There are a number of factors to consider when selecting the best non-alcoholic whiskey, so before you rush out and pick something up just because it has a striking label design, take a moment to consider what you want out of this alcohol free spirit.
After putting three non-alcoholic whiskeys to the test, I have decided Lyre’s American Malt is the best non-alcoholic whiskey. It smells a lot like bourbon, even with a faint scent of alcohol, and it passed the whiskey substitute test with an alcohol free Old Fashioned, an impressive feat.
The most important takeaway from this article, I believe, is that there are specific applications where using some of these non-alcoholic whiskeys in the right mocktail will help you achieve what I would consider a faint “memory of whiskey.”
So don’t expect to try any of these and think they will taste like whiskey if you just had whiskey yesterday. While I have tried to find the best options of non-alcoholic whiskey currently available for you, I am still not very impressed with non-alcoholic whiskey as a whole.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A NON ALCOHOLIC WHISKEY
- Flavor. This is obviously the most important. Do you want it to mimic a familiar alcoholic gin, or do you just want something that tastes good?
- Versatility. You will want to consider how it performs in non-alcoholic drinks, whether that is classical cocktail substitutes or new alternative beverages.
- How it’s made. How it’s made can help inform whether or not it’s a quality non-alcoholic spirit or if the brand is serious about crafting a quality product.
- Nutritional Information. Some non-alcoholic spirits have a lot of added sugar, so it’s important to check if you don’t want the extra calories or sugar. Also ingredient transparency and whether or not it’s made from natural ingredients or artificial flavors can be an important factor.
THE TOP NON-ALCOHOLIC SPIRITS BRANDS TO CONSIDER IN THE WHISKEY CATEGORY:
- Ritual Zero Proof – Ritual Zero Proof makes a few non-alcoholic spirit options, which have proven to make lots of delicious alternative beverages.
- Lyre’s – Lyre’s spirits are crafted by a reputable sommelier, and some of their spirits are great substitutes for alcoholic spirits.
- Whissin – Whissin has historically made soft drinks in Spain, and their non-alcoholic drinks are meant to be diluted with a mixer like tonic or soda in order to mimic alcoholic mixed drinks.
- Spiritless – Spiritless Kentucky 74 was launched in the birthplace of bourbon, a daunting task but resulted in a unique product. As soon as it’s tasted, it will be added to the list below.
WHAT IS NON ALCOHOLIC WHISKEY?
Before we dive into the comparison, let’s take a look at the real deal. There are many different types of whiskey, but it is essentially this, as described by Wikipedia: “a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash….typically aged in wooden casks, generally made of charred white oak.” No two whiskeys are alike, because each distillery has their own unique spin on the craft.
That last bit is definitely true for non-alcoholic whiskey. Every brand is using a different set of essences and botanicals to craft a non-alcoholic beverage that mimics the flavor of whiskey.
HOW TO MAKE NON ALCOHOLIC WHISKEY?
A lot goes into crafting a bottle of whiskey: malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation, and aging. Depending on the grain used, country of origin, or type of whiskey being made, the process might slightly differ. Whiskey Advocate has a great explanation if you want to dive deeper on the subject.
After reviewing these three non-alcoholic whiskeys, each is made differently, but none go through the same extensive process that one would take to craft whiskey. More detail is included under each product below for how it is made.
COMMON STYLES OF WHISKEY
There are many styles of whiskey around the world. For the purposes of this comparison of non-alcoholic whiskey, I will only focus on a few.
Bourbon whiskey: This style must be made in the United States, though it’s mostly made in Kentucky. It has to have a 51% corn mash, and can include other cereal grains. Bourbon typically has a characteristic sweet flavor of caramel, vanilla, and honey.
Malt Whiskey: Made from malted barley, this style changes based on country of origin. Malt in Scotland is 100% malted barley, but malted barley in the U.S. only has to have 51% malted barley, and can be blended with other grains. The malting process is interesting: you soak barley and spread it across the floor, allowing it to start the germination process before you begin the mash. It can be smoky, nutty, or even chocolatey.
Scotch whisky: This style must be made in Scotland, made with water and malted barley, with the optional addition of other cereal grains. There are many varieties of Scotch, but the most commonly referred to characteristic specific to Scotch is peat, which some Scotch distilleries use to dry the malted grain.
Rye Whiskey: Made in the U.S. this style of whiskey must contain 51% rye grain, and can be blended with other grains like corn or malted barley. It’s characteristically spicy, with flavors like anise or clove.
Now that you’ve brushed up on a few styles of whiskey, let’s see how the non-alcoholic versions of whiskey stack up.
