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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I used to drink, I thought the burn of alcohol was what kept a cocktail from going down too fast. For most of my life, ordering a mocktail at even the finest of drinking establishments meant getting a beverage made from every juice behind the bar with a splash of grenadine. So when mocktails started having their moment a few years back, I was very apprehensive about the whole thing. Why pay a restaurant $14 for a cup of fancy juice that I can knock back in 30 seconds? As bartenders began getting deliciously experimental with non-alcoholic drinks, however, I realized that it’s not the alcohol burn that keeps you from gulping down a cocktail too quickly—it is the element of surprise.
When making a cocktail, you can easily fall back on that boozy kick to make it interesting. To make a mocktail you need to be more creative, but the goal remains the same: what flavors can you blend together to create a second of confusion in which your brain scrambles to identify what it’s tasting? Sometimes these flavors are so uncommon that the result is practically high art, like Proteau. Sometimes, these flavors are familiar (like bar juice and grenadine), which makes them very accessible... and very difficult to turn into something unexpected.
Every ingredient listed on the label of a bottle of Mocktail Club is instantly recognizable. This, combined with the fact that each 12-ounce bottle sells for about four bucks, gave me relatively low expectations. But my first sips of each flavor caught me by surprise in different ways, and since I’m so used to being disappointed by mocktails, this came as even more of a delight!
The Capri Sour is tart with a light fizz and a backnote of warm spice. I assumed that since each bottle contains a measly 3/4 pint of liquid, they were single-serving mocktails that would go down fast and easy. But I found the flavors slowly sippable enough that I could stretch two glasses out of a bottle, even though its quirks, while enjoyable, don’t have all that much heft. Then I remembered my bar full of Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits, which, as I’ve mentioned previously, taste better when they’re mixed with something else. I poured about 1.5 ounces of Lyre’s Italian Orange into a martini glass with just over 2 ounces of Capri Sour, gave it a little swish, and it was simply lovely: a mocktail made to unwind with. For just under $5, it’s way less than I would have spent buying all sorts of fruits, spices, and syrups to make it myself. Plus all I needed to do was open two bottles and pour, which is the maximum amount of effort I like putting into a drink after a hard day.
Mocktail Club’s other offerings were equally enjoyable in their own way. I had assumed the Manhattan Berry would be sweet, but it had a surprising bite of fresh ginger and played very nicely with Lyre’s American Malt. Bombay Fire mixes pomegranate and lime with a slap of black pepper, which could be nice with a non-alcoholic agave spirit. My favorite, the Havana Twist, is punchy without being too acidic, and that’s a harder balance to strike than one might think. I enjoyed this last one so much all on its own, I wouldn’t mind coughing up four bucks and change to keep every ounce of it to myself. And yes, I’ll even consent to calling it a “mocktail.”