Cocktails on a Budget: How to Save Money in your Home Bar

MIXOLOGY TALK PODCAST #189

Today, we’re wrapping up Dry January with Chris Becker of Better Rhodes, a curated marketplace for alcohol-free options that you can access all year round. An online vendor such as Better Rhodes can make finding nonalcoholic cocktails, spirits, beers, and wines so much easier (and cheaper) than trying to source them all yourself. Let’s dive into the relatively new world of craft, booze-free adult beverages and explore our options.

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INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 1:13– Background of the brand (and more at 21:13)
  • 4:15– Using alcohol-free spirits as replacements (and modifying your expectations)
  • 9:13– Some of Chris Becker’s favorite NA items
  • 16:30– Biggest challenges with NA spirits
  • 25:45– Promotions

MEET CHRIS BECKER!

Chris Becker is the founder of Better Rhodes, a community and retail space focused on making alcohol-free living fun, easy, and great tasting. Chris is an entrepreneur with a background in technology consulting and other digital and business startups. 

His passion and focus on alcohol-free started on a vacation with his family where Chris wanted better non-alcoholic choices. But it took a lot of research, time, and money just to find and order what he wanted. This experience inspired Chris to found Better Rhodes in order to make this process easier for others. Along the way, he heard many stories from a variety of different people seeking alcohol-free alternatives, whether for abstinence, moderation, health and fitness reasons, or lifestyle changes. Better Rhodes supports anyone looking to bring alcohol-free into their lives for any reason.

THE MISSION OF BETTER RHODES: MAKING NON-ALCOHOLIC DRINKS FUN, AFFORDABLE, AND EASY

The market has certainly responded to the demand for non-alcoholic options; there are a lot of new, inventive products out there, but they’re not always easy to source. Enter Better Rhodes. 

As mentioned in his bio, Chris Becker was on vacation and just wanted a decent non-alcoholic beverage. I mean, just because you’re not drinking alcohol doesn’t mean you want to miss out on quality. This search led him down a rabbit hole of investigation; he found some unique, craft-focused beers and beverages without alcohol, but it also took all afternoon and cost a pretty penny to have them all shipped. Why did it have to be so difficult?

“And I thought ‘What if there was a way to give people a chance to try alcohol-free?’ Because, for a lot of people, it can be about abstinence or sobriety, but that’s not what we’re about. Of course, we’re a part of that community and support that community. But it’s also about ‘Hey, maybe I don’t want to drink for the month of January, maybe I’m running a marathon, maybe I’m pregnant, maybe my doctor’s orders are saying I should, or I’ve decided I should drink less, or I’m curious.’ There are so many reasons, and that’s kind of where the name came from in terms of, you know, the different roads people might take to get to this space, where we’re giving people some new alternatives.” –Chris Becker

INCLUSIVE HOSPITALITY: OFFERING ALCOHOL-FREE COCKTAILS FOR CUSTOMERS

The hospitality industry has focused more on this mentality in recent years as well: You want to give customers who aren’t drinking alcohol the opportunity to still be part of the experience.

“This is where this started from a hospitality perspective in the bar and restaurant community, is being able to provide that customer service to somebody that doesn’t want to have that alcohol but still wants to be part of the experience. And that’s when we really started having these conversations, like ‘OK, let’s put some attention into this, let’s really start to really start to be thoughtful about the kinds of nonalcoholic drinks we’re putting out to people so it’s not a Shirley Temple, it’s not a kind of slapped-together Mojito or something like that. So they can truly be part of this experience and not feel like they’re missing out.” –Chris Tunstall

Also a big reason to make alcohol-free more mainstream? So you don’t get called out by your friends for not drinking. Why is it such a big deal when someone chooses to order a non-alcoholic drink? If you decide not to drink, you want it to be a non-issue. Normalizing– and elevating– nonalcoholic drinks as part of an experience has a lot of societal benefits (and bars can still make money from those customers who order an alcohol-free cocktail, beer, or wine).

INCLUSIVE HOSPITALITY: OFFERING ALCOHOL-FREE COCKTAILS FOR CUSTOMERS

The hospitality industry has focused more on this mentality in recent years as well: You want to give customers who aren’t drinking alcohol the opportunity to still be part of the experience.

“This is where this started from a hospitality perspective in the bar and restaurant community, is being able to provide that customer service to somebody that doesn’t want to have that alcohol but still wants to be part of the experience. And that’s when we really started having these conversations, like ‘OK, let’s put some attention into this, let’s really start to really start to be thoughtful about the kinds of nonalcoholic drinks we’re putting out to people so it’s not a Shirley Temple, it’s not a kind of slapped-together Mojito or something like that. So they can truly be part of this experience and not feel like they’re missing out.” –Chris Tunstall

Also a big reason to make alcohol-free more mainstream? So you don’t get called out by your friends for not drinking. Why is it such a big deal when someone chooses to order a non-alcoholic drink? If you decide not to drink, you want it to be a non-issue. Normalizing– and elevating– nonalcoholic drinks as part of an experience has a lot of societal benefits (and bars can still make money from those customers who order an alcohol-free cocktail, beer, or wine).

HOW TO USE ALCOHOL-FREE ALTERNATIVES IN YOUR COCKTAILS

OK, so we know we have choices, and we know the reasons to choose alcohol-free beverages. But how do we use zero-proof spirits properly? Let’s be honest: non-alcoholic spirits don’t usually replace a spirit perfectly.  If something is labeled a “bourbon alternative,” that is what your mind expects, right? Well, it doesn’t always translate accurately, and you can’t typically substitute that into an Old Fashioned without some tweaking.