RITUAL ZERO PROOF WHISKEY ALTERNATIVE
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Ritual Zero Proof is the company behind Gin Alternative, which was recently reviewed alongside two other non-alcoholic gins. The company wants you to “enjoy the ritual, not the alcohol.” With a love for great food and beverage, the 3 founders sought to make something special, working for years on the craft. They don’t necessarily create these non-alcoholic spirits to cut out alcohol completely, but suggest mixing them with alcoholic mixers or bitters for a low-ABV cocktail.
The bottle has a clean, bright design. They carry a similar label on all their bottles, white with bold minimal text. It should be easy to spot on a shelf – especially the whiskey shelf, as you don’t see many bright white labels in that category of spirits. It stands out as something new and modern, which it is.
How it’s made: Whiskey Alternative is made by distilling each botanical individually, blending them for the perfect balance, then microfiltering in batches for the final product. All the ingredients are listed on the label, which is refreshing and also helpful if you happen to have allergies or food sensitivities. It is free of common allergens.
Nutrition: 10 calories per 1.5oz serving, 1g sugar, 2g carbohydrates (due to the natural sugars used to try and emulate a whiskey sweetness)
Taste: The beverage has a deep amber color, and it smells quite smoky, but not much like it’s alcoholic counterpart. Take that for what’s it’s worth – if you’re looking for a substitute, this is important for some. For others, something slightly reminiscent of the original is enough. You will have to decide that for yourself.
At first taste, there is definitely caramel. It’s sweet and syrupy up front, with a hint of spice in the back. As for bite? It’s got that too – probably from the peppercorn listed on the label. The pepper really lingers in your mouth, but it’s quite smoky, and doesn’t really taste like whiskey neat.
To be fair, most NA spirits are meant to be mixed in a drink, and not consumed neat. Let’s see how it performs in mocktails. First, the classic whiskey cocktail – the Old Fashioned.
I tried the recipe listed on Ritual’s website for their mocktail “New Fashioned.” This turned out super sweet, not at all reminiscent of an Old Fashioned. Since the spirit is so sweet to begin with, I tried a few versions to mitigate this, one with more bitters, one with no sugar added, but still no luck. It just seemed to be missing something. The pepper still lingers in your mouth, but the flavors don’t seem to blend enough.
The spirit is really supposed to shine in this drink, and unfortunately, that is not the case with this Ritual whiskey. Maybe it would excel in another mocktail, where the spirit is blended more with other ingredients.
Another suggested recipe from Ritual Zero Proof: the Whiskey Sweet and Sour, a non-alcoholic Whiskey Sour. It’s 2oz Whiskey Alternative, ¾ oz. lemon juice, ½ oz. simple syrup, and egg white. Shake it all up in a cocktail shaker and strain into a coupe glass. Add a dash of bitters on the foam and you’ve got yourself a beautiful mocktail.
So how does Ritual’s whiskey sour mocktail taste? It’s not bad. It’s not that great either. It still doesn’t taste like whiskey is in this beverage. If you weren’t expecting a whiskey flavor when handed this drink, it might be ok. Given the multitude of mocktail options and spirits out there, this would be far from the first pick.
Verdict: Ritual Zero Proof’s Whiskey Alternative is not an acceptable substitute for whiskey, and both drinks made here were not impressive. It’s possible that it might make a good alternative beverage, but experiments will have to be performed. Future attempts could include trying it as a low ABV cocktail with a good vermouth.
LYRE’S AMERICAN MALT
Lyre’s is an Australian beverage company offering “crafted homages to the intensity, balance, and beauty of the time-tested classics.” The name was inspired by the Australian Lyrebird, the world’s greatest mimic. I have found their White Cane Spirit to be an excellent rum substitute, so hopes are high for Lyre’s American Malt.
Each of Lyre’s spirits has a unique bottle design. American Malt is a dark blue label with copper engraving, something you might find tucked on a library shelf. There are always a couple of clever sayings and nods to cocktail culture on their bottles, making their product have that much more shelf appeal.
How it’s made: Interestingly, Lyre’s American Malt is not produced like a whiskey at all. The spirit is not distilled, but made by blending natural essences and extracts, with a focus on mimicking flavor profiles of American malt whiskey. If American malt whiskey is required to be made with 51% malted barley, one would expect this flavor to come through on the Lyre’s version.
It is free of common allergens, has less than 1g of sugar and 1.1g of carbs per 30ml serving. Sweeteners include glucose syrup, sugar, and caramel sugar syrup, which is quite the list, given the lack of sugar found in a serving.
