I Tried Optimist Bright, a Vodka-Like Non-Alcoholic Spirit—Here’s My Review
Non-alcoholic spirits can help you prevent hangovers and empty calorie consumption. I swapped vodka for Optimist Bright, a zero-proof botanical spirit. Here's what I thought.
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A new wave of non-alcoholic drinking
For years, Americans have relied on booze to mark milestones like weddings, college graduations, and new jobs.
But recently, there’s been a recent shift toward “sober curious” sipping—aka libations without the alcohol.
About 55 percent of American millennials are looking for ways to cut back on booze, according to market research firm The Nielsen Company.
“People explore their relationship with alcohol for many reasons, namely for potential health and mental health benefits,” says Kerry Benson, a Philadelphia-based registered dietician and co-author of Drinking for Two and Mocktail Party.
“Teasing out the relationship between alcohol and health is very tricky, but recent studies suggest that any level of alcohol consumption comes with some degree of risk to health,” she adds.
Brands are responding to demand with more zero-proof spirits. One of those companies is Optimist Botanicals.
What is Optimist Bright?
Optimist Bright is a non-alcoholic spirit crafted to drink like a “lemony vodka,” according to the distiller.
You can sip it neat, on the rocks, or combined with your favorite mixer. It’s designed to be a worthy substitute for vodka (and sometimes gin) in your favorite cocktail.
Like Ritual’s zero-proof spirits, Optimist Botanicals’ drinks are distilled without alcohol. While some alcohol-free wines and beers are fermented before undergoing de-alcoholization, these spirits are alcohol-free from start to finish.
But unlike the makers of zero-proof brands Ritual, Monday, and Lyre’s, the folks at Optimist Botanicals didn’t set out to precisely mimic existing alcoholic spirits.
Optimist Bright is marketed as “like a vodka,” not a 1:1 vodka swap.
The distinction is subtle but important. This distilled botanical is a new drink, not a copy, and you’ll enjoy it more by considering it as such.
(Here’s what happened when I tried Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey.)
Zero-proof spirits aren’t for everyone
Before you pour a snifter of Optimist Bright, consider whether a vodka-like drink could trigger unhealthy alcohol cravings.
For people with a history of alcohol abuse or who are currently living with an alcohol-use disorder, alcohol-free spirits aren’t always a healthy choice.
Sometimes the alcohol-like flavors, or even the act of mixing a drink, can lead to a relapse.
If you struggle with regulating alcohol consumption, talk to your doctor or mental health provider before imbibing a non-alcoholic spirit like Optimist Bright. Better safe than sorry.
Optimist Bright nutrition facts
Pure alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, according to the National Institutes of Health. That’s without sugar or other added ingredients.
Optimist’s non-alcoholic spirits, on the other hand, are all made by distilling botanicals in water. The result is an incredibly simple nutritional profile.
According to the brand, here’s what you’ll find in a two-ounce serving of Optimist Bright:
Carbohydrates: 0 g (0 percent daily value, or DV)
Alcohol: 0 g (0 percent alcohol by volume, or ABV)
Optimist vs. Smirnoff
Vodka is the most purchased spirit in the world, according to the market research company Statista. And of all the vodkas available in the United States, Americans buy Smirnoff the most.
So how does Optimist Bright compare to Smirnoff? Well, Optimist is obviously lower in calories and doesn’t contain alcohol.
For a head-to-head comparison, here’s what you’ll get from two ounces of Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka, the brand’s unflavored bestseller:
Carbohydrates: 0 g (0 percent DV)
Alcohol: 18.3 g (40 percent ABV)
Trying Optimist Bright
In October 2020, I decided to take a month-long break from booze. I drank a lot of mocktails and alcohol-free wines.
Since then, I’ve started drinking alcohol again while still sampling new non-alcoholic spirits as the market and my palate for zero-proof botanicals grow.
I recently received a trio of Optimist drinks: Bright, Fresh, and Smoky. The hefty bottles feature glass stoppers and back-label botanical illustrations visible through the clear liquid. So if optics matter, then, yes, they look good on a bar cart.
A few days ago, my husband and I opened the bottle of Bright. We made notes on aroma and viscosity, then tasted it neat, over ice, and mixed it into a simple vodka tonic.
Here’s how it went.
Drinking it neat
My first thought after sniffing this non-alcoholic spirit? It smells like strong perfume. Not a subtle whiff of floral notes, but an in-your-face explosion of jasmine wrapped in orange and cinnamon.
At first inhalation, you might wonder if the liquid is meant to be sipped at all.
If you read the list of flavor notes on the bottle—”lemon, jasmine, myrrh, cinnamon leaf,” and so on—you’ll probably be able to sniff and pick out each one. The aroma is intense and complex.
At first sip, you might be underwhelmed by the mouthfeel.
Like my first impression of Wilderton Earthen, which I tried during my search for the best alcohol-free spirits, Optimist Bright feels a bit flat and watery on the tongue.