“I think there needs to be some information and news to get out there to say ‘Yeah, this is a different type of experience; […] there needs to be an emphasis on cocktails or the mocktails or what you want to do with these drinks. But they are not alternatives to say ‘I’m going to have this whiskey alternative and it’s going to taste just like my favorite whiskey but without the alcohol.’ That’s just not the case. So it’s very much about how to position them and celebrate them and use them, mix them in their own way.” –Chris Becker

Chris B. compares spirit alternatives to Coke and Diet Coke: Yeah, they’re the same brand, but they are their own things. And you may even enjoy the alternative more than the original! So when you buy a spirit alternative, just recognize it for being its own product. There are plenty of cocktails you can make with them, but don’t expect to just put them into your favorite cocktail and have it be exactly the same.

CHRIS BECKER RECOMMENDS: NON-ALCOHOLIC OPTIONS TO GET YOU STARTED 

The industry has really expanded to include a variety of quality, zero-proof products. Let’s explore some of Chris Becker’s favorite alcohol-free alternatives.

Spirits

Ritual: This company has both tequila and whiskey alternatives that Chris B. says are worth trying.  

Spiritless: A female-run company, they focus on Kentucky bourbon alternatives.

Lyre’s: With a larger selection, Lyre’s produces spirit alternatives that offer a lot of complexity. Our Chris recommends using their Apéritif Rosso (a sweet vermouth substitute), coupled with their Italian Orange (a Campari replacement) to make a great zero-proof Negroni. Chris T. also mentions that liqueurs and cordials with natural complexity tend to translate better to alcohol-free versions. 

“Once you add a lot of complexity to the equivalent of the spirit, that’s where I’ve seen a lot of these categories for non-alcoholic really start to shine.” –Chris Tunstall

Beer

-Athletic brewing: Unlike alcohol-free spirits and wines, these beers really hold their own. Chris B. recommends the IPA and Double IPA.

Wine

Thomson & Scott Noughty Wines: You can choose between a traditional and non-alcoholic sparkling wine from this cheeky company.

OTHER NON-ALCOHOLIC OPTIONS

  • For Bitter or Worse and Curious Elixirs offer alcohol-free, premade cocktails in a bottle. Being ready-to-serve with a cocktail-esque profile that appeals to the adult palate (not a soda or flavored water), these give consumers the option of a non-alcoholic cocktail without the work of putting it all together.

“It gives you the complexity that can stand on its own in absence of the alcohol itself. And you’re starting to see those ready-to-drink, so people want that experience but may not be as interested in pulling that drink together themselves. Some people want that and are celebrating that.” –Chris Becker

BIGGEST CHALLENGES WITH ALCOHOL-FREE ALTERNATIVES

Of course, there are challenges when it comes to non-alcoholic spirits. For one, they aren’t traditional spirits, but sometimes people expect to use them exactly the same as their alcoholic counterparts. Sorry, but that’s just not realistic. For example, if you put a gin alternative in a gin and tonic, it’s simply not going to be the same. It may require a little more creativity to come up with a cocktail that is delicious and complex without that complexity coming from alcohol. Here are a couple struggles with and misconceptions about alcohol-free beverages:

  • As I just mentioned, it’s difficult for a non-alcoholic spirit to have the complexity or a taste profile to stand on its own. It can require a lot of steps, ingredients, time, and creativity; so if you want a cocktail without the booze, you’ll probably have to work a little harder for it (or purchase a premade version).
  • This is a relatively new field of focus, so consumers don’t know all their options. But you do have choices! With the gin and topic problem I mentioned, Chris B. suggests finding a complex tonic that has cucumber or other flavor profile to it so it blends better with the  gin alternative.
  • To that point, it can be hard to find all the alcohol-free possibilities! That’s where a site like Better Rhodes comes in, though, so you don’t have to do all the research yourself.
  • Non-alcoholic spirits, beers, and wines aren’t any cheaper than traditional alcoholic beverages. Even without booze, these are crafted, artisanal spirit alternatives. These high-quality products are worth it; just don’t expect them to save you money.

“When you think of the production side of it, they’re trying to overcome a lot of pretty significant hurdles, so I could see the cost of these ramping up pretty quickly. I think there’s a lot of misconception out there in the consumer base as well, like, ‘There’s no booze in it, so it should be pretty cheap.’” –Chris T.

MAKING ALCOHOL-FREE COCKTAILS EASIER AND MORE INTERESTING

Whether you drink alcohol or are exploring sober living, definitely check out Better Rhodes to see all the cool, new zero-proof options out there. They offer curated kits where you can, for example, get a mixed sample 6-pack of non-alcoholic beer where each beer is from a different brewery. This lets you try a variety of beers without buying six different 6-packs you’re not sure you’ll enjoy! Chris B. also hinted that there’s a Valentine’s Day special coming out soon, so be sure to check their site for that.

Even if you’re in the hospitality industry and not looking to go alcohol-free yourself, you can use Better Rhodes and sites like it to test products that you may want to bring to your beverage service for your own customers. Of course, no matter your reason, we’d love to hear about your non-alcoholic creations, adventures, and findings over in our Facebook group

And whether they’re cocktails or “mocktails,” you’ll need barware to mix up those drinks, so don’t forget to head over to our shop and grab all your supplies. We even have a Valentine’s Day special right now for 14% off our gorgeous copper barware, so don’t miss out!

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Melanie Tornroth

Melanie Tornroth

A former English teacher, Melanie optimistically embraces the struggle that is work-from-home parenthood as the in-house writer for A Bar Above. When not responding to “Mom” and writing articles for ABA, she also runs Goodnickels Photography, loves to cuddle her cats, and is perfecting the art of keeping her pandemic “fermentation babies” alive.

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