time we came across this Gisen New Zealand premium red, I was a bit jaded. I wanted it to taste good and was excited to try it. This was a HARD no for me. It tastes like communion wine. Unlike regular or full-strength wine, dealcoholized wine has a reduced alcohol content. Ok, so it starts out as regular wine, how bad can it be? Pretty bad if you’re expecting it to taste like “wine”.
Dealcoholized wine is regular wine that has had most of it’s alcohol content removed using industrial equipment and processing techniques.
Dry January Takeaways
If a month without alcohol seems insurmountable, you should probably give it a try. There are a few days left in January and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready to have a good glass of wine or a well-balanced cocktail, but I am glad I slowed my roll. In the past month, I’ve slept better, been more energized in the mornings and less inclined to skip going to the gym. Experimenting with some of the new nonalocholic spirits on the horizon has given me some alternative drink options as I re-introduce alcohol. I’ll definitely do Dry January again next year, it’s a nice reset.
Have you done Dry January? I’d love to hear about your experience. And if you’ve found some nonalcoholic brands that you love, please share them with me!