The Full Guide To Thrive Without Alcohol

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Hi! I’m so excited to be writing an actual blog post again, instead of just show notes for a podcast. These days it’s been much easier for me to press record on a podcast and let my messy thoughts out that way, but writing is such a joy for me and I miss bringing that part of my creative self to the blog, though I am writing in other places that just aren’t as widely visible. But I’ve been feeling the pull to write here again so I hope I find ways to make that happen.

With that, this is a post that I’ve had in the works for awhile now, as a more practical and fun follow-up to my slightly more serious posts around taking a year off from alcohol. (You can see those here and here.) As I’m nearing the end of that sober experiment (I can hardly believe it’s almost been one year), I have a LOT of thoughts and feelings around it, which I promise to process in blog form soon, but beyond the deeper insights I’ve received during this time, I really feel like I’ve gotten quite good at navigating my way around sobriety in a way that not only doesn’t suck, but has brought me so much joy!

From the beginning I challenged myself to get creative with what I drank and how I participated in social events so that I wouldn’t become some boring, sparkling-water-drinking recluse, and I’m proud to say that I feel like I’ve succeeded. I’ve loved watching people get excited for me to make them one of my mocktails (still need a better name than this ugh), or to hear pregnant mamas say thank you for posting my drink recipes to give them inspo, or helping people realize that you actually can still go out and have lots of fun even if you’re not drinking.

So I wanted to create a master resource for all of the things I’ve found most helpful and enjoyable in this sober journey, many of which I plan to keep incorporating and drinking even when the year is up. With that, here are my tips for the best sparkling waters, the beverages that make you feel like you’re drinking a cocktail, the best combos, brands, things to say or order at a bar/restaurant, glassware, mindset shifts, tips for having fun without alcohol, and more. Enjoy!

Best Sparkling Waters

I know I said I didn’t want to drink only sparkling water, but the truth is, a good sparkling water is typically the base of most good mocktails, and they instantly elevate your drinking experience with all their fancy little bubbles (that are also pretty to look at). So they’re necessary to always have on hand. And it’s awesome that we have so many non-sugar-filled options these days. But, not all sparkling water is created equal.

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I’m not gonna rank every different brand – especially because most people already have their preferences. But personally, I’ve started to feel disenchanted with LaCroix and all their competitors. I’ll forever love coconut LaCroix, but a lot of the “naturally essenced” flavors have begun to take on an artificial vibe to me and so I don’t find myself gravitating towards any of those brands. Here’s what I do love: 

The flavored seltzer waters from Trader Joe’s are amazing. They pack way more flavor than a normal flavored sparkling water, and they are totally reminiscent of cocktails to me, without even needing to mix them with something. The cranberry lime reminds me of a vodka cranberry, and the lemon ginger is super flavorful, and tastes like a slightly less intense version of ginger beer. They’re all made with real fruit juice (and still really low in sugar) and use organic ingredients too. I pick up a pack almost every time I go to TJ’s! 

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The canned, flavored Pellegrino sparkling waters are real good too (what I’m holding in the first image on this post). I love the Dark Morello Cherry and Pomegranate flavor the most and 30% of the reason might be because of the gorgeous pink and blue color of the can.

Having a high quality plain sparkling water is so clutch. It’s what I use as my base for most drinks, and if you find the right one, it will be good enough to drink all by itself. After trying quite a few, here are my two personal faves:

-       Pellegrino. The flavor is yum, the bubbles are just right, and the bottles are beautiful (I try to stick to glass bottles over plastic whenever I can). I always have a couple on hand since they’re the best for entertaining in my opinion and look really nice on your table or bar cart.

-       Topo Chico. The holy grail of sparkling water IMO. It’s basically everything I said for Pellegrino, but like 10% more delicious, and in convenient individual glass bottles that feel so good to drink out of and make me so happy to carry around with me or have in my car. They feel like such a treat to me. They’re a little hard to find (I usually buy mine at Whole Foods), but worth it to track down. Their grapefruit and lime flavors are AMAZING too. Tastes like someone squeezed fresh fruit in both of them but not too much, and it makes it really hard to go back to any other flavored sparkling water after you’ve tried it. My dream fridge situation is basically an entire shelf filled with tens of bottles of Topo Chico. When I live alone, this will happen. 

