Spirits Explained

Delightful No-Lo Spirits for the New Year

Holly Shaw, DipWSET, ReserveBar Wine Contributor


NOLO, where have you been all my life? If you are dreaming of your next cocktail but also wondering if you should join your friends (and most of the world, frankly) for “Dry January,” let me help you find the drinks you’re sure to love. The turning of the new year inspires many of us to reset our minds and body, and especially after the celebrations of December — it’s probably not the worst plan!

Luckily, the plan doesn't have to taste boring. So, whether you are the designated driver or feeling sober curious beyond the month of January, jump on the latest craze of NOLO (No and Low alcohol drinks) and add these popular drinks to your line-up.


There are a few ways to create a low-alcohol drink. You can make a cocktail with a lower ABV ingredient, such as Vermouth, Sherry, or sparkling wine, OR you can reach for the newer players in the spirit world, which is a spirit made below 20% ABV.

What is ABV?

ABV stands for Alcohol by Volume and measures the drink’s alcoholic strength. All beer, wine, and spirits will have different ABVs. You can spot that number in tiny print on the bottle. Beer’s ABV is typically 5%, or can reach upwards of 15%+ for a craft beer, and wine is between 8-15%. Gin, whiskey or spirits are typically 30-45% ABV. In general, a mixed cocktail should have the same volume or alcohol content as a glass of wine (unless you have a heavy pour).

Proof is double the alcohol content; for example, the majority of vodka brands are 40% ABV or 80 proof. So while you can look for a low (or “no”) ABV product, you can also reach for varieties that are inherently lower in alcohol content.


What’s a martini without its famous ingredient: vermouth? A classic addition to cocktails, vermouth, in simple terms, is a fortified wine infused with herbs. Red (sweet) vermouth is known to be more robust, richer, and sweeter than white (dry) vermouth, and they both come with a lower alcohol label. Don’t be afraid of trying vermouth as an aperitif. It has long been enjoyed on the rocks with an orange or lemon twist with a splash of soda. Tip: after opening the vermouth, store it in the fridge for up to three months. It will spoil at room temperature!

For a completely non-alcohol vermouth alternative, try Roots Divino.

50/50 Martini

This martini was the standard in the early 1900s and has made a resurgence on many cocktail menus. It's the perfect lower alcohol expression of a martini. Just sit back and envision sipping in a speakeasy. This low alcohol version replaces the traditional gin with club soda or Clean Gin.

Add the dry vermouth, club soda and orange bitters to a mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist

G and T Twist

A classic cocktail that is a little too easy to order while perched on your barstool. Its reputation for causing more than a few hangovers makes this an easy cocktail you’ll want to convert into a low-alcohol version by replacing gin with vermouth.

Fill a highball glass with ice. Add vermouth and tonic water and stir well. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Negroni Twist: “Americano”

Known as the father of Negroni, the Americano became popular after the war when American ex-pats started craving the bittersweet taste of Campari that they fell in love with.

Fill a chilled rocks glass with ice. Add the Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda. Stir well and garnish with orange with an orange or lemon twist.


Sherry is a versatile wine that can be served alone or as a cocktail. Sherry is a fortified wine and aged in a solera system, creating a range in color, flavor, and sweetness. There are two distinct styles: Fino (drier) and Oloroso (darker, thicker, sweeter, and higher alcohol). The wine is fortified by adding a spirit to it (grape brandy). The ABV range is 15-20%.

Adonis Cocktail

For Broadway fans–this cocktail was named after the 1884 musical, and its 500 shows success.

Combine sherry, vermouth and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until chilled and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist

Sherry Cobbler - recipe by Dale Degroff

A popular drink in the 19th century. A sangria of sorts made with sherry and served with a straw.

Muddle the peeled pineapple wedge, 1 of the orange slices and 1 of the lemon wedges with Fino sherry in a shaker. Add Amontillado sherry and pineapple juice. Add ice and shake. Strain into a goblet filled with crushed ice. Garnish with remaining fruit.


Whether you are participating in dry January or starting the year off by choosing a healthier drink, the world of faux cocktails has an array of choices to trick your taste buds. Your biggest problem will be figuring out which ones to try. There are more than a few makers in the world of non-alcohol spirits such as Seedlip, Roots Divino, Cutwater and Hella ready-to-drink cans. All are worth the try!

Seedlip is a non-alcohol, sugar-free botanical. I would compare it to gin because the distillation process is similar but cannot legally be classified as gin. Use this as a base for a cocktail. It is not meant to be served neat.

Espresso Martini

This “pick me up” drink was invented by famed British bartender Dick Bradsell in the 80s. The story goes, a young model walks into the bar and envisions a cocktail with coffee — and the espresso martini is born.

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add Seedlip, cold brew and simple syrup. Shake until chilled. Pour through a strainer into a martini glass. Garnish with 3 coffee beans.


Mocktails are meant to mimic cocktails but with non-alcoholic ingredients. Don’t think of these as your childhood Shirley Temples — these have come a long way in finding a perfectly balanced cocktail. Here are a few of my favorites!

Paloma Dante

The Paloma is a standard in Mexican cocktails and can be as easy or as complicated as you’d like it to be, but the traditional flavors are citrus and tequila. Try this zero-alcohol version for a similar vibe.

  • 2 oz grapefruit juice
  • 0.5 oz salted rosemary syrup
  • Club soda
  • Garnish: grapefruit slice

Fill a highball glass with ice. Add grapefruit juice, rosemary syrup. Top with club soda and garnish with grapefruit slice.

Cloudy Tokyo - Recipe by Christopher Harris (Entente)

Try the cloudy Tokyo for a zero-alcohol twist if you like a White Russian.

  • 5 oz green tea, chilled
  • 0.5 oz coconut milk
  • 5 oz coconut soda, chilled

Stir chilled tea and milk in a highball glass. Top with chilled soda.


Ready-to-drink options have come a long way. With endless choices, quality has increased just to stay in the game. I love the option of grabbing a can and pouring it for instant gratification. The NO-LO category offers several varieties, including mixers, mixed cocktails, or a more spritzy, bubbly style.

My two new favorites are Hella and Cutwater. Hella has created two fantastic “mocktails” in a can. This RTD is aromatic and non-alcoholic. The taste is similar to flavored water but with a kick. The Dry Aromatic version has zero sugar, while the Spritz Aromatic does have 26g of sugar. If you are looking for both a zero alcohol and sugar option– — make sure to read the fine print!

Cutwater’s Bloody Mary is as close as you will get to a bloody mary for a low-alcohol version. This tastes like the real deal and comes in at 10% ABV! Look for other options from Cutwater, such as a gin and tonic and Paloma.

With so many bartenders and companies focusing on quality for a wide array of spirit alternatives or mocktails, you don’t have to sip sugary sodas this Dry January. As we enter a new year, we can be thankful for the growth in NOLO cocktails and options. Whether you want to sip mid-week or incorporate more into your new healthier lifestyle, the world is your oyster. Sit back, relax, and let's cheer for a positive start to the new year.

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