The Boom of Non-Alcoholic Spirits
Drinks without alcohol begin to conquer the world market
© Rheinland Distillers
The category of non-alcoholic spirits is young – but growing rapidly. The Australian company Lyre's, for example, was only founded in July 2019 and after less than two years had successfully marketed a whopping 13 non-alcoholic spirit alternatives in 43 countries worldwide. A triumph that producers of other products can only wish for.
"The product category of non-alcoholic and reduced-alcohol beverages already comprises three percent of the beverage market and is forecast to increase by 31 percent by 2024," said Mark Livings, founder and CEO of Lyre’s.
The fact that he has succeeded in generating growth for his company during the challenging period of the corona pandemic demonstrates how much interest there is. According to his own statement, Lyre's is today not only one of the most widely sold brands for non-alcoholic spirits worldwide, but also one of the most awarded. "Consumers eat and drink healthier – without compromising on taste and social experiences," Livings added.
The fact that renowned spirit awards recognise alcohol-free alternatives is new. In contrast to non-alcoholic beer or wine, non-alcoholic spirits can only be compared with their models to a limited extent. This is also the reason why some spirit connoisseurs view the products with scepticism.
Design and naming are often strongly reminiscent of the original, but the contents of the bottle are far from it. The situation is similar to meat alternatives, where carnivores criticise the fact that a vegan sausage may be called just that. Their success suggests that the critics are in the minority – with alcohol-free spirits as well as with meat-free sausages.
"The trend is not set by bartenders or connoisseurs, but by consumers," said Janick Planzer from the first Swiss producer of non-alcoholic spirits, Rebels 0.0%.
His company offers a gin, a rum and an aperitif alternative. Planzer points out that not only alcohol is missing as an important flavour carrier, but also sugar, which many producers, including Rebels 0.0 %, largely do without, which is, in turn, due to consumers' desire for healthy alternatives.
"We do without the two most important flavour carriers," Janick Planzer of Rebels 0.0 % said.
Rebels 0.0 % uses natural botanicals and double distillation – once with steam and once in a vacuum. In addition, chilli is used to give the spirit alternatives a certain spiciness to the finish, which imitates the kick provided by alcohol.
Who invented it?
Reynald Vito Grattagliano developed his alcohol-free Arkay brand in 2011. Wider publicity and inspiration for the new movement came from the English brand, Seedlip. Founded in 2015 by Ben Branson, it is one of the absolute pioneers. At Seedlip, the botanicals – spices, fruits, barks and vegetables – are macerated in pure alcohol. The alcohol is then distilled and separated leaving the pure aroma of the botanicals, but without alcohol.
The production process involves up to 36 distillations with different botanicals; a complex undertaking. The founder drew inspiration and technical know-how from apothecary books, or more precisely, from spagyric, the production of herbal medicines.
The product Siegfried Wonderleaf from Germany is also produced at great expense. The producers justify the moderate price with the omission of customs duties and taxes. Wonderleaf was born out of a joke. On 1 April 2016, the company posted an announcement on social media as an April Fool's joke that it was launching an alcohol-free Siegfried Gin. The response from users was so great and positive that this plan was actually put into action in 2018.
One of the newest products on the market is Brixx Zero from the renowned Austrian distillery Erber – Tyrol's oldest distillery. The idea here came about due to customer feedback. During tastings and guided tours, the master distiller was repeatedly asked for alternatives for drivers. So he came up with the plan to produce their successful Brixx Gin in an alcohol-free version, Brixx Zero.
Here the production is not inspired by spagyric, but actually by gin. In principle, it works no differently than the original, only alcohol-free. Instead of alcohol, Erber uses water as the basis. After maceration, the various botanical flavours and aromas are further extracted by distillation before more water is added.
Another Austrian company, Rick Spirit, originally known for their gins, now also offers rum, rosé wine, vermouth and four non-alcoholic spirit alternatives. Two variants are reminiscent of gin and two are based on rum. The company explicitly points out that these products are not intended just for pure enjoyment, but for mixing. An important tip for the enjoyment of non-alcoholic distillates.
Hand on heart: pure, these products really don't stand a chance against their alcoholic counterparts, but as a base in long drinks or cocktails they cut a fine figure. In addition to recipes for cocktails, many manufacturers also offer courses for mixing without alcohol – and after initial scepticism, the bar scene has embraced these products.
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