Mixers

Of course you can really mix anything you’d like with sparkling water, but I personally tend to lean towards fresh juices or things without a lot of sugar when I can. Trader Joe’s has so many good options, my rec is to just be aware of how much sugar is in their different juices if that’s something you’re trying to watch. Also there’s definitely a difference between naturally occurring sugar from fruit, and “added sugars,” which nutrition labels list out. For instance, their pure pomegranate juice says something insane like 54 grams per serving lol. But that’s just pure fruit juice! And it’s very concentrated so you would only need a splash at a time of that. 

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Here are some of my very faves:

-       Pineapple juice. I don’t know what it is about this, but it tastes like a tequila pineapple to me every time. Something about pineapple really feels like a cocktail to me. I buy the small canned ones from TJ’s or a bigger jar of organic pineapple juice, mix with sparkling water, and love adding fresh jalapeños to it too.

-       Grapefruit juice. Fresh squeezed whenever possible, otherwise a healthy pure version in a jar works instead (I try to stay away from the bright pink ones like Simply Grapefruit).

-       Fresh watermelon juice. It’s my summer tradition to buy watermelon and make my own fresh juice from it at home. I just cut it up into chunks, throw it in the blender with a splash of water, add some mint if I have it, blend, and then strain. I store it in the rustic IKEA bottles to feel extra good about myself. I love drinking this straight and over ice, but it’s so nice to mix with sparkling water and other flavors if you want to make it into more of a “drink.”

-       To the Power of 7 juice from TJ’s. Sometimes I mix it with sparkling water, sometimes I drink it straight. But when you put it in a wine glass, it looks identical to red wine, so there’s that.

-       Bitters. Probably my favorite thing to add to sparkling water. Here’s the thing: it technically does contain alcohol. But you use such a small amount of it, there’s no way it’s close to taking even one sip of a drink. For me it’s the feeling of being buzzed I’m trying to avoid, and you won’t get that with a splash of bitters. But it definitely makes your drink feel like a cocktail, and makes it look like a beautiful glass of rosé (and there are so many different flavors you can choose from!).

-       Elderflower cordial (or other flavored syrups). These definitely have a decent amount of sugar, but so does actual wine, and you only need a little bit, and it’s probably the closest I’ve gotten to feeling like I’m having a real glass of (sweeter) white wine. My friend got me two different bottles: one was just Elderflower and one was Elderflower and Rose. Not only are they the most beautiful bottles (other great ones to have out while entertaining), but they’re so yummy to me and feel decadent and like I’m at a garden party. I truly only need a tiny splash to get the benefit of the flavor and when poured into a coupe glass and topped with Pellegrino, I am definitely living my best French/Italian life.

Flair!

One of the most important parts of the beverage experience. Adding decoration in the form of food to my beverage brings me great joy. It’s practical in that it’s typically adding flavor, and then aesthetically it takes a drink from meh to wow so quickly. Lime wedges, lemon wedges, any wedge of fruit really, mint leaves, jalapeño slices, cilantro, watermelon cube, frozen blueberries, you get it. Makes the drink so yummy, gives you vacay vibes, and I just can’t get over how many flavors we have access to in nature IT’S SO AMAZING.

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Also one time I went to a tiki bar in Palm Springs (when I was drinking) and my drink came with about 8 pieces of non-edible flair (a plastic monkey, toothpick with sparkle tassels on the end of it, some pin-wheely thing), and I kept all of them before giving my glass back and stashed them in my clutch, and so anytime I’m out with that clutch it’s nice to have access to my own flair if I need it. As a matter of fact, BYOF (Bring Your Own Flair) is one of the top mottos I ascribe to, and having backup confetti, drink decorations or fancy headpieces on hand has never let me down.

