7 Best Mocktails You Can Buy—I Know Because I Tried Them All
A break from Covid-19-related drinking habits
Every year, I hear friends and acquaintances talk about going alcohol-free for a month either for “Dry January” or “Sober October.” This year, after a parade of Zoom hangouts filled with happy hours and afternoon apéritifs, I decided it was my turn to complete a no-alcohol month. It turns out I’m not alone in wondering, “Is alcohol good for me?”
“During Covid-19, I have seen an increase in alcohol consumption with clients,” says Mary Gollan, RDN, board member of the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Alcohol is safe and even healthy when consumed in recommended amounts—one drink per day for women and two per day for men. However, if you drink more than that, or binge drink, [it] could result in a decrease in health benefits.”
Sheri Vettel, RD, a registered dietitian with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, says she has noticed many people “unintentionally increasing their alcohol intake” during the pandemic. Some drink to relieve stress, while others lean on drinking and virtual happy hours as a way to connect with loved ones from far away. “As people increase their health consciousness, they begin to see the value in reducing their alcohol intake,” she says.
A rising no-alcohol movement
Though many Americans are reaching for zero-proof bottles or the best mocktails after a summer of drinking, cutting back on alcohol isn’t unique to 2020.
“Over the last two years, interest in non-alcoholic drinks has taken off,” says Mascha Davis, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Eat Your Vitamins. “Online searches with the word ‘mocktail’ are up 42 percent. And Google Trends searches for ‘benefits of quitting drinking‘ have increased by 70 percent in the last five years.”
Going from mindful eating and other mind-body trends to mindful drinking isn’t such a leap. “Cutting alcohol temporarily allows your brain and body a break from the desire to drink and perhaps makes you more aware of how much you were drinking,” says Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Total Body Diet for Dummies. “It creates boundaries with alcohol.”
Whether you challenge yourself to a Sober October or Dry January, you can thoughtfully reset your drinking habits so you aren’t searching for ways to sober up fast. And it’s much more fun to nix the booze when you have tasty alternatives to booze on the table.
Health benefits of cutting out alcohol
A mental reset is one thing, but what can a month without booze do for your physical health? Nutritionists say there are many benefits to going alcohol-free.
“Your skin will look clearer, brighter, and possibly plumper because you aren’t becoming dehydrated through alcohol intake,” says Davis, who recently completed a Sober October of her own, swapping out her favorite cocktails for mocktails made with zero-proof spirits like Ritual or Seed-lip. “Your sleep will improve. Gut health is likely to improve. Energy levels tend to increase. And it can help with mood and alleviation of anxiety.”
Vettel notes that the benefits will depend on your current health condition, adding that people with histamine intolerance, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth could experience symptom relief almost immediately. Taking a break from booze will also help your body’s natural detoxification process, stabilize blood sugar, and boost hydration, she says. It’ll also motivate you to find healthier ways to connect socially.
“Alcohol is a toxin that our bodies do not need for survival, yet it provides seven calories per gram,” adds Shanta Retelny. “So most people who cut out alcohol lose weight, too.”
How to search for the best mocktails
When I decided to challenge myself to a Sober October, I knew my month would be more enjoyable with a replacement for my evening glass of white wine. I wanted something simple, affordable, and easy to find at my local supermarket. It was also important for me to opt for alternatives to calorie- and sugar-heavy sodas and fruit juices.
“Booze-free drinks can potentially be high in sugar and caffeine, so it’s best to avoid mocktails that include soda, energy drinks, or tonic waters,” says Gollan.
While I didn’t avoid tonic waters, I did steer clear of simple sparkling lemonades and juices. Instead, I tried to expand my horizons with tonics, kombucha varieties, and a slew of bitter-based mixers. Though I first experimented with blending soda waters—including several types of San Pellegrino—I ultimately found my top seven picks among 12 pre-mixed mocktails. Here are the best mocktails to try as an alcohol-free drink alternative.
