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.
The health and wellness food industry made over $800 billion in 2019, and I contributed exactly zero dollars to it. Notwithstanding the Hot Pockets, chicken wings, and various other consumer packaged goods I put into my body for the sake of this website, I eat a relatively balanced diet full of foods that don’t need any buzzwords to coax me into eating them. It doesn’t matter if the science behind certain “wellness foods” is legit; I’m just not interested in wasting a second of my life fact-checking the claims of all the snake oil that Instagram keeps trying to sell us.
By this measure, I never should have encountered Recess at all; it’s a brand whose founders claim that they did not actually make a beverage, but rather “canned a feeling.” According to the sans-serif type on its minimalist pastel cans, these liquid feelings are made by infusing sparkling water with natural juices, flavoring, and “functional herbs” that will center my body (hemp extract), sharpen my focus (American ginseng), brighten my mood (L-theanine), boost my vitality (lemon balm), and turn me into “the you you are on your best days.”
After a lifetime of struggling with alcohol, my cold, icy heart has grown incapable of believing that any beverage would actually want good things for me, even if it’s the sort of drink that can be purchased with accessories like idea journals and “Thinking Cards.” But in the spirit of goodwill I gave Recess a shot, and though I remain unsure if it’s improved my vitality, in a small way, it’s made me a better person. Had I stuck to my decidedly uncentered and cynical ways, I would not have been reminded that one should never judge a book (or can) by its cover. I would not have discovered one of my favorite non-alcoholic beverages on the market.
Regardless of what those “functional herbs” are meant to do in a spiritual sense, in a drinkable sense, they center every flavor of Recess around a gentle botanical bitterness that encourages you to drink it slowly and savor every minute of it. Paired with brighter, more refreshing flavors—tart pomegranate and floral hibiscus, or sweet mellow peaches with spicy ginger—those herbaceous notes hit my palate in the same way the beer hops used to. Sipping a Blackberry Chai Recess on my back porch, I flashed back to long-gone days spent with old friends, sipping summer shandies at our favorite craft beer bar. The fizzy Coconut Lime, poured into a tall Collins glass and enjoyed through a straw, tasted like a cosmic apology for not allowing me to participate in the Great Tiki Revival of 2017. Bitter Blood Orange, when appreciated from a coupe or an equally distinguished piece of glassware, can make you feel like a certified fancy-pants, even if you’re lounging around in your least formal pajamas.
Though not a hard beverage, at $5 a can, Recess is not a beverage meant to be mindlessly tossed back like a soft drink. It’s meant to grab your attention with every sip, peppering the monotony of an ordinary day with a series of memorable micro-pauses. That’s the sort of wellness that I know for sure is real.