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Glassware 

An important follow-up to flair is glassware. I’m obsessed with drinking all my drinks out of fancy glasses. It’s just as easy to grab a champagne flute for juice in the morning as it would be to grab a regular glass so why not choose something that makes me feel like I’m some kind of fancy heiress who drinks champagne (or tangerine juice and sparkling water in my case) for breakfast? When I’m at home I drink almost everything out of a wine glass, a champagne flute, a coupe glass, or one of my favorite glass tumblers that say “golden state” on them (also been eyeing these pretty pink glasses from IKEA and am so in love with this elevated version here). And most of my glassware is just from IKEA so I don’t have to worry if I break one, and it helps me keep lots of champagne glasses on hand for entertaining (this have very much come in handy actually). But someday I’ll spring for the Crate & Barrel ones coupe glasses instead ;)

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And then when I’m out at a restaurant, I’ll request fancy glasses as well. It just makes everything feel instantly more special and celebratory. 

Mixed Drinks

This part is where you can choose to get as creative as you want, and I’d encourage you to think of the cocktails or drinks you tend to gravitate towards, and then find ways to make a non-alcoholic version of it. I’m just going to share a few of my favorite mocktails (with less-than-precise measurements, I apologize, I’m not a food blogger), and then you can edit or elaborate as you please:

-       Grapefruit + Cucumber + Jalapeño: This was my favorite drink ever. Basically 3 of the “freshest” tasting flavors in my opinion all mixed into one. I just did sparkling water, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice (usually one half of a big grapefruit is enough), and then threw some cucumber and jalapeño slices – without the seeds – in there. Margarita-esque and so dang good.

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-       Pineapple + Cucumber + Cilantro: More of the freshest flavor combos. If you don’t like savory things in your drink this could be weird, but I love the complexity of flavors being combined in this one, and it’s just so refreshing. Sparkling water, pineapple juice, add cucumber slices and cilantro.

-       Pineapple + Lime + Coconut + Jalapeño: Literally vacation in a drink. You could get rid of the jalapeños if you don’t like spice, but it was just coconut LaCroix, pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, and some jalapeños. So yummy.

-       Coconut + Bitters + Raspberry: I mostly liked this one for the looks, but it was good too. Coconut LaCroix, a dash of bitters, and some raspberries (or any other berry) for garnish and flavor.

-       Watermelon + Lime + Mint: As mentioned, I love me some fresh watermelon juice in the summer, and it’s so good to mix it with mint, maybe a little lime juice, and then add a splash of sparkling water to it too.

-       Tangerine Mimosa: The tangerine juice from Trader Joe’s is my guilty pleasure, so much better than orange juice IMO. I throw it in a champagne flute and add a splash of sparkling water while doing work midday and suddenly I’m the fanciest person I know. (Obviously this works with any juice you would normally mix with champagne).

-       Kombucha. All of it. (But GT Dave’s is my fave store brand by far). Not a mixed drink but one of my favorite replacements for alcohol. The bite of it and the bubbles makes it feel like you’re drinking a cocktail, and I always drink it slowly rather than wanting to chug it like I would a juice. Sometimes I’ll add a splash of it to another mixed drink I’ve made as well to give it a little more complexity. It’s nice when restaurants or breweries or bars offer it as an option on tap too.

How to Order at a Bar or Restaurant

It’s definitely annoying when a server or bartender feels confused or put off by you not wanting to order alcohol, but luckily, I feel like most people are kind and helpful when it comes to getting you what you want, and even down for the challenge to come up with a yummy non-alcoholic creation (places that serve craft cocktails are usually great at this because their bartenders are expertly trained in all things beverages).

I admit that it’s easiest to order sparkling water with a lime when I don’t know what else to get, and a lot of times I’ll follow that up with, “in a fancy glass, please!” and that makes it better. But here are my tips for ordering drinks at a less-than-fancy bar (AKA the dive bars that I typically frequent):

-       Club soda with lime
-       Club soda with splash of cranberry and a lime
-       Club soda and bitters
-       Club soda and pineapple juice
-       Club soda and grapefruit juice
-       Tonic water and lime
-       Club soda and ginger beer
-       Hops water (!) So I’ve only had this once (it was the only non-alcoholic option at Bootleggers Brewery in Costa Mesa), and I’ve asked at least 5 different restaurants/breweries about it since but to no avail so it must be special to them, but if you are local and find yourself here, get it! I don’t even like beer and it was so good and totally tasted like alcohol haha. All my friends who were drinking and tried it approved too.
-       Kombucha (usually offered at breweries as a non-alcoholic option)

