How to Use Nonalcoholic Spirits to Up Your Mocktail Game

Zero-proof spirits are turning skeptics into believers, one stir of the mixing glass at a time.

Published December 28, 2022
berry flavoured drink on a wooden board

Thinking of giving nonalcoholic spirits a try, but you're hesitant because the internet is abound with "ugh" and "meh," and you'd rather spend the $25 on a nice happy hour app and a gin martini? I've been there. Like anything that's an imitation of something else, alcohol-free liquors have echoes of the original and share similar DNA. However, nonalcoholic spirits should stand alone in their own right. They don't have to be perfect imitations of the spirits that inspired them, but they need to taste good and mix well in mocktails. Many do just that, making nonalcoholic liquors and zero-proof spirits worth trying.

What Do Nonalcoholic Spirits Taste Like?

On their own, nonalcoholic spirits are an acquired taste. This is no different from being new to the world of whiskey flights, adventure movies about space battles, classic martinis, or sushi. Sometimes the world that's intimidating from the outside is quite interesting on the inside.

Without mixers, these nonalcoholic spirits can be tough to swallow - literally. Some recipes of spirit-free liquors will contain black pepper to give the faux liquor that signature alcohol burn. But not all, since you don't want your nonalcoholic white rum or Italian apéritif to be anything but smooth and balanced.

If you drink any of these spirits straight, you're going to be in for a rough time at first, especially if you're expecting the imitation gin to taste exactly like gin. You'll find that nonalcoholic gin is quite juniper and rosemary forward, whereas the nonalcoholic white and dark rums are a bit sweeter, more sugar cane forward, you could say. The bourbons will usually have those signature black pepper, spicy notes to mimic classic whiskey, just as the nonalcoholic tequila will too, because even though tequila is smooth, it still bites. Nonalcoholic apéritifs are sweeter, but that's not a problem for now. A few dashes of bitters round out those nonalcoholic liquors perfectly.

Once you get over the initial shock and surprise, you'll be excited to move on to the next step of nonalcoholic liquors: making spirit-free mocktails.

Making Mocktails With Nonalcoholic Spirits

Fresh strawberries combined with fresh juice and tequila

If you only speed-read through the above description, nonalcoholic spirits need a little space in which to hide. Or at least they do at first, but once you're familiar with the flavors, you can let the nonalcoholic spirit shine as you wish.

Nonalcoholic Gin

The nonalcoholic gin from Lyre excels beautifully in a gimlet mocktail. It's also good in a nonalcoholic Negroni with Lyre's Apéritif Rosso and Italian orange, where, with just a few dashes of bitters, it so closely mirrors the original it should be considered a wonder of the world. However, the nonalcoholic gin martini was far too harsh to be enjoyably palatable. Tonic water, though, makes for an all-day gin and tonic that needs to be enjoyed to be believed. And trust, this gin and tonic rivals the classic.

Nonalcoholic Bourbon

For the nonalcoholic bourbon, you may not enjoy it neat, but with coffee, it's a seamless addition that has a good chance of changing your morning routine. In a Manhattan or old-fashioned mocktail, the black pepper notes and smokey caramel flavors shine far brighter.

Nonalcoholic Tequila

CleanCo offers a tequila that's both sweet and biting, that burning aftertaste an all-too-familiar flavor for anyone that has wincingly partaken in traditional tequila shots. Don't do shots of this nonalcoholic tequila, but do mix it into a margarita mocktail (any flavor will do as well as the classic) or into a paloma to get your journey started. If you're a tequila and soda kind of person, jump in with both feet using this spirit-free liquor.

Nonalcoholic Rum

The nonalcoholic rum offerings, both the white cane spirit and the dark cane spirit, are subtly sweet, with all the softness of traditional rum without a single bit of burn. Whether you put the dark cane spirit with a bit of cola or mix it in with some juices, or enjoy the white cane spirit in a daiquiri or mojito, these spirit-free rums by and far surpass any expectations.

Nonalcoholic Vodka

Vodka is a flavorless spirit, so does nonalcoholic vodka make a difference in a drink? Kind of, but not really. To address the elephant in the room, nonalcoholic vodka doesn't impart much flavor. Since it's so plain, you can add it to a drink like a nonalcoholic cosmopolitan as a 1:1 substitution, and it's not going to be much different. But you can also save yourself the money and infuse some water with a flavor in the drink (lemon peel for a lemon drop, orange peel for a cosmo, etc.) and add it to the cocktail, and it will work just as well.

Tips for Putting Nonalcoholic Spirits to Use

Go old school and print out this list for easy reference, take a screenshot, or scribble the applicable ones on a sticky note. These are the secrets to turning your NA or zero-proof spirit cocktails into the real deal. Well, as real as you can get without adding booze.

  • Apéritifs, such as nonalcoholic Campari, don't quite have that full flavor of bitters that the originals are known for. Not to worry. Add two to three dashes of orange bitters for a convincing dupe.
  • Since the nonalcoholic rums run a little sweet, hold back on the simple syrup, using a quarter to half an ounce less in any recipe. You can always add more of the tart or dryer mixers, like a bit more ginger beer or extra lime juice, to give it balance.
  • The zero-proof tequila is the slightest bit sweeter than traditional tequila, but knocking off a quarter ounce of sweet ingredients, such as agave syrup, or adding a quarter ounce of a savory or tart ingredients, such as lime juice, will balance everything out.
  • You'll find that since the nonalcoholic gin is quite juniper-forward, it needs a little extra of the mixers to make it well-rounded. Add a quarter to half ounce of lime juice to a gin and tonic, for example.
  • A pinch, literally a pinch - don't get overzealous here - of black pepper will give a mocktail the signature burn you find in regular liquors. This is most true in spirit-forward mocktails, such as a Manhattan.

