A non-alcoholic spirit—yes, really—is coming for local cocktail lists

The Java Chill is one of the NA drinks on W.A. Frost's increasingly robust mocktail menu.

The Java Chill is one of the NA drinks on W.A. Frost's increasingly robust mocktail menu. Stacy Brooks

Blessedly, the days when non-drinkers had to settle for soda or tap water are behind us. Whether they’re listed as mocktails, zero-proof, or no-proof, the non-alcoholic options gracing beverage lists resemble their craft cocktail cousins, with garnishes, house-made syrups, and clever monikers.

Some even include a non-alcoholic spirit.

(Yes, you read that right.)

SeedLip launched in Britain in 2015 and is available in three varieties: Grove 42, Spice 94, and Garden 108. It's made by distilling herbs, fruits, and spices: Each utilizes a different blend of botanical distillates and extracts.The citrus-forward Grove 42, for example, is made with orange, blood orange, mandarin, lemon, ginger, and lemongrass.

Locally, SeedLip has been on the cocktail list at W.A. Frost and the Commodore since last fall. Robert Crew, director of food and beverage for both properties, says it's only part of an expanded menu of no-proof offerings.

“You don’t use vodka in every single cocktail you create, and you don’t use SeedLip in everything either,” he explains.

At W.A. Frost, four of the nine no-proof cocktails on the menu feature SeedLip products as a base. Others rely on liquids as varied as coffee (the Java Chill) and grapefruit juice (It’s About Thyme).

Crew explains that the decision to spend more time developing no-proof cocktails was spurred by the realization that other areas of the menu—wine, spirits, food—reflected a great deal of thought, and non-alcoholic beverages deserved the same consideration.

Stacy Brooks

Stacy Brooks

“We thought we could do better,” he says. But developing a robust selection of no-proof cocktails required a paradigm shift.

“Bartenders that create drinks, at least from our experience, do want to expand and have really good zero-proof cocktails. But it’s like a different mindset—they’re so accustomed to what’s your base spirit, what bitters, what mixes.”

SeedLip is more of a clear spirit alternative, replacing vodka and gin to create no-proof cocktails like a Spice 94 mule or Grove 42 and soda, both of which are on the menu at W.A. Frost.

“You could have a tray of these drinks, you wouldn’t know which one has alcohol and which doesn’t,” he says. “They have a nice balance of ingredients, a nice garnish, they’re served in a nice glass.”

He’s right: We sampled a few no-proof cocktails at W.A. Frost, and they do resemble their boozy counterparts. The Java Chill has the most impressive presentation, with a large cube of ice, skewer of cherries, and a swirling layer of half and half. It tastes like a complex version of a cold press, with a hint of cherry bark vanilla bitters and tamarind syrup enhancing the coffee.

It’s About Thyme combines grapefruit juice, lime juice, agave syrup, tonic, and a sprig of the namesake herb. On paper, it seemed like it might veer into saccharine territory. In reality, it’s quite herbal, more of a savory take on fruit than a sweet one.

Stacy Brooks

Stacy Brooks

The SeedLip-based drink we tried, the Grove 42 and soda, is a exactly what it sounds like: A blend of SeedLip Grove 42, soda, and an orange twist. There are pronounced citrus notes, but SeedLip is more akin a citrus-infused vodka than a fruit juice. It actually does get you most of the way to achieving the subtlety of a craft cocktail, sans alcohol.

Crew says SeedLip “doesn’t taste good straight." It’s intended to be blended, and he says making drinks with it is a pretty nuanced undertaking. It's easy to overpower it.

“What it really comes down to, it takes a little experimenting,” he says. “There’s less of an error factor because there’s no alcohol. [Alcoholic cocktails] still taste good if you’re a quarter ounce over; with this it’s more precise.”

“I think the drinks we came up with are pretty good, but I know we can improve on them over time,” Crew continues. “It’s just going to continue to get better. [No-proof cocktails are] a category that will be here for a long time.”