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.
Close your eyes and try to imagine a new color. You can’t, can you? No matter how hard you try to twist your synapses, how hard you slam on the throttle of your imagination, it’s impossible. Everything you see is based on the spectrum of light that exists in our observable universe. Now, imagine if you did encounter a brand-new color, and think about how you’d react. Your senses would be overloaded, struggling to figure out how to process something the mind can’t conceive of. Your brain would shut down all the noise that perpetually rattles around inside of it so it could devote all its energies into digging up something familiar it can grasp onto. You’d be frozen in time, consumed by an experience you never thought you’d have. That is how I felt after my first sip of Proteau’s Rivington Spritz.
Proteau is everything and nothing—it is Schrödinger’s spirit. The fact that it’s non-alcoholic is irrelevant, because Proteau is not an alternative for wine, liquor, or anything else I can think of. Proteau is.
According to its website, Proteau’s Rivington Spritz contains hibiscus and chamomile flowers, Chinese rhubarb, gentian, strawberries, and a touch of artisanal vinegar; I can find some of these flavors if I do my damndest to concentrate on them, but I don’t think it’s worth the effort to identify the parts when the sum is so ethereal. During my first taste, I was able to detect notes of what felt like second cousins to pickled berries and rhubarb cobbler: close enough to be related, but far enough apart to feel like strangers. This is a sparkling drink that’s fizzy like fireworks, adding another layer of textural trickery to the experience. Proteau gives recommendations for pairing this with food, but I recommend drinking it alone, with no other stimulus to dilute the experience. This is a drink for “me time,” when you want to shut off the outside world and float away into your own.
Proteau’s other offering, Ludlow Red, is just as remarkable, though I feel its flavor could be considered an acquired taste for many, whereas the Rivington Spritz is a bit more accessible. Ludlow Red is for people who enjoy full-bodied red wines, or beverages that are botanical to the point of evoking an untamed forest floor. Proteau describes it as having notes of blackberry, chrysanthemum, black pepper, and dandelion, which would explain the biting bitterness and soothing florals, but oddly, its most defining characteristics come from the ingredients that weren’t lucky enough to get top billing on the front of the bottle: fig vinegar, extracts of roses and honeysuckle, and the ever controversial licorice root. I, for one, adore black licorice, and it’s balanced enough within this cacophony of flavors to intensify the experience. As much as I loved drinking this on its own, I wouldn’t mind enjoying a glass with a bone-in ribeye glistening with melted butter. At $19.95 a bottle, Proteau is well worth every cent, even when you factor in the shipping.