As soon as we got our hands on Ritual Zero Proof Gin Alternative, we knew we wanted to make a NA-groni—a non-alcoholic Negroni. But before diving into recipes, like anything new to our inventory, we wanted to taste the product neat.
Not knowing what to expect, we poured a bit into a small glass and risked a few sips. The first thing we noticed (although it could be an illusion) is that there seems to be a viscosity to it that is a little thicker than water. With a real gin, it would be the opposite—the thinner alcohol sloshes around much faster. Maybe it is just tricking our expectations with base spirits. On the nose you can distinctly smell a hint of basil and maybe some piney cucumber. A sip confirms these flavors and more. There is a touch of acidity balanced with sweet and bitter notes. We have read others’ reviews that mention an overwhelming pine dominance, but we are not getting that at all. If anything, we were hoping for more juniper, and find that cucumber is the most prevalent flavor. Then something odd happens.
A few seconds into the sip, a soft burn creeps over the back of your tongue. As you swallow, it moves up and around your throat. We have come to recognize this as a hot pepper effect with the intention of creating the illusion of consuming a base spirit at full strength. It is an odd sensation that lingers after you swallow. We find it fascinating and impressive as a successful (if not a little surprising) simulation. Any more burn and it would taste like a pepper infusion. Any less and the effect would not match the burn of actual alcohol.
Overall, we like the flavor profile and don’t mind the artificial burn. As a gin we would definitely classify it as a cucumber-forward variety which is important to recognize, since not everyone likes that flavor. We were hoping more juniper would allow it to sub favorably into classics, but this blend of botanicals would still work out well for what we would be mixing, and we immediately decided to add the Juliet & Romeo to the list.
We started, however, with a Gin & Tonic. We used a homemade tonic and found the drink to be tasty and refreshing. Building this drink in the glass revealed a strange micro-congealing effect as we added our tonic syrup and seltzer, but it quickly dispersed as we stirred the drink. We also noticed the flavor improved a lot when we gave our lime wedge a squeeze. Fresh citrus pairs well with this.
Our second cocktail was the Juliet & Romeo. Here again, the lime worked nicely, but the reason we picked this cocktail was because it calls for muddled cucumber. Given the prevalence of cucumber flavor in Ritual Gin Alternative, we decided to skip the muddled vegetable. We did add the pinch of salt but left the cucumber out. It worked. There was plenty of cucumber to make a decent facsimile of this drink. We should stop and mention that we also used Angostura bitters as called for in this recipe. A few drops is not much, but in full disclosure, Ango does contain alcohol. This is akin to using vanilla extract in a baking recipe. As good as this turned out, however, it was not our favorite.
Next up was the NA-groni. Literally years in the making, this was the most anticipated recipe of the day. To pull it off required some DIY work as well as a bit of running around to collect the ingredients. The typical Negroni is a trinity of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, garnished with an orange twist. For the Campari, we subbed Sanbitter. It’s not quite as bitter as the real thing, but it comes pretty close. It is also a bit sweeter, so this idea might also work as a sub for Aperol. For the sweet vermouth, we made our own out of Miró Rojo which you can read about here.
And how did this drink turn out? It is much better than expected! We were worried about how the cucumber flavor would play in the final cocktail, and frankly, we can’t even tell it is there. As a mocktail, this is really good, especially if you are going for something spirit-driven or on the bitter side, both of which are challenges in a soft-drink category. With homemade NA vermouth, we would like to explore others options like a NArtinez, and if we make some NA dry vermouth, a NArtini. If you are willing to make some DIY modifiers, the options for drinks may be as long as the creative NAmes you can dream up.
We ended our Gin Alternative adventure with a Collins. This drink surprised us, as it was easily our favorite. We added 3/4 ounces of fresh-squeezed lemon juice and an equal amount of simple syrup to our shaker before donating a couple ounces of Gin Alternative. After a hard shake with ice, we strained this over an ice shard in a tall glass and topped with seltzer. It was delicious, and we should not have been surprised at how well lemon pairs with the NA base.
We need to point out that part of the joy in drinking cocktails comes from the pairing of glassware, the diversity of ice, the garnish—it is an experience when all elements including the ingredients themselves come together for that first sip. So, if you try making non-alcoholic drinks yourself, be sure to go the extra mile and cut some lemon wheels, use your precious ice shard or clear cubes. Serve your drink proudly using that cocktail-specific special glassware. Sure, the flavors matter, but it is the ritual that makes an impact—a fact that was not lost on the company creating these base spirit alternatives. They put Ritual in the name, but you should make the most of every other element to live up to it.