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Tales of the (Zero Proof) Cocktail

Tasting passes for the public and expanded zero proof and wellness options added to the boozy festival for 2023

For years, Tales of the Cocktail has been overtly boozy and primarily geared toward hospitality industry insiders, but this year organizers added a new twist in tasting passes for the public and expanded its zero proof and wellness options. The $45 day passes sold out quickly, but as of 9 a.m. this morning (July 28), there are still $175 tasting ticket package bundles available, which include a tasting room day pass for each day of the conference, plus as Meet the Distillers pass. 

I spent the day at the conference headquarters at the Ritz-Carlton on Wednesday. Since I went alcohol free three years ago, my day was spent visiting the non-alcoholic lounges and popups, which this year are greatly expanded this year, proving yet again the power of the sobercurious movement and its continued rise in the beverage market. 

The Beyond the Bar Lounge by Boisson the online- and New York-based non-alcoholic bottle shop offers respite throughout the day for anyone interested in trying a variety of zero proof cocktails. My favorite from the lineup was the Ruby Red Gimlet featuring Ceder’s Pink Rose — a gin-esque zero proof spirit with notes of rose and juniper — BITE Rhubarb, pink pepper and lime juice. 

The non-alcoholic spirits company Lyre’s created a fully experiential World of Lyre’s lounge featuring dealcoholized sparkling wine and caviar bar (I keep the Lyre’s Classico — which tastes just like a light, bubbly prosecco — on hand at all times at home); a “soda shop” bar with six zero proof cocktail options (I tried one that blended Lyre’s Coffee Original, an NA Kahlua, and Franklin & Sons lemon tonic); pastry bar; grab and go bar with cans of the company’s mixed drinks and Classico in a can; as well as a lush, tropical oasis in the middle of the room featuring one of the most delicious tropical drinks I’ve ever tasted and an espresso martini that was to die. 

At the Ritual Zero Proof popup, the Aperitif Alternative spritz made with my favorite sparkling NA (it reminds me of Veuve Clicquot) Noughty AF, which is a crisp, non-alcoholic, vegan brut-style sparkling Chardonnay. If you like an Aperol spritz, you’ll love it. 

The Bitters and Books popup by Octavia Books has any book you could want on the subject of cocktails. In fact (forgive the shameless plug), I was thrilled to see the book I edited, “CRAFT: The Eat Fit Guide to Zero Proof Cocktails,” included in the mix with boozy books, such as local offerings by Cure cocktail bar owner Neal Bodenheimer’s “Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em,” and food and cocktail writer Sue Strachan’s “The Café Brûlot.” 

I ended the day at the Ghia No & Low popup. Ghia is a non-alcoholic aperitif blended with botanicals and featuring both sweet and bitter flavor profiles. Japanese yuzu, lemon balm, orange and rosemary are the highlight notes. 

While I unfortunately missed some of the popups and activations, additional zero proof brands at the festival included Seedlip, a zero proof spirit that is gin-like, but truly unique in its offerings and Cut Above, a zero proof whiskey. There also was a “No and Lo Heroes” party at Dream House Lounge, the zero-proof cocktail, oxygen bar and wellness space, in the Central Business District on Tuesday featuring a wealth of NA brands being slung by some of the sobercurious space’s high-profile players and influencers. The “Experience No/Low” pool party at The Chole by Focus on Health and Mover & Shaker and the Seedlip Spritz and Splash NA party there on Wednesday were both all over “sober Instagram” on Thursday. I also saw the Wilderton Non-Alcoholic Botanical Spirits day party at Preservation Hall on Wednesday’s agenda, and hated to miss it. There were also many other healthy happy hours, group runs, sessions about the zero-proof market and daily meetings of Ben’s Friends, a recovery support group for members of the food and beverage industry, were also on the agenda. 

For me, the entire experience was like an alcohol-free beverage lover’s fever dream. I continue to be excited about the growth of the sobercurious movement and the delicious and sophisticated zero proof options popping up on drink menus at conventional bars and restaurants, as well as spaces like Dream House Lounge, at wine and liquor stores (Martin Wine Cellar and Total Wine both have solid NA sections) and, lately, in the adult beverage sections of the grocery stores. 

Tales of the Cocktail ends today, but if you hurry you can still grab a pass check it out and pack in $175 worth of fun — boozy or otherwise.

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