Mindful Margarita by Spirity Cocktails
$15, pack of 4
“I’d recommend that folks check out the labels of any booze-free drinks they’re consuming to make sure all the ingredients are right for them,” says Vettel. In the case of Spirity Cocktails, the star ingredient is always tea. This particular blend of bitter fermented tea, lime, and lemongrass has a remarkably tequila-like flavor. Many mocktails rely on fruit juices and sweeteners for flavor. This zero-proof margarita doesn’t taste cloyingly sweet. It stays true to the bitterness of alcohol and crisp, refreshing lime—all while adding up to just 25 calories. (You can also make your own margaritas with these 4 best non-alcoholic tequilas.)
Dry by Hella Cocktail Co.
$30, pack of 12
Hella Cocktail Co.’s “Bitters & Soda” line far exceeded my expectations. The drink’s light effervescence is a delightful alternative to alcohol’s dry mouth-feel. And the gentian bitters add enough spicy clove and orange peel to nearly trick me into thinking I was drinking a full-fledged cocktail. This would be a crowd-pleaser at any holiday cocktail party, whether you’re cutting out alcohol or not. If you’re craving a little sweetness, mix it with a splash of cranberry juice or orange juice.
Pomegranate Kombucha by Circle
$3 per can
I don’t normally enjoy the taste of kombucha. But when friends recommended it as a booze-free refresher, I taste-tested my way through a few bottles. Circle’s pomegranate flavor was the clear winner. The fermented flavor was not overwhelming, and the fizzy tartness reminded me of a dry hard cider. It’s worth noting that this is a fermented beverage, meaning that it can have trace amounts of alcohol. That’s the case with any brand of probiotic-packed kombucha, though.
Spritz by Hella Cocktail Co.
$30, pack of 12
On my quest for the perfect pre-mixed mocktail, I tried a lot of sweet, fruity drinks. But when I craved an adult-like beverage with just a hint of sweetness, I reached for this one by Hella Cocktail Co. Depending on your palette, this zero-proof spritz might be too heavy on the cloves. For me, the balance of bitters is perfect. The additional sugar makes this one clock in at 90 calories per can—about the same as a vodka soda, though this mocktail is tastier and completely alcohol-free.
Apple Dandelion Sparkling Tonic by Fruitbelt
$2 per bottle
When I drink alcohol, I’m a fan of refreshing, crisp cocktails like mules and mojitos. This sparkling tonic didn’t quite replace the taste of alcohol, but it added a grown-up twist of its own. Fruitbelt’s trademark bitters with chicory and dandelion marry the apples’ tartness beautifully. A hint of honey tops it off. This sparkling tonic is the most soda-like option on the list, but it’s still a satisfying drink in place of hard cider or a light gin-based cocktail. (Check out these non-alcoholic gins for alternatives too.)
Bitter Lemon Tonic Water by Schweppes
$6, pack of 4
Tonic water is a common cocktail mixer. In my quest for the greatest mocktail, I wondered: Could any of my favorite mixers stand alone? Bitter lemon aside, the quinine in this Schweppes one will make you love it or hate it. For me, it’s love. The flavor is bitter and strong. It’s a sippable tipple on its own, though you might enjoy it with a splash of soda water (or even one of the Hella Cocktail Co. mocktails on this list). Play around with ratios to find what you like, but definitely give this bitter lemon tonic water a try.
Mindful Negroni by Spirity Cocktails
$15, pack of 4
This was the first canned mocktail I tried, and it quickly became the standard to which I compared all others. Because I’m not a fan of vermouth, the Mindful Negroni by Spirity Cocktails didn’t delight me with its flavor. It did, however, astound me with its ability to replicate the bitterness, aroma, darkness of a true Negroni. It smells and tastes like a complex adult beverage. In my humble opinion, the mouth-feel alone belies this mocktail’s identity. Lightly effervescent rather than gently stirred, this “negroni” is the perfect addition to a zero-proof cocktail hour.
- Mary Gollan, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC, a dietician, certified lactation counselor, and board member on the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Sheri Vettel, RD, a registered dietitian with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition
- Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Eat Your Vitamins
- Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, LDN, author of Total Body Diet for Dummies