Because I hate to relax and love to worry, I recently became convinced that my workday-to-chill-night transition drink was the beginning of a slippery slope into an alcohol problem and decided to go cold turkey for a month as a “reset.” In doing so, I gained almost nothing except an extreme awareness of how much heavy lifting my 6 p.m. glass of wine or sip of amaro had been doing to delineate the boundaries between work and life in the only space where either now took place. A cheeky nightcap was not only a moment of sensory pleasure in an otherwise bland work-from-home day but helped me loosen up and relax, and it gave me something to do before the evening’s big task (cooking dinner, again) began.
For a spell, I tried enjoying booze-free drinks — warm apple cider, fizzy water with lemon, a ginger ale — but none had the special-occasion aura I was looking for. I also tried Seedlip, for a faux gin-and-tonic vibe, but it felt sadder to drink an approximation of the real thing than to avoid it altogether. So I was intrigued when another friend, herself on a Sober November journey, suggested Three Spirit, a U.K.-based company that makes plant-based alcohol alternatives designed to replicate not just the look and flavour of a cocktail but the feel of drinking one as well. She had heard about the brand on Instagram, been intrigued, and ordered a sampler. Inspired-slash-desperate, I did the same.
I bought a sample kit: three stylish, 50-centiliter bottles with a slight whiff of secret potion to them, each containing a different beverage. Made from herbs and plant supplements I had heard about but never fully understood (ashwagandha, valerian root, ginseng, etc.), Three Spirit’s range comprises three beverages — the Livener, the Social Elixir, and the Nightcap — each with a different flavour profile and designed to produce effects similar to drinking alcohol. They can be enjoyed alone, sipped over ice like an aperitif, or included as part of several inventive mocktail recipes on the Three Spirit website. I tried the Livener (hibiscus, guayusa) on its own and the Social Elixir (damiana, lion’s-mane mushroom) as part of a Light and Stormy. Both left me feeling a little floaty, perhaps due to the adaptogens, but the standout for me was the Nightcap.
Mixed over ice with a dash of bitters and a bit of orange peel, the Nightcap looked and tasted not unlike an old-fashioned but contained ingredients I’m more used to finding in sleepy-time tea: licorice, valerian root, lemon balm, and white willow. It’s sweetened with maple syrup, gets a little kick from black pepper and turmeric, and feels like a grown-up goodnight drink — not as grandmother-y as herbal tea but less likely to induce a hangover than a traditional nightcap. It looked more fun than an herbal tea, too. Whether the effect was due to a placebo or a potent mix of ancient herbs, I went to bed that evening feeling relaxed, dreamy, and calm … not easy things to be these days.
I went through the sampler bottle quickly (it contained only four servings, and Three Spirit recommends at least two for optimum impact) and ordered a larger bottle of the Nightcap. That got me through Dry November easily, and my Nightcap habit has carried over into the wetter months of December and January, too. It’s a great alternative to booze, and, I was pleased to discover, a shot of Nightcap goes great in whiskey-based drinks for a low-ABV cocktail like Three Spirit’s suggested Zen Hot Toddy. One of my goals for the New Year was to have better options in my bar cart for the nondrinkers in my life, but I never anticipated I’d be going for a booze-free option over wine myself. (Sometimes.)
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