Nix the Booze, Keep the Cocktail: Our Reviews of Recess, Curious Elixirs, and Acid League
Let’s try something. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Image yourself lounging poolside with a fruity cocktail, or sitting on the front porch sipping on an ice-cold glass of rosé. Maybe huddled in a dark bar enjoying an Old Fashioned. Are you feeling just a little bit more relaxed?
It’s funny, isn’t it? When it’s time to kick back and chill, alcohol is often invited to the party. And sure, beverages with a boozy kick can help you slip into relaxation mode or quickly mellow the edges of a difficult day, but they can also leave you feeling groggy and sluggish come the next morning. Luckily, alcohol doesn’t have to be a key component of your relaxation routine. If you love the ritual of happy hour, but aren’t so fond of the headaches that can sometimes follow the fun, there are a number of new alcohol alternatives on the market that mirror the experience (and taste!) of a craft cocktail or a glass of wine— without the inebriation.
Gone are the days when those looking for mocktails were stuck choosing between a Shirley Temple and a Rob Roy. These days, disruptors in the craft cocktail space are concocting zero-proof beverages with the sophisticated taste and balance of flavor found in high-end mixology bars. Similarly, new alcohol-free products are being designed with wine drinkers in mind, and there are even brand new innovations in the beverage space that seek to mimic the relaxing effects of alcohol by harnessing the power of adaptogens and CBD.
In the spirit of research, I sought out three of these alcohol alternatives and gave them a try. Want to learn more about what they’re all about, how they taste, and whether they helped me “take the edge off”? Read on for my honest opinion on Curious Elixirs, Recess, and Acid League Wine Proxies.
Cocktails are just about as American as apple pie. They have a long and celebrated history that goes back to pre-prohibition times, and cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Martini, Manhattan, and Tom Collins have been delighting drinkers since the late nineteenth century. Curious Elixirs draws inspiration from these classics and specializes in booze-free craft cocktails that rely on a blend of “organic juices, herbs, spices, roots, barks, and botanicals” to help you unwind.
There are currently three different core blends to choose from (limited edition flavors also pop up occasionally), and they’re packaged in dark brown bottles that feel both vintage and very chic. Here’s a rundown of the different flavors I sampled:
Curious Elixir No. 1 is our booze-free ode to our favorite classic stirred cocktail, the Negroni. We’ve heard everything from “it tastes kinda like a Negroni” to “herbal, bitter, perfect” to “it makes my mouth dance.” We like to describe it as complex, smooth, dry, bitter. This non-alcoholic cocktail uses our unique superfood and adaptogen blend to help you unwind, including gentian and rhodiola.
Curious Elixir No. 2 is the spicy lovechild of the pineapple margarita and the Dark & Stormy. A playful caper between the energizing effects of citrus, peppers, and ginger and the ancient Mayan herb damiana, Curious Elixir No. 2 mellows you out while your taste buds tap dance. It’s all awakened wonder served up without jitters, helping you settle the butterflies and set the mood.
This booze-free beauty is like if Chartreusian monks and Ayurvedic masters got together for apres-ski cocktails in the Alps. Curious No. 3 is inspired by modern cocktail classics like the Cucumber Collins and the French 75 — but crafted without alcohol — then boosted with the power of ashwagandha, a plant used in Ayurvedic practice for over 5,000 years. Blending alpine herbs, flowers, cucumber, and lemon plus the power of ashwagandha extract (125mg per bottle), Curious Elixir No. 3 was meticulously designed to both please your palate and help you unwind.
With no added sugar and zero alcohol, Curious No. 4 is a booze-free beauty that lingers like the last rays of Venetian sunshine. Especially good before a fine meal, and perfect for any social gathering where you want a better non-alcoholic option, Curious Elixir No. 4 is our booze-free spin on classic Italian aperitifs like the Aperol Spritz. This elixir infuses the exotic citrus of blood orange and green mandarin, the light fizz of non-alcoholic prosecco, and the cooling power of American ginseng, turmeric, and holy basil (tulsi) to help you unwind.
I’m a big fan of classic craft cocktails, and I thoroughly enjoyed Curious Elixirs‘ bold reinterpretations of some of my favorites. The blends are utterly delightful, and the concentrated flavors are designed for sipping— making the drinking experience reminiscent of cocktail hour. As someone who regularly orders Negronis, blend No. 1 was pretty much designed for me, and I found the herbal, bitter notes familiar and delicious. Another standout was No. 4, a fizzy citrus potion with a zap of ginger and orange peel that left my mouth tingling after every sip. I never quite managed to forget that these beverages are alcohol-free, but I savored them nonetheless, and I dare say they helped me feel a bit more relaxed. Whether that’s thanks to the adaptogens or the ritual of kicking my feet up with a cocktail, I can’t say, but they did the trick.
