Bar carts are to cocktail parties what buffets are to dinner parties: DIY-style entertaining that takes the pressure off you (the host) and lets your guests feel like they’re in charge. If someone doesn’t eat meat, they can skip the platter of braised chicken thighs and head for the panzanella; if someone doesn’t eat bread, they can pass over the panzanella and serve themselves a spoonful of warm, minty eggplant; if someone is currently avoiding nightshades, they can scoop themselves some savory fruit salad—the freedom to pick and choose is theirs. And the same holds true for a bar cart.
Traditionally, a bar cart has a balanced mix of clear and brown liquors, along with some standby mixers (vermouth, bitters, club soda) and garnishes (citrus peels or wedges, cherries) and plenty of ice. Everything is laid out so that drinkers can find their own way to the right drink for them, zeroing in on the booze they like and avoiding the flavors they don’t. But what do you do when you’re hosting non-drinkers? Or if you yourself enjoy a mixed drink but not alcohol? You build yourself an alcohol-free bar cart, of course.
Today, there are more options than ever to help you assemble a robust 0.0% alcohol bar. From flavorful spirits to bright mixers to alcohol-free bubbly that actually tastes good, the market for no-alcohol beverages is growing, which means your bar cart offering can expand, too.
To help you build out your booze-free bar cart, here are some of our favorite bottles—and some cocktails, too.
This Brooklyn-made award-winning bubbly can stand on its own as a celebratory glass or mix up a gorgeous non-alcoholic Bellini. Made with white tea, white cranberry, and ginger, it’s got a fruity flavor that isn’t overwhelmed by sweetness, making it perfect for pairing with food (or bar snacks!).
Swedish non-alcoholic winemaker MRG Wines partnered with world-renowned Champagne expert Richard Juhlin to create a line of non-alcoholic sparkling wines that are aged in oak and purportedly hold their own against the French stuff.
Straight from England comes Seedlip, the non-alcoholic spirit that has taken the world by storm. The two flavors—Spice 94, which is aromatic and woodsy, and Garden 108, which is herbal and floral—require nothing more than a topping of tonic water, though the cocktail possibilities are endless.
Brightly flavored with cucumber and citrus, Berkshire Blend is a refreshing, slightly spicy spirit that’s not only alcohol-free but is also gluten-free and has no added sugar. Mash some mint in the bottom of your glass and top with tonic water—it’s that simple.
This Italian spirit contains the flavors of the Mediterranean and no alcohol whatsoever. Rosemary, lemon verbena, rose, and Italian strawflower come together to create a slightly bitter, vermouth-like spirit that can be served over ice, with soda or tonic, or mixed into any cocktail that calls for gin.
Herbaceous notes of pepper and citrus dominate in this British-made spirit that’s bursting with botanical flavors. It’s a great stand-in for vodka or gin in any cocktail, though the unique flavor shines most brightly when served with a bit of tonic and a sprig of mint.
Let the spritzing begin! Monte Rosso Aperitivo is made in the classic Italian style, and contains wild mountain cranberry and tart rowanberry, along with a range of fragrant botanicals for a bittersweet flavor. Serve over ice with a splash of soda and an orange slice, or mix into any cocktail in place of Campari.
Sanbittèr is bright red, Crodino is golden orange, Chinotto is caramel brown, and all three of these analcolici Italian aperitivo are bitter, herbaceous, and non-alcoholic. They’re great on their own over ice with a twist, or mixed with club soda and something sweet to take the (tart) edge off.
Also known as “drinking vinegars,” shrubs are a blend of vinegar, fruit, and sugar that can be sipped on their own or mixed with club soda for a sparkling cocktail. The world of shrubs is wide and varied, and while making your own shrubs is imminently doable, there are also great bottled versions begging to be front and center on your bar cart.
Pre-made cocktail mixers have garnered a bad name, mostly due to the gallon jugs of sticky-sweet mixes that dominate the market. But these days there are tons of handcrafted, small batch syrups and mixers that we would be proud to show off in drinks with booze and without. Add tonic or club soda, pile on the garnishes, and let the booze-free cocktails flow.
What’s your essential ingredient in non-alcoholic cocktails? Let us know in the comments!