If you've seen adverts for non-alcoholic spirits, you may wonder how a spirit that doesn't contain alcohol can still be a spirit. Well, the 'non-alcohol' part refers to the very low content of alcohol in the drink, which is 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) for most non-alcoholic drinks. The use of 'spirit' is to indicate that the drink is a satisfying version of its alcoholic counterpart.
The base liquors obtained using distillation are brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey. Distillation can be both used to increase or decrease alcohol content. This is the basis of making distilled non-alcoholic spirits.
How does it work?
Non-alcoholic spirits, also called temperance drinks, are made from botanicals, such as leaves, roots, flowers and spices. But how do they retain the flavors of the alcoholic drink they imitate if that very drink is absent? This is down to how they're distilled.
Ethanol, the intoxicating agent in alcoholic beverages, is made by the fermentation of sugars by yeast. But the drinks can reach only 15-20 percent alcohol as yeast cannot survive in higher concentrations. To produce liquor with higher concentrations of alcohol, the fermented products must be distilled.
The spirit distillation process involves converting ethanol to vapor and condensing it to a liquid. Distillers repeat the process several times until they achieve the required alcohol-to-water ratio. Distallation can also be used to reduce the alcohol content.
For an easier understanding of how to distill non-alcoholic spirits, it helps to know alcohol's natural characteristics. Not all liquids are miscible, that is, able to mix in all proportions. Take, for example, oil and water. Water is a polar (hydrophilic) molecule. Oil is a nonpolar (hydrophobic) molecule - it doesn't dissolve readily in water. Alcohol has polar molecules and nonpolar parts that mix with both hydrophilic and hydrophobic molecules. This enables alcohol to carry flavors. As alcohol evaporates easily, it is removable during distillation while retaining the concentration of flavors.
Distillation approaches used by non-alcoholic spirit brands
Better Rhodes carries a vast range of the best non-alcoholic spirits from top brands in this space. Their exciting flavors arise from the various distillation methods tried-and-tested by makers of liquor substitutes. Here's a comparison -
Seedlip was inspired by The Art of Distillation
Published in 1651, The Art of Distillation by English physician John French is regarded as the earliest definitive handbook on distillation. Category leader Seedlip used the book as reference to make their non-alcoholic spirits. They distill the product with alcohol and then remove it. As alcohol and water distill at different temperatures, the ethanol and water-based distillations separate easily.
Seedlip distills each botanical individually with alcohol, and puts them through a re-distillation process to remove the alcohol. The method has allowed them to successfully recreate the flavor and texture of alcoholic drinks.
To experience this for yourself, try Seedlip Garden, a fresh, lively spirit that pairs well with bittersweet tonic and the classic lime for balance.
Wilderton uses tea distillates
Oregon-based Wilderton starts by brewing a herbal tea, a botanical that has good water extraction. The idea being to create a mixture that leverages the water's solvent strength, allowing the plant aromas to be extracted to create bold flavor profiles.
The mixture is then put through a vacuum distillation process that uses a spinning cone column still. This method gives off just the right amount of heat to concentrate the liquid without burning it off. As the mixture isn't fermented, there is no need no introduce or remove alcohol along the way.
The distillers at Wilderton know a thing or two about utilizing alcohol to extract plant aromas, with a focus on imitating spirits like gin and amaro. You can relish their products Earthen and Lustre, a mixture of water and raw botanicals such as peppercorn, orangepeel, lemongrass, bergamot, Ceylon black tea, sourced from around the world.
Spiritless uses highly calibrated temperature and pressure controls
If you love bourbon cocktails, then Kentucky 74 from the ace distillers at Spiritless will wow you. The whiskey alternative uses neutral grains and oak chars under carefully calibrated temperature and pressure controls to extract flavors mimicking barrel aging. The extraction process works to pull the oak flavors into the spirit.
Similar to Seedlip, Spiritless uses alcohol during the extraction process and the spirit undergoes re-distillation to remove the alcohol, leaving oils and tannins that impart some of the astringency and texture of alcohol. The notes of caramel, vanilla and oak give the nonalcoholic alcohol an intense flavour and a nice heat that makes it a nice warming drinking for dinners and cocktail parties.
Non-alcoholic distilled spirits for gin fans
Gin is a distilled alcoholic drink predominantly flavored with juniper berries. It is a broad category of spirit, represented by products of various styles and flavor profiles. Brands like Damrak and Cedar's are proof that the non-alcoholic counterpart of gin can be just as, if not more, enjoyable than the real thing.
Amsterdam gin maker Damrak uses nonalcoholic distillation but adds elements it believes replicate the taste of gin, such as ginger and higher concentrations of bitter components. If you're looking for the best non-alcoholic gin and partial to citrusy gins, then Virgin 0.0 could be 'the one'. Made from 10 botanicals, the non-alcoholic gin has a distinctly citrus-forward nose.
The gin fan in you will also appreciate nonalcoholic alcohols from Cedar's. Their Classic Gin Alternative has notes of juniper, coriander and rooibos, whose fresh and floral notes provide the cool and fresh feeling you'd expect from the original spirit.
Alcohol-free and low alcohol versions
Non-alcoholic apéritifs and spirits contain trace amounts of alcohol, while alcohol-free spirits contain no alcohol content. Distillation yields both versions, delivering flavor profiles as close as possible to alcoholic drinks. Brands have their own reason for choosing a particular approach, and this is reflected in the quality, mouthfeel and taste of their products.
As the market for non-alcoholic spirits heats up from growing demand, fueled by the sober curious consumer, newer and better ways of reimagining temperance drinks are likely to arise. We'll be tracking what goes on behind the scenes and continue bringing you the best alcohol-free spirits and the stories behind them.