An order of eight bottles starts at $35 for a one-time purchase, and you can save 15% of the retail price if you sign up for recurring deliveries. Those who want to stay fully stocked should consider the Curious Cocktail Club, which sends a monthly variety pack of 12 bottles for $79 per shipment.
Instead of trying to replicate the cocktail experience, Recess is blazing a brand new trail with a range of drinks that are something else entirely. They start with sparkling water and add hemp, adaptogens, and natural flavors to create a beverage that’s designed to relax and calm.
The selection of products is large and growing, but the standard seltzer range includes the following flavors: Pomegranate Hibiscus, Blackberry Chai, Black Cherry, Cococnut Lime, Blood Orange, and Peach Ginger.
I tried The Recess Sampler, which is a great way to try the full range of flavors. Compared to other flavored sparkling waters like La Croix, Recess has a punchier taste that’s more complex. Each can has around 20 calories, and there’s a lot of bubbly flavor and zero sweetener. I’m a big fan of floral flavors and hibiscus tea, so the Pomegranate Hibiscus was a top pick for me. I also enjoyed the Blackberry Chai, which I thought tasted like berry tea with a swirl of cinnamon stick, and Blood Orange, which reminded me of unsweetened marmalade and grapefruit peel.
A sampler pack of six cans costs $29.99, or $4.99 per can; however, you can save on the cost of a 12 pack if you sign up for recurring deliveries. A single purchase of the 12 can sampler pack costs $49.99, but you can subscribe to save $10 on each case.
COUPON: Use code MSA15 to get 15% off your first purchase!
Acid League Wine Proxies
If you know a thing or two about cooking, you understand the importance of acid in food. Whether in citrus form or vinegar, acid wakes up our taste buds, makes our mouths water, and helps balance flavor. Acid League understands this better than most, and they’ve built an entire business around vinegar. The company was started by food scientists who developed a proprietary way to create living vinegars, and they’ve used them to create a range of hot sauces, condiments, and vinaigrettes. Recently, they also turned their attention to wine and created a range of alcohol-free wine proxies.
So, what exactly is a wine proxy? Here’s a description from Acid League:
Layered blends of juices, teas, spices, bitters, and more designed to pair with food and be enjoyed in your finest stemware.
One important thing to note for non-drinkers is that wine proxies may contain trace levels of alcohol. From Acid League:
Our Wine Proxies are non-alcoholic beverages. Just like every kombucha, or even foods containing vanilla extract, they may contain trace amounts of alcohol. Our Proxies always fall below 0.5% alcohol by volume, the threshold to be classified as non-alcoholic according to the FDA and other regulatory agencies.
Apart from sparkling apple juice, this was my first time trying non-alcoholic wine, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I received proxies number 7 (Proust’s Madeline), 8 (Dekoponzi Scheme), and 9 (Night Shade), and I opened them up to try side-by-side. First impression: these are beverages that are BIG on flavor. All three of the proxies in my shipment were very acid-forward, which took me by surprise (as a regular wine drinker, vinegary flavors are ones I tend to avoid in vino). Once I recalibrated my taste buds, however, I found these concoctions utterly interesting. My favorites were Proust’s Madeline, which tasted a bit like sour Welch’s white grape juice, and Dekoponzi Scheme, which was a bit more floral and fruit-forward. None of them tasted quite like wine, but there was something familiar about the complexity. Personally, I tend to prefer strong acidic flavors on my plate vs. in my glass, but if you’re a fan of sour beer and shrub-based cocktails, wine proxies are likely to be right up your alley.
Every month, Acid League releases three new bottlings. You can make a one time purchase on the website or sign up for the full wine club experience. A single purchase of the current Acid League Wine Proxies (three bottles) costs $70. Sign up for a subscription to save $10 on every shipment.
COUPON: Use code MSA10 to get 10% off sitewide.
Have you tried any of these non-alcoholic drinks? Or do you have a favorite we didn’t mention? Head to the comments section and let us know!
Prefer the real thing?
Want to find out about alcohol subscriptions? Check out these additional pages to learn more:
- The 15 Best Wine Clubs and Subscription Boxes
- 13 Best Canned Wine and Single-Serve Alcohol Beverages
- 13 Best Beer of the Month Clubs