Are Nonalcoholic Spirits Worth It? Do They Actually Taste Like Booze?

With a few tweaks, like adding bitters, a little extra simple syrup, or a splash of extra juice, you can follow classic cocktail recipes using spirit-free ingredients step by step with small modifications to create a mocktail that mirrors the original. They may not burn like booze, but the flavors of other spirit-free liquors hold their own very well in drinks.

Give any of the drinks below a whirl to find out just how tasty these zero-proof offerings can be.

Zero-Proof Gin and Tonic

Zero-Proof Gin and Tonic

Lime is more than just a garnish for this gin and tonic. The lime juice is what helps to create the perfect imitation of the classic.


  • 1½ ounces nonalcoholic gin
  • ½ ounce freshly-squeezed lime juice
  • Ice
  • Tonic water to top off
  • Lime wheel for garnish


  1. In a highball glass, add ice, nonalcoholic gin, and lime juice.
  2. Top off with tonic water.
  3. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Nonalcoholic Manhattan

Nonalcoholic Manhattan

Don't hesitate to dive right into a zero-proof spirit-forward mocktail. This Manhattan won't leave you reeling.


  • 1½ ounces nonalcoholic whiskey
  • ¾ ounce nonalcoholic sweet vermouth
  • ¼ ounce simple syrup, to taste
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters
  • Ice
  • Orange peel for garnish


  1. Chill a martini glass or coupe.
  2. In a mixing glass, add ice, nonalcoholic whiskey, nonalcoholic sweet vermouth, simple syrup, and bitters.
  3. Stir rapidly to chill.
  4. Strain into the chilled glass.
  5. Garnish with an orange peel.

Traditional Daiquiri Mocktail

Traditional Daiquiri Mocktail

Lean into the sour lime juice flavors as you shake up a virgin daiquiri. Lemon juice gives it a little bit of a brighter profile, and you can leverage that as your secret ingredient.


  • 2 ounces nonalcoholic silver rum
  • 1 ounce freshly-squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ ounce freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • Ice
  • Lime wheel for garnish


  1. Chill a martini glass or coupe.
  2. In a cocktail shaker, add ice, nonalcoholic silver rum, lime juice, lemon juice, simple syrup, and orange bitters.
  3. Shake to chill.
  4. Strain into the chilled glass.
  5. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Virgin Americano Mocktail

Virgin Americano Mocktail

The classic low-ABV Americano becomes a no-ABV mocktail. The bitters will lift the nonalcoholic spirit to that perfect level of herbaceous.


  • 1½ ounces nonalcoholic Italian orange liqueur
  • 1 ounce nonalcoholic sweet vermouth
  • 2-4 dashes orange bitters
  • Ice
  • Club soda to top off
  • Orange wheel for garnish, optional


  1. In a highball glass, add ice, nonalcoholic Italian orange liqueur, nonalcoholic sweet vermouth, and orange bitters.
  2. Stir to mix.
  3. Top off with club soda.
  4. Garnish with an orange wheel, if desired.

Mocktails That Prove to Be a Challenge

A few styles of cocktails prove to be quite a challenge to shadow their traditional counterparts. Just like with cocktails, personal preference will dictate whether these mocktails hit the mark or miss the target completely. Your mileage will vary. But it still never hurts to take a brief journey. You may find some surprises or inspiration.

  • Traditional martinis, including dry martinis, vespers, and gibsons, are a challenge; however, dirty martinis can be quite palatable. Consider a gimlet instead.
  • The zero-proof Manhattan can be tough for some. A nonalcoholic old-fashioned might be a better fit.
  • A Martinez cocktail is tough to balance with the nonalcoholic gin. Use just a splash of the zero-proof spirit and use additional maraschino cherry syrup in the place of the maraschino liqueur. A nonalcoholic Negroni is a great substitute, or consider using nonalcoholic spiced rum or zero-proof bourbon instead. You can also use rosemary-infused water as the base.
  • Cocktails such as the vieux carré or last word or can be difficult to imitate, as it's hard to find a comparable substitute to all the ingredients.

What Type of Nonalcoholic Spirits Are There?

Imagine a liquor store. Now imagine that liquor store is nothing but nonalcoholic bottles instead. While there may not be as many distillers of spirit-free liquors, you can find scotch, spiced rum, vodka, dry and sweet vermouth, orange liqueur, amaretto, coffee liqueur, prosecco, bitter Italian liqueur, absinthe, gin, rums, tequila, and whiskey. You can fully stock a spirit-free home bar as easily as clicking a button or adding a bottle to your cart at the store.

Nonalcoholic Spirits: Moving the Bar From Skeptic to Devotee

Like any other cocktail lover, I was a skeptic that took one sip of these spirits on their own and said, "Oh, not a chance." But after I spent an afternoon in the kitchen making classic cocktails into mocktails, well, now I never want to run out. Spirit-free liquors and mocktails are the answer to wanting a gin and tonic but moderating because you still have a workout to do or you choose a sober lifestyle. Whatever the reason, it doesn't matter. Zero-proof liquors add a new layer to the flavors we can enjoy while we sit pensively, chat with friends, or enjoy a new experience.

How to Use Nonalcoholic Spirits to Up Your Mocktail Game