Amidst the unironic (and un-funny) wine merch and jokes about drinking liquor mid-workday that have infiltrated social media since the pandemic hit earlier this year, the direct-to-consumer space has seen serious growth in non-alcoholic spirits and beverages — a category offering a different, chiller outlook on alcohol consumption and the lack thereof.
While the concept of non-alcoholic beverages isn't a new one for the market in the slightest, there's been a significant boost of not only supply, but also demand, as consumers — for myriad reasons — are exploring alternatives to drinking. Some have referred to it as the "sober curious" movement, an idea explored at great length in the 2018 self-help book, Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol, written by Ruby Warrington.
In it, Warrington discusses what it means to "choose to question, or get curious about, every impulse, invitation, and expectation to drink, versus mindlessly going along with the dominant drinking culture.” Two years later — and set against the backdrop of a global pandemic — the conversation has become all the more relevant. The movement has been cemented in fact, as well: According to a 2019 report by the International Wines and Spirits Record (IWSR), 52 percent of adults were trying to reduce their alcohol intake.
"It wasn’t that long ago that most people who didn’t consume alcohol, regardless of why, were encouraged to keep it quiet," Holly Whitaker, Founder and CEO of Tempest, a modern digital recovery program, shared with NYLON over email.
"Over the past decade, that’s been shifting; refusal to drink for whatever reason has become a unifying identity, as well as a rallying force: people identify as teetotalers or in recovery, and now more than ever, folks are critical of both Big Alcohol and our society’s obsession with drinking," she added. "This has naturally led to the emergence of all kinds of new behaviors and trends, based on an emergent market of individuals who don’t imbibe alcohol but still desire connecting with friends over drinks or ordering a fancy cocktail at a restaurant."
Whitaker identifies the now greatly understood need for alcoholic beverage alternatives beyond the classic can of Diet Coke or water, at home or at social gatherings, and brands are just now lining up to fill the void — especially when it comes to the very specific wellness-obsessed millennial, direct-to-consumer loyal consumer.
Take Aplós for example, the newest non-alcoholic spirit around. It launched in December 2020, making its mark as a first-of-its-kind hemp-infused option. Its cool, dreamy branding already sets a unique tone for the space, and like other younger brands, Aplós leans heavily into the wellness aspect, diving into what mood-altering benefits it will deliver in place of your typical drunken "buzz."
"Aplós is a functional beverage — we enjoy the ritual of drinking, but we come back to it because of the function it provides," founder and CEO, David Fudge, shared over email. "Our goal is to replicate that experience in the format, the taste, and, importantly, the way it makes us feel." But how does it make you feel? It'll affect everyone differently (like coffee), but according to the brand, the 20 mg of broad-spectrum hemp per serving leave most with a soft, calming feeling.
"Our hope is to create a world that celebrates the connection and conversation that drinking provides, but to do so in a healthier way. We see a future where you go to a bar and 15-20 percent of the options are non-alcoholic," added Fudge.
Whitaker notes that the rise in these non-alcoholic options has intersected with a number of other health and wellness related trends in this particular point in time, and with good reason. "More people are being vocal about their choice not to consume alcohol and/or paths to recovery. Rates of alcohol use are skyrocketing as a result of not only the pandemic, but also political and civil unrest, and general instability. The promotion of alcohol on social media, mainstream media, and through general advertising as 'the' answer to COVID and 2020 are at a fever pitch: we’re being told to drink to deal," she explained.
"It makes sense that new trends around [drinking], including the normalization of non-alcoholic cocktails, would emerge at a time where there’s spikes in both our consumption, abstinence, and criticism of large institutions like Big Alcohol. Change like this erupts from tipping points in other behaviors."
Whether you're looking for a new go-to cocktail alternative, or just for something to reduce the frequency of your hangovers, check out five of the best non-alcoholic beverages and spirits on the market today, below.
Best Non-Alcoholic Beverages: Aplós
Aplós is the first hemp infused, plant-based, non-alcoholic beverage, formulated with 20 mg of broad-spectrum hemp per serving and is vegan, gluten free, non-GMO, and sugar free. The brand's debut flavor — a bold, citrus-heavy blend with notes of ginger and rosemary — was crafted in partnership with James Beard honoree and master mixologist, Lynnette Marrero, making for an easy drink to unwind with, "without the negative side effects of alcohol." According to the brand, consumers can expect to feel a naturally calming, mood-boosting effect within 15 minutes of consumption. Mix it simply with a seltzer, or explore more layered recipes.
Shop for $48 at aplos.world.
Best Non-Alcoholic Beverages: Kin Euphorics
There's a good chance you've seen Kin Euphorics while scrolling on Instagram (or on wheat-paste posters across your nearest big city). The brand leans on a buzzy blend of adaptogens like Reishi mushroom and roseroot, nootropics, and botanics like hibiscus and ginger to elevate your mood. It offers a variety of formulas designed for different outcomes and scenarios — like High Rhode, designed to take the edge off and boost your mood for social settings, or Dream Light, made for winding down and supporting deep stages of sleep throughout the night.
Shop from $39 at kineuphorics.com.
Best Non-Alcoholic Beverages: Curious Elixirs
Created in partnership with real bartenders, Curious Elixirs delivers these classic-style bottles of alcohol-free cocktails made with natural ingredients like herbs, spices, organic juices, botanicals, and more. (See: No.3 crafted with cucumber, lemon, and ashwagandha.) Each bottle includes a serving size of two cocktails, and the brand sells its beverages in bulk, with options for four or twelve bottles.
Shop from $29 at curiouselixirs.com.
Best Non-Alcoholic Beverages: Ghia
Launched by a Glossier alumna in the summer of 2020, Ghia introduced its chic, non-alcoholic apéritif to the market, inspired by founder Melanie Masarin's mother and grandmother, who used to serve limoncello and other low-ABV aperitifs during summers spent by the Mediterranean. Just the right amount of bitter, Ghia is crafted with natural extracts and botanicals, herbs known to soothe the mind, and is always vegan, caffeine-free, and include no added sugars. And while you can enjoy the drink alone, each bottle of Ghia comes with a sweet, seasonal recipe book should you want to mix it up.
Shop from $33 at drinkghia.com.
Best Non-Alcoholic Beverages: Töst
For those looking to replace the same special feeling of popping a bottle of bubbly or sparkling wine with dinner, look no further than Töst. Crafted alongside a team of beverage and culinary experts to impart some of the unique characteristics found in alcoholic beverages, Töst is made with all natural ingredients including agave, white tea, ginger, and more. Triple filtering its water, Töst delivers a smooth, crisp, and dry-finish that is just sweet enough. You can buy single 12oz servings (in packs of 12) or 750ml bottles for sharing and special occasions.
Shop from $27 at tostbeverages.com.