Welcome to Like A Virgin, a new column in which we’ll recommend a different zero-ABV drink each week. They’re not “near beers,” they’re not “mocktails”—they’re delicious beverages that anyone and everyone should try at least once. Got an idea for a future Like A Virgin column? Email us at email@example.com.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous edition of Like A Virgin, I approach non-alcoholic imitations of alcoholic beverages with extreme caution, because they’ll never taste exactly like the real thing and, well, I really like the real thing. I’m comfortable enough in my sobriety that I’m not worried about alcohol-free spirits like Lyre’s enticing me to fling myself off the wagon, but it’s something I consider before recommending anything to the similarly sober masses. That being said, I’m somewhat confident that Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Spirits won’t bring out anyone’s worst instincts, because they don’t taste all that much like the hard liquors they’re trying to replicate. That’s a good thing.
Thus far I’ve tasted five of Lyre’s offerings: Dry London Spirit, a sober take on gin; Aperitif Rosso, inspired by sweet vermouth; Italian Orange, with bitter notes associated with Campari; Italian Spritz, an homage to Aperol; and White Cane Spirit, which supposedly is a zero-proof counterpart to rum, though it tastes like nothing of the sort. Lyre’s also produces non-alcoholic versions of bourbon, amaretto, Kahlua, triple sec, and dark spiced rum, but as I’ve yet to try them, I cannot comment on their quality, or how close they are to the real thing. (If you have, please let us know in the comments section!) I wouldn’t consider purchasing any of these bottles if you prefer to drink your fake booze neat or on the rocks, but if you’re looking for zero-proof spirits that can easily stand in as a 1:1 replacement in classic cocktail recipes, Lyre’s will be a godsend in helping you set up a swanky home bar.
It’s been a long time since I’ve tasted Campari, but I remember it being excruciatingly bitter in a good way. Lyre’s Italian Orange bitterness nearly ends up as a background note to the assertive sweetness; its primary ingredients are water and sugar, and taken alone it has the viscosity of a light simple syrup. Though this could be off-putting to someone who was hoping for something so bitter it would turn their face inside out, when you remember this is not actually Campari and should be judged on its own merits, it’s delightful when mixed with soda. An ounce or two of Italian Orange mixed with Grapefruit Bubly or Passionfruit LaCroix is a spectacular beverage to sip while hovering over a hot stove. Or stick to classic unflavored seltzer, add a bit of Lyre’s excellent vermouth impostor, Apertif Rosso, and you’ve got yourself a classy NA Americano in seconds. The latter concoction has transformed my personal pancake-makin’ time into the epitome of luxury.
If “Campari-esque” simply isn’t good enough for you, Lyre’s “Aperol-esque” Italian Spritz might be more your speed. It also lists water and sugar as its main ingredients, but is far more assertive with its use of herbs and bitter citrus. It plays well with the Dry London Spirit, which on its own isn’t the sort of violent cacophony of aromatics one expects from gin. I tried it in a classic gin and tonic, and felt it didn’t have enough gravitas to carry the drink on its own. But, add a bit of Italian Spritz to that G&T, and you’ve got the sort of drink that will make you feel like a fancy bastard, without the booze.
I don’t like ending things on a negative note, which is why I’m choosing to ignore the existence of Lyre’s White Cane Spirit entirely, and you should, too. Instead, I’ll end by circling back to that Aperitif Rosso, Lyre’s homage to red vermouth, to further sing its praises. It strikes a perfect balance of bitter, bright, and sweet, like a sophisticated Sour Patch Kid in a cordial glass. We often think of vermouth as a supporting player in cocktail recipes, but I think this spirit-free spirit has the chops to shine in the simplest of preparations: try it with club soda or a high-quality tonic water. Perhaps I’ll need to spring for a bottle of Lyre’s American Malt and make myself a Manhattan to unwind with after my personal pancake time is over.