But some might wonder what's the point of drinking non-alcoholic Whiskey. Wouldn't it make sense just to drink something else instead of spending multiple times the money on a spirit that's not featuring one main characteristic of a spirit after all? And also, is alcohol-free Whiskey actually Whiskey, or is it something mimicking the taste of it?
The short answer is: No, alcohol-free Whiskey certainly isn't the same as drinking any other non-alcoholic beverage like soft drinks or juices.
And, of course, the concept is already known from beer, sparkling wine, etc. People who love the actual taste of Whiskey won't be happy replacing it with a cup of green tea. However, the question remains: can you substitute the real deal with an alcohol-free version?
So let's find out what alcohol-free Whiskey is and if the taste can live up to the expectations and is worth the extra dollar.
What is alcohol-free Whiskey?
First, a short reminder of what alcoholic Whiskey is: a distilled, golden-colored spirit made from fermented, sometimes malted, grain mash. The distillate is then aged in wooden barrels until it reaches its desired flavor and quality.
And initially, producing alcohol-free Whiskey was the same thing, only that the alcohol gets removed. So you have the same product minus one element - the booze. But with the growing interest in non-alcoholic spirits, new ideas came up. So, now you will mostly find brands that create a totally new product that imitates the flavor and aromas of Whiskey.
For those wanting to be a smart-ass every now and then: Technically, an alcohol-free Whiskey cannot be called Whiskey, though. Law requires a Whiskey to barrel-age for a certain period and, also, it specifies a minimum alcohol content. So legally, there can't be such a thing as non-alcoholic Whiskey, but for simplicity's sake, we call it Whiskey anyway.
Does alcohol-free Whiskey really contain no alcohol at all?
That depends on the production process. With the conventional way of removing alcohol from a distillate, chances are high that traces of alcohol remain in the end product. That's the same with alcohol-free beer or sometimes even fruit juices. Because legally, a product can be labeled alcohol-free once it has below 0.5% ABV.
If you look at manufacturers making imitations of conventional Whiskey, you will find many who developed 100% ethanol-free products. These innovative alcohol alternatives only mimic the characteristics of Whiskey, like texture, complexity, smell, and flavor profile.
How is alcohol-free Whiskey made?
As I mentioned above, one way is to follow the traditional way of making an alcoholic Whiskey but leave off the alcohol. That means that grain is fermented with water and yeast and distilled into a spirit, which then ages in wooden barrels. Manufacturers achieve non-alcoholic versions by either stopping the fermentation process prematurely or by subsequently removing alcohol in an additional step.
The other way is the imitation of a Whiskey. Here, producers blend various ingredients, aromas, and other additives to achieve a product that resembles Whiskey. These ingredients vary widely from brand to brand. Each manufacturer creates its own blend of herbs, grain, acidic and sweet components, nuts, etc.
How does alcohol-free Whiskey taste?
Whiskey alternatives of the mimicking category have similar flavors, but they taste considerably sweeter than regular Whiskey does. It is barely possible to get the authentic smokiness into a liquid without years and years of maturing in a barrel. Plus, when looking at the labels of these products, you will find a lot of sugary components that make it clear that the end result must have a perceptible sweetness to it.
Because the very pronounced sweetness is a common criticism about non-alcoholic Whiskey, there are now also brands that go for alcohol- and sugar-free, but that seems to lead to other flavors, like citrus, being too overpowering.
So, is non-alcoholic Whiskey worth a try?
That very much depends on your expectations. Whiskey is very hard to imitate, and if you hope for a taste just like the Whiskey you know, most likely you will be disappointed. Due to its molecular structure, alcohol has very distinct characteristics in terms of flavor and texture, and you won't achieve these when leaving off the booze.
But saying that, when you don't plan to have it neat, alcohol-free Whiskey is an excellent choice when you want to create mocktails. It will get some of the known Whiskey flavors through, plus you get an adult drink without the side effects of alcohol.
So when you can't or don't want to consume alcohol for personal, health, or any other reasons, alcohol-free Whiskey can be quite a good substitute. They are 100% zero-proof and give the non-drinker the chance to have a grown-up and sophisticated sip. -As opposed to the overpriced blend of juices that we so often get sold as mocktails.
Alcohol-free Whiskies to try
What started in the mid-2010s with Arkay and Seedlip, since then, became a non-alcoholic product category of its own. Two of the latest big player, with a massive marketing machine behind them, are Lyre's and Ritual. They are on the market since 2019/2020 and quickly became well-known non-alcoholic spirit brands. Yet, Lyre's don't claim to be zero proof but stay firmly below the 0.5% ABV limit. That may or may not be the reason, but Lyre's, for me, works better in mocktails than Rituals. But depending on someone's reasons for not drinking, Lyre's might not be preferable.
Besides these big brands that are some lesser-known ones worth trying, two of which I want to mention:
Spiritless Kentucky 74
Spiritless Kentucky 74 is a non-alcoholic, distilled Bourbon. The brand Spiritless was founded by three female entrepreneurs in 2019 with the goal to create better-tasting non-alcoholic alternatives. With Kentucky being the birthplace of Bourbon, making a Bourbon Whiskey was the obvious choice.
Feragaia is a distilled, non-alcoholic version from the birthplace of Whisky, Scotland. The non-alcoholic alternatives doesn't attempt to be a 1:1 imitation of Scotch Whisky. They see themselves as a stand-alone product. What makes sense, considering that no alcohol-free Whiskey actually tastes like Whiskey. But Whiskey is the most frequent comparison, so it deserves to be listed here.