But even though the positives of sobriety exponentially outweighed the negatives, there are things I miss: Nights on the town checking out swanky cocktail lounges. Popping over to the local pub to socialize with neighbors. And gin. Boy oh boy, did I miss gin.
Though every spirit can be as highbrow or lowbrow as it cares to be, all gins, no matter their context or pedigree, carry an air of refinement. Queen Elizabeth was known to enjoy at least one (or more) gin cocktail each and every day. F. Scott Fitzgerald had the spirit flow freely at Jay Gatsby’s lavish soirees. And, of course, there’s Bond (James Bond), whose signature martini exudes sophistication while calling for a gin (Gordon’s) that costs less than $15 a bottle.
Gin is more than a beverage — it’s a vibe. It’s the kind of drink made for settling into a wooden rocking chair and listening to the summer breeze; for tippling on the front porch as the sun sets; for lounging in a soft robe while thumbing through the pages of a hardcover book. It’s a serious spirit for serious people, and for those of us who are blessed with less-than-serious dispositions, too.
“My favorite gin-based cocktails are citrus-forward, which does well with herbaceousness,” said Dutch Courage bar manager Kim Vo. “It tones back some of the louder notes and makes it a more refreshing beverage. Gin just gives me warm weather on my porch on a sunny-day feeling.”
It’s impossible for nonalcoholic spirit alternatives to perfectly replicate the real thing because, well, they don’t contain alcohol. There are, however, plenty of convincing substitutes that work marvelously in cocktails (zero-proof rums and tequilas are evidence of that); as layering their not-quite-perfect notes with other ingredients can hide any shortcomings.
Gin, however, is boisterous by nature — a symphony of strong botanicals that, when done well, makes the alcoholic flavor seem almost irrelevant.
“What’s really interesting about gin is that, by definition, it only has to have juniper in it,” said Eric Fooy, co-owner of Dutch Courage, a gin-centric cocktail bar in Baltimore. “As for the rest of the botanicals, you can go nuts. It can be anything, like rose petals or cucumbers. Gin is really a cocktail in and of itself.”
With that amount of leeway, nonalcoholic gin producers have created a class of product that’s more than passable — it’s extraordinary.
There are faux gins that radiate sunshine-bright citrus notes; some that envelop your senses with the warm, piney musk of an Alpine forest. There are wafts of fragrant florals; there are waves of winter spices. Nonalcoholic gins are not simply substitutes — they’re flavorful adventures in their own right.
“The best London Dry Gin profile has an unmistakable aromatic nose full of juniper, a silky mouthfeel and a super clean finish,” said Ken Young, chief executive of Southern California’s zero-proof Monday distillery. “It’s a liquid that delights and teases you with flavor, yet doesn’t overwhelm the palate.”
While the best nonalcoholic gins may not reach those heights, they can more than hold their own in simple cocktails, such as frigidly chilled martinis or gently fizzy gin and tonics.
The better nonalcoholic gins are already full of bells and whistles, so you don’t need to add many of your own — a simple twist of lime or a splash of grapefruit soda can be more than enough.
This is especially good news as nonalcoholic spirits are still a burgeoning boutique industry, with prices that are more fitting for a bespoke bottle shop than your average liquor store.
Here are the best zero-proof gins to sip and savor, preferably with some classic jazz on the turntable and the scent of old books in the air.
Few nonalcoholic spirits can be enjoyed solo; this one can, and it’s one of the best. Enjoy it deeply chilled and neat, or on the rocks. A twist of citrus is nice, but not necessary. $45
Behind the juniper are hints of cardamom and angelica, which pair spectacularly with lime syrup in a classic gimlet. $13
With a bit more bite and burn than other top tier zero-proof gins, Gin-ish is a good base for cocktails that are diluted with soda water, like a Tom Collins. $35
A unique spirit that tastes of the Cornish coast, Pentire’s notes of samphire and sea salt balance brilliantly with tonic water. $40
Though distilled with a bevy of citrus and aromatics, Damrak tastes somewhat like a sophisticated pickle juice, which you should take as the highest of compliments. You should take it well chilled with a few olives in your glass. $29.99
Bold notes of citrus peels with a peppery kick, this zero-proof gin is assertive enough to hold its own with grapefruit juice in a Greyhound. $37.99