Taste: It has a deep caramel brown color, and surprisingly smells like alcohol, even reminiscent of bourbon. Sipped neat, it has that malt flavor, some caramel, but loses the essence of alcohol. You really have to get a good swig to get any bite at all. It kinda tastes like caramel coloring (which for those who know, shouldn’t be a flavor). Not something to sip on. Let’s make a mocktail. Here it is, prepared as the Lyre’s Old Fashioned recipe from their website:
Again, it smells like alcohol, which goes a long way. It surprisingly tastes enough like an Old Fashioned, so I would approve it as a substitute, only if you must have a non-alcoholic Old Fashioned.
With this bolstering confidence, let’s get ambitious and try one of our favorite cocktails, the Boulevardier, made completely with three of Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits: equal parts American Malt, Italian Orange, and Vermouth Rosso. It feels wrong to go here, since the Boulevardier is one of the greatest cocktails in existence. I amended Lyre’s recipe, in order to stick to the original cocktail: stirred with ice and served up.
The Boulevardier is all spirit, so this is a bold try. Props for the attempt though – it does slightly smell and taste like a Boulevardier – or a memory of one. If you hadn’t had an alcoholic beverage in a while, and were hankering for a Boulevardier, this would definitely hit the mark. But after a few sips, I’m already tired of this beverage. That might be why Lyre’s suggests putting their Boulevardier on ice. Either way, it’s another substitute approved, if you must. You will feel very comfortable with this mocktail if you’re at a party and want to look like you’re drinking.
Verdict: Lyre’s American Malt passed the spirit substitute test in 2 classic mocktails. If you’re looking for that whiskey flavor without the alcohol, start here. Caveat: if you drank your favorite whiskey cocktail yesterday, and you’re looking to replace it today, you’ll be disappointed.
Whissin Non-Alcoholic Drink is produced by Industrias Espadafor, a company based in Granada, Spain. For four generations, the company has been producing non-alcoholic beverages after originally focusing on local wine and soft drinks. The name Whissin is a mashup of whiskey and sin, meaning “without” in Spanish. The bottle has a no-nonsense design, like something you would find alongside inexpensive mixers at your local corner store.
How’s it made: Made from corn and barley malt mash, heating the mixture just right prevents it from fermenting, so no alcohol is produced. The back of the bottle describes it as a flavored soft drink. It’s ingredients include artificial flavors, coloring, and sugar. A far cry from the natural ingredients other brands are using to craft their spirits. It has 160 calories per serving, as well as 16g of sugar and 17g of carbs. In addition, it has 0% alcohol content.
Taste: Whissin smells like clove and cinnamon, very sweet, without that astringent alcohol scent. At first sip, Whissin is very, very sweet. No bite as you would normally get with alcoholic whiskey. It’s probably not something you will want to drink neat, if you like whiskey or are looking for a whiskey alternative. Maybe a soda – without the carbonation. Since it doesn’t really taste like whiskey, it probably isn’t suited for a classic whiskey mocktail, but let’s try it anyway.
I tried the other two in an alcohol free Old Fashioned, so it’s only fair to compare…..[tasting]…..Absolutely not. Don’t try that at home. On the bottle, there is a recommendation to dilute Whissin 1:6. That sounds like a highball, so maybe this is more a mixer than a spirit. 6 parts club soda, 1 part Whissin. Tokyo karaoke nights are calling! After trying, it’s still not great. If you love a whiskey highball, you won’t think this tastes like one. It’s still quite sweet. It’s drinkable, but not very tasty.
Verdict: Whissin Non-Alcoholic Drink does not taste like whiskey, on its own or in a whiskey mocktail. It’s somewhat drinkable in a highball, but with other options for non-alcoholic whiskey and other spirits, it’s not recommended. I don’t believe you are here for “somewhat drinkable.”
FINAL THOUGHTS ON ALCOHOL FREE WHISKEY
After evaluating these three alcohol free whiskeys, hopefully your choice is a little clearer. Overall, non-alcoholic whiskey just wasn’t doing much for me. Alcoholic whiskey is “hot.” It’s a difficult spirit to mimic.
Tread lightly through this category. If you’re new to non-alcoholic spirits, I personally would not start with a whiskey substitute. However, if you really want that whiskey flavor, and need to avoid the alcohol, there is something for you. My top pick is Lyre’s American Malt because it smells like whiskey and is passable in whiskey mocktails.
Be sure to browse the collection of recipes for more low abv and alcohol free cocktails, as these non-alcoholic spirits are continually being tested to decide the best ways for you to use them.
Click here for the best available price for Lyre’s American Malt on Amazon if you want to get started experimenting with non-alcoholic whiskey cocktails.