Since opening Spirited Away in 2020, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to and observing customers. This is new territory for most people and certainly was for me when I started to become acquainted with non-alcoholic (NA) options back in the summer of 2020. While you may have heard of one or two of the bigger names like Seedlip or Curious Elixirs, the industry is growing quickly with brands and products launching all the time - many of them in just the past twelve months. So, if you feel overwhelmed or lost in a store like Spirited Away, you're in good company. The good news is that you don't have to know everything or feel 100% comfortable to explore this space - we're here to help you!
With that in mind, and NA bottle shops opening everywhere from Houston to Los Angeles to Charleston, I want to share some perspective and guidance on how to orient yourself when making your visit with the following four suggestions.
Be open to exploring
Did you ever buy a bottle of something when you were in your late teens or early 20s that you hated? I did - coconut rum. Like alcoholic drinks, NA spirits are not made to please everyone. Everyone’s tastes are different and you might very well buy something you don’t love. Don't let this deter you - my advice is to enjoy the process of discovery and not to worry too much if you buy something you don’t like. Put it on your bar cart to share with guests and make a note to try something else next time. For me, trying a few things I don’t like makes it taste all the sweeter when I finally find something I do like.
Take a crash course
In the spirit of exploration and learning new things, I’ve listed the categories you can expect to find at Spirited Away and other booze-free bottle shops. Before you go, consider which categories you’re interested in and how much effort you want to put into your cocktail. Do you want to simply open a bottle and pour or are you a mixology expert? If I’m somewhere in between and I want to mix something simple yet sophisticated, maybe I choose a bottle of a bourbon alternative like Spiritless Kentucky 74, an old-fashioned mixer like WithCo and a bottle or two of cocktail bitters like All the Bitter. You don’t have to know exactly what you’re looking for, but it always helps to know what you like to drink and to know your options. And, as I’ll elaborate on in the next step, even if you don’t know what you want the staff at your local NA store will be there to guide you.
Perfect for parties, picnics, or low-key moments, these are single-serving, pre-mixed cocktails for when you simply want to chill, open and enjoy. Garnishes optional.
The alcohol-free versions of your favorite glass of wine - these vintages go through the same process as traditional wine, from vineyard to cellar with an additional step of de-alcoholization before they’re bottled.
The craft beer revolution has not forgotten about NA brews. Expect to find all your favorite beer types in a non-alc alternative, e.g. IPAs, wheat beers, stouts, porters, pilsners, etc.
Sparkling teas, both fermented and unfermented, are loved by many alcohol abstainers due to their rich and complex flavors. Bubbles add liveliness and fun, perfect for celebratory occasions.
Alternatives for your favorites such as gin, tequila, bourbon, rum, etc. allow you to make the classic cocktails you know and love, without the booze.
Intended for enjoyment before and after meals, aperitivi and digestivi are traditionally lower-alcohol bitter spirits from Italy meant to stimulate appetite or digestion. Think Campari and Fernet.
A category unique to the non-alcoholic space, these spirits use natural ingredients including adaptogens and nootropics in an effort to alter mood, support health or otherwise enhance an experience without the negative effects of alcohol.
A distant cousin of NA gins, distilled botanicals forgo the juniper berries and instead rely on other herbs and botanicals for a wide range of flavors from grassy to citrusy to spicy to smoky.
Meant to be enjoyed like wine and pair well with food, proxies are a drink all their own - unique and complex layered blends of vinegars, teas, herbs, spices, fruit and other natural ingredients.
Think of bitters as salt & pepper but for cocktails. A small amount adds new depth and complexity to any cocktail.
An antiquated term for a timeless drink, shrubs are typically made of fruit, sugar and vinegar. They are versatile with a variety of uses in cocktails but are often enjoyed simply with soda water.
One of the great features of having a brick-and-mortar store dedicated to selling non-alcoholic beverages is being able to provide customers with knowledge about what they’re buying and how to use it. This space is new to everyone and I had to learn my way through it as well. Non-alcoholic beverage stores exist for this very reason - to help you make selections based on your preferences, needs, and lifestyle rather than on what’s most popular, new to the scene, or in the prettiest packaging. We want to help you find what you are looking for. So, I encourage you to talk to the staff when you stop by Spirited Away or your local non-alcoholic beverage store. There are no stupid questions and you’re not alone if you’re feeling a little lost or overwhelmed.
Take a sip
Here at Spirited Away, we regularly hold tastings of the products we carry so you can try them and ask questions before you buy them. Signing up for your local NA shop’s newsletter is a great way to stay informed on upcoming events that may pique your interest. And who knows - you may find something you want to take home with you to share with your family and friends. If your schedule allows, try to plan a visit around a tasting.
It’s an exciting time in the non-alcoholic space - products and brands are launching all the time and store fronts dedicated to selling them are popping up all over the country. So, take advantage of your local booze free bottle shop - we’re here for you! I designed my store to bring more joy, ease, connection and options to the people of New York and, I imagine your local NA store has similar objectives in mind. We’re all in this together and I encourage you to let this be fun. It’s an exploration of something new and exciting that may change the way you drink for the day, the year, or your life. In any case, I hope I’ve provided you with some ways you can approach this space with more clarity, knowledge and comfort.