Even if you haven’t been paying attention, the sudden, meteoric rise of non-alcoholic spirits, wine, and beer has been hard to miss.
Just a few years ago, those wanting an alternative to alcohol were banished to bland bubbly waters and sugar-heavy sodas. Today, the options are as varied, sophisticated, and complex as alcohol itself.
It was a perfect storm that led to the industry’s rapid, exponential growth, says Joshua James, owner of the Outer Richmond NA Ocean Beach Cafe and the NA speakeasy Temperance Bar.
“People drank more at the beginning of Covid, then they started drinking less. Millions upon millions of people became ready within themselves to actually cut back on drinking or not to drink at all. At the same time, there were brands that came out in the NA spirits, wine, and beer industry that gave people a choice.”
At Ocean Beach Cafe and Temperance Bar’s NA tastings, James introduces the NA-curious to 10-15 of them at a time.
“I’m going to crack cans of beer, I’m going to make cocktails, and I’m going to let you sample a bunch of wines,” says James. “When they see all of the bottles, their brain changes a little bit. It’s like, ‘oh, I didn’t know there was this much.’”
This week, a third San Francisco space will be dedicated to the new generation of non-alcoholic brands. Boisson, a juggernaut of a bottle shop that’s opened eight stores in New York and Los Angeles since its 2021 founding, opens in Hayes Valley on Friday October 21st, its shelves stocked with everything from NA wine and beer to NA spirits and ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails.
Some of the new generation of non-alcoholic spirits that will be sold at Boisson in Hayes Valley.(Courtesy of Boisson)
“Wine is our most popular category,” says Boisson cofounder Nick Bodkins. “They are true wines that have gone through a very careful process to remove the alcohol but maintain as much of the original aromas and esters. People also love our variety of RTDs—they’re delicious, convenient, and easy to share or pack with you.”
For those wading into the NA industry for the first time—82 percent of those interested in NA spirits also drink alcohol, says James—both NA pioneers have a few recommendations. Pop-and-pour Casamara Club sodas and Spiritless "pour over" cocktails “are delicious…while also offering a complexity of flavor,” says Bodkins. James likes Ritual zero proof tequila for the excellent margaritas it makes, and Spiritless Kentucky 74 bourbon for sours. Whatever you fancy, don’t skip the garnish.
“Make it a moment. That’s part of what drinking is,” says James. “It’s about interesting and complex flavors being presented and created for you, and being social amongst friends. Alcohol is a strong frequency because it causes people to disconnect. I can absolutely tell you it’s not fake fun when you remove the alcohol.”
// Ocean Beach Cafe is open Wednesday through Sunday, 734 La Playa St. (Outer Richmond), oceanbeachcafe.com. Temperance Bar is open by reservation, stop by Ocean Beach Cafe to find out the speakeasy’s location.
Boisson opens October 21st at 333 Hayes St. (Hayes Valley), boisson.co.
5 NA Cocktail Recipes to Try at Home
NA cocktails at Ocean Beach Cafe in the Outer Richmond.
(Courtesy of @ocean.beach.cafe)
Whiskey Sour AF*
2 oz Spiritless Kentucky 74 whiskey
3/4 oz lime
< 1/2 oz agave or simple syrup
Optional: AquaFaba (vegan, chickpea water) or egg whites for viscosity, foam, and mouthfeel
Shake hard for six seconds and dump into your favorite rocks glass. Add a garnish from the heart.
1.5 oz Kin High Rhode
1/2 oz chamomile syrup
1/2 oz lemon
3/4 oz cranberry juice
Shake. Serve on the rocks with a rosemary sprig garnish.
The Conversation Starter**
1.75 oz Aplós
3 oz soda water
1 tsp agave nectar
5 pieces basil, sage, mint
3 lemon wedges cut in quarters
Add ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe glass.
3/4 oz lime
1/4 oz agave
3/4 oz Smoky No. 56 from For Bitter for Worse
Mix ingredients or add them to a shaker with ice and pour into a glass.
Mint To Bee**
2 oz CleanCo Clean T
1/2 oz honey syrup (3 parts honey to a part water)
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz pineapple juice
6-8 mint leaves
Shake and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a mint sprig or make it spicy by adding two jalapeño coins.
* Courtesy of Joshua James, Ocean Beach Cafe
** Courtesy of Nick Bodkins, Boisson