What is Non-alcoholic Whiskey?

By Sina Torner / Last updated on March 20, 2023

Alcohol-free Whiskey is on the rise. The trend started only a few years ago. Since then, the market has grown considerably. -Especially during periods like Dry January or Sober October.
Non-alcoholic whiskey in glass on table

The selection of non-alcoholic Whiskey is getting bigger each year. Still, many question the point of these alcohol-free alternatives. Wouldn't it make sense just to drink something else instead of spending multiple times the money on a spirit that's not a spirit after all? 

The selection of non-alcoholic Whiskey is getting bigger each year. Still, many question the point of these alcohol-free alternatives. Wouldn't it make sense just to drink something else instead of spending multiple times the money on a spirit that's not a spirit after all? 

The short answer is: No, for many people, it is not. Proof-of-concept has already been established with low-ABV beverages, like beer and sparkling wine.  

Still, some questions remain. What is a non-alcoholic Whisky, after all? How does it taste, how is it made, and are the available products any good? Do they work in mixed drinks, as well?

Well, you came to the right place. We'll answer all these questions and will let you know if the taste of 0 proof-Whiskey can live up to the expectations and is worth the extra dollar.

What is it? | Taste | Is it 100% alcohol-free | How it is made | Is it worth it? | Popular brands

What is alcohol-free Whiskey?

To explain that, we have to look at the real deal first: Whiskey is a distilled, barrel-aged, golden-colored high-proof spirit made from fermented, sometimes malted, grain mash.

Initially, non-alcoholic Whiskey was the same thing. Only the alcohol got removed in an additional step. So, technically, you got the same product minus one element: the booze. Sounds great, but filtering out the alcohol is quite some extra work, and it still leads to a significant change in flavor.

So, with the growing interest in booze-free spirits, new ideas arose. Now you will mostly find brands that create an entirely new product that imitates the flavor and aromas - without going through the long process of making actual Whiskey first.

By the way, officially, an alcohol-free Whiskey cannot be called Whiskey. There are laws and regulations for the use of the term Whiskey, e.g., regarding barrel-aging and minimum alcohol content.

So legally, there can't be such a thing as non-alcoholic Whiskey. Practically, we call it that anyway.

How does non-alcoholic Whiskey taste?

Whiskey alternatives of the mimicking category have similar flavors but are perceptibly sweeter than regular Whiskey. For instance, to date, it is impossible to get 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 palpable sweetness to it.

That sweetness also is a common criticism. Consequently, there are now also brands that go for alcohol- and sugar-free, but at this point, it merely seems to lead to other flavors, like citrus, being too overpowering.

Is it really 100% alcohol-free?

That depends on the production process. With the conventional way of removing alcohol from a distillate, traces of alcohol will 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 do only mimic the characteristics of Whiskey, like texture, complexity, smell, and flavor profile. In turn, they can be produced without a single drop of alcohol.

How is it made?

As mentioned, one way is to follow the traditional way of making an alcoholic Whiskey but leave off the alcohol. That means grains are fermented with water and yeast, then distilled into a spirit and aged in wooden barrels. 

Manufacturers achieve non-alcoholic versions by either stopping the fermentation process prematurely or subsequently removing alcohol in an additional step.

The other way is the imitation of 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. The formulas and methods used are a big secret.

Is non-alcoholic Whisky worth it?

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 very disappointed. 

Due to its molecular structure, alcohol has distinct characteristics in terms of flavor and texture. You cannot achieve these when leaving off the booze. At least, that's the status quo. The future might prove otherwise.

But saying that, when you don't plan to drink it neat, alcohol-free Whiskey can be an excellent choice for mocktails. It will get some of the known Whiskey flavors through, plus you have 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 other reasons, non-alcoholic Whiskey can be a good substitute. 

Many are 100% zero-proof and give the non-drinker the chance to have a grown-up and sophisticated sip.

Renowned Brands

What started in the mid-2010s with Arkay and Seedlip, since then, has become a non-alcoholic product category of its own. These spirits, also alcohol-free Gin and other liquors, can be seen everywhere.

Two of the big players with a massive marketing machine behind them are Lyre's and Ritual. They have been on the market since 2019/2020 and quickly became well-known non-alcoholic spirit brands. 

Lyre's is not zero-proof but stays 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 Ritual. For more recommendations, look at our list of the top non-alcoholic Whiskeys to try.

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