When Kayleigh Blome made the transition from the coffee world to bartending, they already had a knack for crafting original drinks and an interest in spirit-free cocktails. “It’s the inclusivity. Being able to create spaces for people and create connections for people is always something I’ve been passionate about,” Blome says. Leading the NA cocktail program at Seattle’s Stampede Cocktail Club, Blome has experimented with a wide range of alcohol-free spirits and offers some of their favorites and how to use them.
Made in the Pacific Northwest by spirits industry vets Brad Whiting and Seth O’Malley, the Wilderton distillates pull inspiration from the local flora and beyond. The brand’s Earthen expression incorporates elements like pine-smoked tea, cardamom, and frankincense, while Lustre highlights botanicals like citrus peel, tarragon, rose, and bay leaf. “Wilderton was the first [NA spirit] that I tasted that really impressed me,” says Blome, who utilizes both expressions but finds Lustre to be more versatile. “These are in the top tier for me for what I would consider an aromatic spirit—they add that extra aroma element to make the whole drink feel more complete and flavorful and complex and have that lasting, satisfying quality.” Blome uses Wilderton in the same quantities as a full-proof spirit and suggests adding a shrub or small amount of vinegar for balance. $34.99/each, wildertonfree.com
“This is one that really stands out to me because you can drink it on its own,” says Blome. “It not only stands up as a nonalcoholic amaro, but it stands out in its own right.” Launched in spring of this year, Seattle-born Pathfinder is made from a base of fermented hemp, and then refined through copper pot distillation before being blended with botanicals like wormwood, ginger, juniper, and orange peel. The result is a complex, bittersweet sipper that Blome finds works best in simple cocktails that keep it as the primary ingredient. “I make an Italian Julep, which is typically made with Cynar, and because this has that hemp base, it has a very similar flavor to a lot of artichoke amari.” $39.99, drinkthepathfinder.com
“Spiritless is really the only one that changed my mind about ‘spirit analogues’—things that are trying specifically to mimic another spirit,” says Blome. In this case, that spirit is Kentucky bourbon, which Spiritless 74 aims to replicate through the combination of a high-proof neutral spirit with American oak that undergoes thermal extraction and reverse distillation to remove the alcohol and leave behind the flavors and aromas. “You’re able to get aromas of whiskey in a way that’s incredibly realistic. It doesn’t have the body, of course, so I need to add other elements,” says Blome. $35.99, spiritless.com
“I love that this is made by gin makers who understand the flavors of gin and the balances of gin, and they know that you can’t make a nonalcoholic gin,” says Blome. From the makers of Salcombe Gin in the U.K., New London Light is made with a base distillation of Macedonian juniper berries, ginger, and habanero capsicum, into which a roster of 15 additional botanicals are then blended, including sage, cardamom, and lemongrass. “I tasted their gins first, and then when I tasted New London Light, I was not disappointed,” Blome says. “I felt it really held up to tonic. I even did a Ramos Gin Fizz with it, and it holds up in even those really delicate gin cocktails.” $38.99, betterrhodes.com
“You know how they say that elderflower is the bartender’s ketchup? My NA bartender’s ketchup is Giffard Sirop Aperitif. Bitterness is one of the hardest things to get right, but it tastes like Campari,” says Blome, who reaches for the spirit-free aperitif for a wide variety of applications. “There are no weird side effects when adding it to anything—it’s just delicious. The most popular cocktail I’ve made with it basically mimics an Aperol Spritz, with a salted tangerine shrub, strawberry syrup, and tonic. I’ve also added it to tiki cocktails to make them feel like a real Jungle Bird.” $19, bittersandbottles.com