Now for fancier restaurants and bars: For starters, it’s been awesome to see the shift in non-alcoholic offerings popping up on menus, and the movement in general towards more options for people not drinking. They even have zero-proof bars that have opened up in cities like NY. Restaurants like True Food and Café Gratitude, and The Pink Cabana (my fave out in the desert), have all kinds of healthy elixirs and non-alcoholic bevs to choose from. But if a restaurant doesn’t, I’ll take a look at the cocktails they do offer and see if anything stands out as sounding yummy and then just ask if they can make something similar without alcohol (unless one of the main flavors is coming from the alcohol). If I’m sitting at the bar, I love telling the bartenders the kind of flavors I’m feeling and seeing if they can whip me up something including those with no alcohol. I’ve hardly been disappointed. Some of my fave bars around here that have the most skilled bartenders IMO are SOCIAL, Pie Society, the speakeasy under CDM Restaurant, and the Blind Rabbit in the Anaheim Packing District.

Non-Alcoholic Spirits Reviews

This is another area I’ve enjoyed seeing the shift in: the beverage offerings in the non-alcoholic category. Trendy (and beautiful) brands have been popping up right and left with drinks that are meant to mimic alcohol but not be sugary sweet or simple and boring. I haven’t tried that many (due to price or difficulty to obtain), but here are the ones I have tried and then others I’m curious about:

-       Seedlip. Did a review of this on my stories (still saved in my highlights), and it was a little bit of a rollercoaster lol. It’s pretty pricey but I was obsessed with their branding and the fact that they claimed to be like gin intrigued me. When I first tried it (alone and with sparkling water), I was so confused because it hardly tasted like anything?? Even though it smelled amazing. I even reached out to them to ask what I was missing and here was their response: “we always recommend Seedlip is mixed with tonic water & served over ice or within a non-alcoholic cocktail, rather than tried neat. Alcohol carries flavor very well, as does sugar. Seedlip contains neither, but when mixed with tonic or within cocktails our spirits really shine & open up the complexity & strength of our plant distillates.” And they were right. It was way better with tonic water and I’m actually pretty into it now, especially with a lime or a sprig of rosemary for decoration. It really does mimic a Gin and Tonic, to the point that at my birthday party I got nervous I accidentally picked up the wrong drink a couple times since mine looked just the G & T’s everyone else was drinking. I wish it was a little less expensive, but I probably would buy this again. I tried both the Citrus and Garden flavors and both were very good. Their site gives lots of great mocktail options as well.

-       Recess. Canned sparkling waters infused with hemp extract and adaptogens. Gorgeous branding, fascinating flavors (I got the multi-pack so I could try all 3: Peach Ginger, Blackberry Chai, and Pomegranate Hibiscus). Not cheap, but I did really like them. Would probably prefer to buy one-off’s at a store if they carry them rather than ordering a pack online.

-       Curious Elixirs. Haven’t tried but intrigued.

-       Kin Euphorics. Also haven’t tried, also pretty pricey with nice branding and interesting sounding flavors.

-       Osun Sparkling. Introduced to me by way of Jess Lively, I have never wanted to try a beverage more, but alas, they don’t ship to the U.S. yet. These Rose and Lavender (and Palo Santo sometimes!) sparkling beauties are brewed with spring water that is filtered through positively charged crystals, lightly flavored with botanical extracts, and then carbonated. This process all takes place at the peak of the moon cycle every month. I mean have you heard of a more amazing, more extra beverage in your life? Fill my fridge with it right meow plz. I comment on her IG about once a month just reminding her there is a high demand in the U.S. It has been “coming soon” for about a year now.

How to Have High Sober Vibes

Ok last but certainly not least. So you have some yummy beverage options you can make or order out, but how do you address the fact that the buzz of alcohol is missing at an event, a date, even a night in?

