Gin is one of the most-hyped spirits of the past decade. You can find thousands of different brands produced all over the globe. It almost seems as if every region has a local Gin. And a few years ago, a new category joined the mix: alcohol-free Gin.
While some happily embraced this new trend, others were -and still are- more skeptical. They wonder what the point of an alcohol-free spirit could be. Why not simply stick to a soft drink or water instead?
Those are valid questions and alcohol-free Gin, like other alcohol-free liquors, certainly isn't for everyone. But demand and the growing number of producers show there is a market for it, and it has a right to exist.
What is alcohol-free Gin?
Per definition, Gin does contain alcohol. Thus, the non-alcoholic version technically cannot be Gin. It is a beverage that imitates the characteristic of Gin - it tries to look, smell and taste as close to Gin as possible.
Regular Gin is a distilled alcoholic beverage with a grain base and a predominant flavor of juniper berries.
Sometimes the grain base gets replaced by grapes, but juniper is an indispensable key ingredient, which also is directed by law, along with the minimum ABV of 40% (80 proof) in the US. In the EU, the required ABV is a little lower, at 37.5%.
The flavors of Gin can be herbal, spicy, fruity, or a mix of all the above. The possibilities are endless. And clearly, this great variety of flavors is a primary reason why Gin is such a popular spirit to imitate and turn into a non-alcoholic version.
How does alcohol-free Gin taste? And can I drink it neat?
Like other spirit imitations, non-alcoholic Gin is not for neat drinking. But that's not a big issue here because even genuine Gin is not usually meant to be drunk pure.
Non-alcoholic Gin has a similar aroma to regular Gin, but despite all efforts, it lacks texture and the bite characteristic of any alcoholic beverage. Still, the substitute is pleasant in a Gin and Tonic or mocktails.
So, as long as you want to use it in mixed drinks and don't expect something that 100% matches the taste of real Gin, you can give this non-alcoholic spirit a try.
Different types of non-alcoholic Gin
There is more than one way to make alcohol-free Gin. One is to take a regular Gin and remove the alcohol. That is done by separating a spirit into its components (rectification) and then reassembling them without alcohol.
This variant will always leave some alcohol residue within the end product. But as long as the amount is below 0.5% ABV, a beverage can be labeled alcohol-free.
Another option is to distill a Gin as usual but drastically increase the concentration of aromas from the herbs and spices. Later, you water the Gin down until it has next to no ABV.
The alternative and the most common option now is to distill water with botanicals and get a 100% zero-proof substitute for Gin. Below, I will explain how you can do this at home.
How is non-alcoholic Gin made?
Gin is relatively easy to produce, which also explains why there are so many Gins on the market. To mimic the taste of a spirit with such a simple production process is the obvious choice. So it's hardly surprising that the first alcohol-free spirit was Gin.
Now, to make non-alcoholic Gin, manufacturers have to replace the base alcohol used for regular Gin. And this substitute is water.
Like the alcoholic base of regular Gin, the water base is infused with botanicals and then distilled. Some producers also add aromas to the distillate to intensify the flavors.
And that is more or less the whole magic behind non-alcoholic Gin. However, note that the botanicals and herbs are different in non-alcoholic Gin to balance the alcoholic bite and flavor. Of course, these recipes and ingredients are well-kept secrets.
Is alcohol-free Gin worth it?
The alcohol-free Gin substitutes are a good choice for highballs or mocktails. However, with prices similar to or above those of Gin, the booze-free alternatives are not exactly an unbeatable offer.
Still, it is a convenient and effective way to offer a non-drinker a grown-up drinking option and make them feel part of the party.
Plus, alcohol-free Gin is low in calories -a lot lower than juice-based alcohol-free cocktails or their alcohol-containing counterparts.
So that helps with sticking to mocktails during Dry January, as well as with the unavoidable After-Christmas Weight Loss resolutions.
Can I make alcohol-free Gin at home?
Unlike with alcohol-free Whiskey imitations, you can make your own version of alcohol-free Gin at home. For that, you need a hydrolat, also called hydrosol - a sort of solution with water as a solvent.
To produce this hydrolat, you need a big pot with a lid and a metal steamer, a small vessel to collect the hydrolat, a 20oz bottle, a funnel, and ice. And, of course, you need spices and botanicals.
The options here are endless. If you want to get a product similar to a well-balanced, classic Gin, you can go with a mix of (measurements per liter of water)
- 1oz juniper berries
- 6 green, opened cardamom pods
- 6 tsp mixed flowers (lavender, orange, thyme, etc.)
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- a thin cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp grated lemon peel
- 1 tsp grated organic orange
- wedges of 1/2 fresh bergamot
Fill the pot with 1l of water. Then add all your botanicals and give it a good stir. Put the steamer insert in place and position the bowl for collecting your hydrolat centered on top.
Now cover the pot with the lid, but put it upside down. That way, it functions as a plate for the ice that has to go on top.
Use medium heat to bring everything to a boil. You will soon see vapor rising from the flavored water that condenses on the cold lid and drips down into the bowl below. Voila, that's your alcohol-free Gin.
Distill the water in the pot repeatedly until only about 0.5inch of water remain. And every time the ice is fully melted, replace it with new ice. Fill your hydrolat in your bottle, close it tightly and let it cool before tasting it mixed with tonic.
Brands to try
If that's too laborious, here are some brands to try. Seedlip was the first producer of non-alcoholic spirits, and their iconic and playful bottles featuring either a rabbit, a squirrel, or a fox flooded social media back in 2014 and 2015.
Their products are still top sellers. But since then, many others have joined the game, so here are three more alcohol-free Gin alternatives worth a try.
1 - Laori
Laori is a non-alcoholic Gin alternative from the heart of Berlin. They developed a new method to distill alcohol-free Gin that follows the example of French perfume distillation.
It helps to imitate the fragrance of Gin and adds to the experience. Laori Juniper No 1 carries the aromas of seven botanicals: juniper, cardamom, coriander, angelica root, bergamot, rosemary, and lavender.
2 - Siegfried Wonderleaf
This Gin was born out of a joke posted on social media. Siegfried Gin posted a non-alcoholic version of their popular spirit on Instagram on Fools Day 2016.
Apart from the expected laugh, they got a lot of positive feedback, which left them wondering if it was an actual option. And in 2017, Siegfried Wonderleaf was launched.
3 - Sea Arch
Sea Arch zero-alcohol Gin is from the stunning Devon coastline in South England. They use traditional distillation techniques and remove the alcohol in an additional step. So keep in mind that it might not be 100% zero-proof, although pretty close.
The flavor profile of Sea Arch is refreshing and crisp with a subtle sweetness coming from botanicals like sugar kelp, samphire, juniper, blood orange, cardamon coriander, grapefruit, lemon, and sage.
Sea Arch packaging is entirely plastic-free.