The Non-Alcoholic Holiday Survival Guide

Remember: You don't need to explain yourself to anyone.

Three non-alcoholic drinks for the holidays

Simply Recipes / Leela Cyd / Sally Vargas / Sam Schick

After I gave up drinking a few years ago for health reasons, my life without alcohol has largely been about gains: more focus, more energy, more time, and an unanticipated surplus in disposable income. But with the holiday season around the corner, those of us who don't drink face a string of parties and big meals where tipple is often a main event. How do you keep dry libations interesting and social interactions free of awkward moments? I went to some experts for tips for going into the festive season with confidence.

Know What You'll Say When Someone Offers You an Alcoholic Drink

Doing some light legwork beforehand can go a long way in easing that pre-party stress. “Know what you'll say when you're offered a drink,” advises Joy Manning, a health writer and creator of @BetterWithoutBooze (and lucky us, she’s also a Simply Recipes contributor). "'No, thank you,’ ‘I'm not drinking tonight,’ and ‘I'll have a water’ are all enough. You can leave it at that! No explanation is necessary.” 

Julia Bainbridge is the author of Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason. For hosts, she gives this advice: “Always offer a non-alcoholic option, even if no one attending is sober. Maybe a guest prefers not to consume alcohol for whatever reason—an interest in moderation, pregnancy, a religious holiday, a health issue, an upcoming athletic event like a marathon, or even a hangover—and yet would delight in something more interesting than water. Maybe your guests want to switch back and forth between alcoholic and non-alcoholic options.” 

Provide or Bring a Non-Alcoholic Drink Option to the Party

If you’d like to arrive with an interesting n/a bottle to give your hosts, Bainbridge suggests that you “bring something that your hostess can just open and pour. So many alcohol-free spirits require a certain kind of expertise to use—they are not one-to-one replacements for their alcoholic counterparts.” Some of her favorites easy-drinking options include Unified Ferments’ Snow Chrysanthemum, Ghia Le Spritz, Gnista Floral Wormwood non-alcoholic spirits (on ice or mixed with tonic), and Jörg Geiger Birnenschaumwein non-alcoholic sparkling wine made from Champagner-Bratbirne pears.

There’s also strength in support. “Recruit or identify a nondrinking buddy if at all possible. It helps to feel like you're not alone,” Manning says. 

Another route is to mix up a drink beforehand so it’s ready to go. Manning’s suggestion? “Bring a shrub! My favorite part about a shrub is that everyone can share—it's great with seltzer or tonic and it's also good in alcoholic cocktails.”

Non-alcoholic cocktails next to a bowl of peanuts

Simply Recipes / Sam Schick

Find Your Signature Alcohol-Free Drink at Bars and Restaurants

Not all holiday parties are at the homes of friends and family. What about work parties or meetups? Here’s Manning’s tip. “If a celebration will be at a restaurant, try to choose the restaurant. Many places have good non-alcoholic drinks lists these days, and it's better to be at such a place.”

It’s also helpful to have a default n/a drink order that’ll work in any bar or restaurant. “My go-to is bitters and sparkling water with lime,” says Bainbridge. “It's not the most exciting option, but even dive bars will have those ingredients on hand, and it's a dryer, less sugary drink than soda or juice. Just keep in mind that most bitters contain alcohol. When you consider that a few dashes diluted by, say, eight ounces of water ends up having an ABV lower than 0.5%, which the law would consider nonalcoholic, it should be safe for most people. Just be aware; you can make your own choice from there.” 

Manning offers some offbeat ideas. “I like chamomile tea—this is a bar order with swagger. They probably have it, but you'll confuse the bartender for a moment, and once you've got a mug in hand you're clearly marching to the beat of your own drum. Embrace it! Fun in a different way: order a Shirley Temple.”  

Don't Forget That You Can Just...Leave

One of Manning’s tips is also so obvious it can be easy to miss. “Give yourself full permission to leave at any time for any reason. One of the best things about not drinking alcohol is you get really clear on what is actually fun and what's not fun for you. If you aren't having fun, you are allowed to leave.” 

I’ve put this one into practice a few times, and discovered how leaving a party early causes no ripples at all. Just thank the hosts, say goodbye, and get set to curl up at home with a good book or your favorite streaming service. But if you do have worries about offending anyone, simply tell your hosts in advance that you might be heading out early.

Remember: You Don't Need to Explain Yourself to Anyone

This will be my third sober holiday season, and I’m looking forward to it. Maybe I’ll make myself the Verjus Spritz from Bainbridge’s book to celebrate. Gradually I’m accepting there’s no need to explain or define my choice—even to myself. Regardless of the reason you’re not drinking, you don’t need to name or define it. Simply being the person you are is enough, and that’s maybe the best gift you can give anyone this year.