While some come close, most non-alcoholic cocktails and spirits fail to match the feel of a real drink in both mood shift and sensation. When plant medicine enthusiast Megan Klein set out to create Little Saints, she wanted a drink that did both.
In January 2021, Klein decided to try Dry January—something she’d attempted at least a dozen times in years previous and failed.
“I was a huge partier, and I have a high tolerance for alcohol,” she says, noting that it wasn’t unusual for her to have three or four negronis on a casual Wednesday night out with friends. “I didn’t realize how much my social life revolved around alcohol until the pandemic.”
At first, Klein kept drinking, but all that alone time gave her an opportunity to consider what it was doing to her health. That January, she bought every non-alcoholic drink she could find, spreading them out across her dining room table and sampling them one by one. Most products were closer to sparkling water than cocktails, and those that did offer more flavor were loaded with sugar.
Klein, a former hydroponic farmer who had previously founded two CPG companies, saw an opportunity to create an alcohol-free alternative that went a step further.
Something to Take the Edge Off
After her first successful Dry January, Klein decided to quit drinking entirely. She’s not alone in this decision: the sober-curious trend has taken off, with some of the world’s biggest alcohol companies now offering products in the non-alcoholic category. None of the products, as far as she could tell, offered the shift in mood people seek from alcohol.
“I take medicinal mushrooms, and certain adaptogenic blends work really well for my mental health,” says Klein, who hoped to find a mocktail equivalent to her morning mushroom coffee.
For this effect, she considered two ingredients: CBD, a non-intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoid that can reduce anxiety, and reishi, an adaptogenic mushroom known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as “the herb of spiritual potency.” It’s thought to promote feelings of calm and may offer immune support.
Klein also wanted a drink that would mimic the sensory experience of alcohol. “One of the things I learned in this process was that we go back to certain alcohol because we associate its scent with whatever positive experiences we’ve had with it,” she says.
She hired a food scientist with a master’s degree in adaptogens and a close friend and sacred plant medicine teacher to help formulate the beverages. They used CBD and reishi for mood-enhancing benefits, and for the sensory experience, they added botanical terpenes.
Klein bootstrapped the company and launched Little Saints at Detroit’s Movement Music Festival in May 2021. Today, the line of mocktails includes a negroni, margarita, paloma, ginger mule, and mimosa.
“This was a very intentionally built company,” says Klein, “and that intention extends into the manufacturing process. We say a prayer at every production run.”
Mezcal Tells a Story
The latest offering from Little Saints is a non-alcoholic spirit that brings the same bite, smoke, and sensation as mezcal, without any of the sugar or booze—and it’s as much for non-drinkers as it is for the bartenders who serve them.
“Bartenders don’t want to pour a canned drink and serve it as-is, they want something really beautiful that they can create with,” says Klein.
The smoky flavor in Little Saints’ new St. Mezcal comes from palo santo, wood from the Bursera graveolens tree which grows in South America. Klein chose palo santo for more than its smoky flavor: often burned as incense to clear negative energy and, in oil form, used as a remedy for inflammation and stress, it is considered by many to be a sacred plant. St. Mezcal is also infused with lion’s mane, an adaptogenic mushroom that may slow cognitive decline.
The palo santo Little Saints uses is sourced directly from a community in Northern Peru that harvests only dead and fallen trees. Using the palo santo, Klein’s team created a food-safe water-soluble palo santo extract. Figuring out how to source the palo santo sustainably took Klein 18 months and required the company to obtain a USDA timber permit.
“There’s a lot of heritage that goes along with alcohol. When you’re buying wine for example, you’re asking about the winemaker and there’s a story to go with it,” says Klein. By focusing on a handful of sacred plants and fungi, she hopes to bring the same sense of joy and connection to social settings, without alcohol. “We want to be able to tell the story of the palo santo producers and the story of how this is made, too.”