By Nanci Theoret –
As you plan your seasonal spread, remember some of your guests just aren’t into the spirits of the holiday. For various reasons, including whopping caloric counts that can top a Big Mac (hello, 650-calorie pina colada and 350-calorie spiked eggnog), chances are someone on your guest list will forgo an adult beverage. Instead of subjecting them to boring bar mixers – soft drinks and tonic water – stock up on specialty sodas, supplies for non-alcoholic mocktails and other tasty alternatives that will make abstainers feel welcomed and not shunned to the kiddie table.
Although wines without alcohol have come a long way, they’re still not quite there. Most lack depth and structure; regular and sparkling grape juices easily trump their non-alcoholic sisters. Consider alternatives that don’t pretend to be wine. Vignette Wine Country Soda ($17.95 for two bottles, shop.winecountrysoda.com) offers all-natural pinot noir, chardonnay, rosé and California brut beverages sweetened with the juice of their California varietals. A light sparkle makes a flute festive.
Golden Star Tea’s White Jasmine Sparkling Tea continues to earn accolades as a substitute for Champagne. Fermentation gives the small-batch tea its bubbles. It pairs well with an array of foods, is all natural (jasmine silver needle tea, raw sugarcane juice and water are its only ingredients) and is available at independent grocers and most Whole Foods.
Another tea-based bubbly, the chef-crafted 12NtM (12 Noon to Midnight) offers Rouge and Blanc sparkling beverages lightly sweetened with natural fruit juices and 60 calories per 8-ounce serving. Blanc, a citrus-ginger blend, has hints of cardamom and other spices; the pomegranate-black currant-based Rogue notes of juniper berry and bergamot. The 12NtM website (twelvebeverage.com) provides pairing tips and a where-to-by locator, including The Fresh Market.
The near-beer category has expanded – thankfully – beyond the Miller and Budweiser brands whose Sharp’s and O’Doul’s offerings were the only non-alcoholic alternatives for decades, or so it seems. Premium brewers have jumped on the NA bandwagon and choices now include global imports like Clausthaler Pilsner, Bitburger Drive and Heineken’s Buckler. It’s no surprise the imports get higher ratings: Try Guinness’s non-alcoholic brew, Kaliber, or Erdinger Weissbier from Germany.
Except for alcohol-driven drinks like the 750-calorie Long Island Ice Tea, most cocktails are easy to fake; just don’t add alcohol. Whip up no-jitos mixing muddled mint leaves, simple syrup, lime juice and club soda (without the 120-calorie rum shot) or fix a faux margarita; add lime slices, cranberries, strawberries or raspberries for a Christmas-worthy green and red.
Herb-, fruit- and flower-forward Dry Soda, available in flavors like lavender, blood orange, rhubarb and juniper berry, is all-natural and with 45 to 70 calories per 12-ounce bottle has half to two-thirds the calories of the oh-so-sugary big-name brands. Search flavor profiles and order online (drysoda.com, $32 for a 24-pack) or find local retailers.
And don’t forget the sparkling water. This no-calorie bubbly provides a perfect base for fruits, mint leaves and other flavor profiles.