The latest development in booze, ironically, is alcohol-free spirits. Since 2019, global market research firm Nielsen has been tracking a steady upward trend toward healthier drinking. With wellness at the forefront, the moderation movement has taken hold, and new products are chasing the trend.
Seedlip, the first nonalcoholic distilled spirit, hit the market in late 2015. Since then, a growing number of zero-proof spirits have been challenging the notion that a drink must be alcoholic to look, feel and taste delicious. While the category still is nascent, there are some worthy contenders to replace alcohol in your home bar. Bonus: You can have them shipped straight to your door.
The one thing that really hasn’t been accomplished with alcohol-free spirits is mimicking the flavors and textures of true spirits. I use Seedlip as a gin replacement in a G&T. It does the job, but it doesn’t really taste like gin. And, there are some truly horrendous brown spirits out there.
Leave it to three female entrepreneurs from Kentucky to answer our alcohol-free call. Lauren Chitwood, Abbey Ferguson and Lexie Lancaster, founders of Spiritless, walked me through the process of their new bottling, Kentucky 74.
Named for Spiritless being the 74th distillery in the state, Kentucky 74 begins with a grain-neutral spirit, select chars of oak, and some temperature and pressure control to accelerate the aging process. It goes through reverse distillation, where the completed extraction goes into a second still and the flavors are separated from ethanol. What is left is a concentrate that maintains the oils and tannins of a full-proof bourbon.
Stirred into an Old-Fashioned, Kentucky 74 looks and feels like bourbon. It’s got caramel notes. The oak comes through with a bit of vanilla, and there is a ginger-like zing that isn’t quite the burn of whiskey, but darn near close. It’s intensely flavored, and the silky, spirit-like mouthfeel sets it apart.
The founders are in development on their next two spirits, slated to be released in 2021. They are staying laser-focused on the major building blocks of a good cocktail bar, so gin, tequila, rum or brandy could be upcoming.
Kentucky 74. $36.99 per 750-milliliters bottle. Order at spiritless.com.
Ghia conjures Mediterranean aperitivo culture. It’s the brainchild of Melanie Masarin, who calls it a “social tonic.” It took 55 weeks and 37 iterations before Masarin landed on the right combination of herbs and botanicals to capture the flavors of her childhood summers in a bottle. “I wanted to create something that changed the way we think about drinking and socializing,” she said.
Ghia is bitter, bright, clean and reminiscent of classic Italian aperitifs. It contains no added sugar, and ingredients are sourced from their area of origin. Gentian root, elderflower, lemon balm and rosemary come from the Mediterranean and Europe. Yuzu hails from Japan. Riesling grapes — the dry base of the drink — and figs are from the West Coast.
If you like amaros, you will enjoy the crimson-hued Ghia; it’s a biting combination of botanicals that is, at once, tangy, aromatic, earthy and a bit invigorating. Try it shaken with ice, mixed with tonic, poured into a cocktail glass and garnished with sage (or other garden herbs). Or, prepare one of the drinks suggested in the booklet that accompanies each bottle.
Ghia. $33 per 750-milliliters bottle. Order at drinkghia.com.
Credit: ANGELA HANSBERGER
Credit: ANGELA HANSBERGER
Sacré answers the question, “What would maple taste like without the sweetness?” Designed to be sipped alone, this nonalcoholic product is intense, and some drinkers may prefer it in a mixed drink. By itself, it is very much like a tart version of an espresso martini.
Woodnose begins with maple syrup, which is fermented and aged in bourbon barrels. “It took us a long time to figure out that process — aging the maple just enough to mellow some of the harsher notes of fermentation,” said Roger Branon Rodriguez, who co-founded the company with partner Justin Branon Rodriguez. Fresh coffee beans add complexity and the mouthfeel of an alcoholic spirit, and accentuate the citrus and earthy notes of the maple.
They source the maple from the 4,000-acre maple orchard on the family’s organic farm in Vermont. The coffee is fair-trade and shade-grown, and careful attention is paid to bird habitat and sustainable sap tapping.
The name comes from a Native American fable about a tough-beaked bird who helped a maple tree and, in turn, was able to drink sap. Like the bird’s first sip, yours will be quite mysterious. This is maple that is earthy, dry and not at all sweet, with a little tanginess, and the barnyard funk of a natural wine.
Woodnose Sacré. $35 per 750-milliliters bottle. Order at woodnosedrinks.com.
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