Interestingly, the liquid has a subtle cooling effect, perhaps from the distilled corn mint.
So how does it taste? Much like it smells, though not as overpowering as I’d feared. This distilled botanical puts a delicate, elegant spin on vodka.
Drinking it on the rocks
The trouble with zero-proof spirits is that they lose their punch when watered down. Without the piquancy of alcohol, their flavors easily fade.
A shot of Bright on the rocks is nothing like a shot of vodka. That doesn’t make it inferior—just different. Temper or shift your expectations for best results.
Fortunately, chilling this vodka-like non-alcoholic spirit only made it better.
Adding ice magically dialed down the floral notes and lifted the citrus into the spotlight.
The result? A complex, sippable shot on the rocks.
Drinking it in a cocktail
We made a simple vodka tonic, using a few ingredients:
- 2 ounces Schweppes tonic water
- 1 ounce Optimist Bright
- A squeeze of lime juice
For me, this was the ideal way to enjoy Optimist Bright. The tonic cut through the intensity of the jasmine and spice while highlighting the brightness of the lemon and orange.
This zero-proof cocktail is something I’d happily recommend to sober curious friends or enjoy on the patio on a summer afternoon.
An important note: If you ordered this at a bar, you’d wonder where the alcohol went. That’s normal.
Optimist does not make alcoholic spirits. The brand is self-aware, marketing its botanicals as referential and wholly unique rather than one-for-one replicas of alcoholic spirits.
Still, if you’re interested in an easy yet interesting zero-proof libation, this is a sophisticated option.
Benefits of non-alcoholic vodka
You probably already know the main health benefits of cutting back on alcohol consumption:
- Better sleep
- More hydration
- No hangovers
Benson points out that most zero-proof spirits also have fewer calories than their alcoholic alternatives.
Excessive alcohol can also negatively impact your metabolism and absorption of nutrients. All signs point to sobriety as a helpful way to keep your weight and gut health in check.
Of course, these perks have no direct link to Optimist Bright. But swapping your favorite spirits for non-alcoholic counterparts is a fun, easy way to continue sipping sophisticated drinks while enjoying the health benefits of sobriety.
Drawbacks of Optimist Bright
The clear drawback to Optimist’s vodka-like botanical is that it will never be mistaken for vodka.
However, vodka is known as the clear, odorless, flavorless spirit, so maybe that’s ideal. A non-alcoholic spirit with no taste or aroma sounds like an expensive twist on distilled water.
In terms of healthfulness, Optimist has no downsides. It contains no calories, carbohydrates, or sugar.
In short, if you do not have an alcohol use disorder potentially exacerbated by zero-proof spirits, you should be able to enjoy Optimist Bright risk-free.
Would I recommend it?
If you’re in the market for a sophisticated, complex botanical that can be sipped neat, on the rocks, or mixed into your favorite vodka cocktail, you’ve found it.
This distilled botanical deserves a place in your kitchen or on your sober-curious bar cart.
Los Angeles-based Optimist Botanicals has taken notes from the recent profusion of zero-proof spirits.
Rather than seeking to copy an existing spirit, it has ventured into crafting unique, inimitable blends that reflect the diverse flavors and vibes of the city where they’re produced.
If you’re sober curious like me, give this brand—and particularly Optimist Bright—a try.
Other Optimist drinks
Optimist offers three non-alcoholic distilled botanicals: Bright, Fresh, and Smokey. After sipping a mocktail made with vodka-like Bright, I tried the others.
Optimist Fresh is billed as a gin-like non-alcoholic botanical drink. It does contain juniper, which is gin’s signature flavor.
Bold and herbaceous, this liquid tasted more like Seedlip Garden 108 than any dry gin I’ve ever had.
With notes of fennel, cilantro, and tarragon, Optimist Fresh seems like a worthy zero-proof spirit for a garden smash or a cilantro martini. Intense and bright, this one has a “love it or hate it” vibe.
Optimist Smokey is purported to taste like bonfires and tequila. It does have a distinctly spicy flavor with notes of charred wood. I preferred it to every other tequila alternative I’ve tried, though it does not closely mimic the flavor of tequila.
This distinct blend of Lapsang souchong tea, bergamot, habanero pepper, and more is a complex drink that reminds me of Wilderton’s Earthen.
Next, try these no-alcohol drink recipes. They taste like the real thing!
- Kerry Benson, RD, LDN, Philadelphia-based registered dietician and coauthor of Drinking for Two and Mocktail Party
- Optimist Botanicals: "Bright"
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "Relationships Between Nutrition, Alcohol Use, and Liver Disease"
- Statista: "Vodka"
- Statista: "Vodka Industry - Statistics & Facts"
- CalorieKing: "Smirnoff Vodka, Red Label (40% alc.)"
- Nielsen IQ: "Many Americans are looking for a bar experience without the buzz"