I was curious how I would handle feeling frustrated or left out when I was the only one not drinking at an event or when I had to face the fact that I just had to be fully sober with no outside help for altering my mood. As with everything else in my life, I decided to get curious and figure out what thoughts would most help me turn any unenjoyable feelings or situations into a positive one. And here’s the collection of what I’ve come up with over the past year:

·      View every moment (especially when you’re aware of your sobriety) as a moment to practice presence. Being present in my current moment is a practice I’m constantly working on improving. “The Power of Now” has been so helpful for this, same with brief moments of meditation when I make the time. But any time I can surrender and pull myself into the present moment of my life, I consider it a gift and a peek into full peace and heaven on earth. So being sober and aware affords me that ability that much more. When I am out to dinner with friends or out dancing and notice the lack of alcohol in my own brain and the increase in consumption from those around me, I choose to be fully present in that moment. I touch my hand or my leg to bring awareness to my body, I practice keeping my gaze and attention directly on who I’m talking to or try to be aware of the people around me and remind myself of the goodness in each of them. I enjoy my drink or food, I think of how it is nourishing my body to stay hydrated or to eat something that brings me pleasure. I feel the energy from the music and the joy that surrounds me whenever I am dancing. I especially lock onto that feeling when it’s being amplified from dancing with people that I love. To me there are few greater feelings of bliss than being fully in that moment. No I am not always in this deep of presence every time I’m out, but what I’ve discovered is that presence wins over being buzzed for me, every single time. And the more I practice it (which one year of not drinking has given me lots of space to do), the easier it gets to return to this moment.

·      Focus on the outcome. Most of the times I have chosen to consume alcohol in the past have happened on an unconscious level. Of course I know what I’m doing, but I also was typically acting out of habit or just because that’s what everyone does when they go out. But now that I’ve gathered enough data to know what it feels like to go an extended period of time feeling good and not having any setbacks from alcohol, it’s made me re-examine how I’ll choose to consume it in the future. I know what happens when I have too much to drink: it sucks the next day, and sometimes that night too. But now that I have experienced over and over again what it feels like to remember my whole night, come home in peace and clarity, have a life that is devoid of the chaos that alcohol can bring, and feel like myself the next morning, I’d prefer that outcome over the other hands down. So yes there are times that drinking would make the current moment more fun, but when I run that list of benefits through my brain any time I feel bummed about not drinking, it reminds me how worth it abstaining will be.

·      Think about the health benefits. It only takes one really bad hangover to confirm that we truly are putting a powerful toxin in our body that takes such a toll when consumed in excess. When I soberly witness the people around me go from clear and level-headed to slurring, stumbling and then sometimes violently throwing up, it breaks my heart to think of the ways our bodies are desperately trying to tell us to please stop putting this poison in me. As I refrain from drinking I like to think that I am giving my body the gift of health and care by choosing to fill it with nourishing fuel as much as I can. I’ve mentioned this before, but reminding myself that abstaining from alcohol is actually a gift I’m choosing to give myself rather than a restriction I am placing on my fun or joy has helped me immensely.

·      Reading books or following people pursuing a similar path. The book Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington was so, so helpful in this journey. I recommend it to everyone I possibly can – whether you ever want to give up drinking or not. Taking a step back and an introspective look at why we consume alcohol (a mind-altering drug) at such massive levels is insightful and powerful and I love the way Ruby approaches all the nuances of alcohol in this book. I also listen to her podcast and follow her and others on a “sober curious” journey to be inspired by their words and ways of living. A few examples include Ruby Warrington, Russell Brand, and Rich Roll.

Ok I think that’s all I’ve got for now. I may come back and add things I may have forgotten this time around or discover as I go, but my hope is that you can use this post as a resource and reference if you ever find yourself wanting to take a step back from alcohol for any period of time. I’ve also saved some of my sober musings and drink ideas over on my “Sober Year” highlight on my IG. Happy to answer any questions you may have as well, and I am wishing you all the joy and fullness that life can offer, no matter where it finds you.

Peace and love friends,
Sara B.