I’m not sure about you, but I have long felt that certain circumstances call for a whisky. Maybe it has been a long day and I just feel like sitting in my comfiest chair with a book and a whisky. Maybe it’s the first signs of winter outside, so I want to pop the fire on, close the curtains, lock the doors and pour myself a whisky. Or maybe we’ve had friends round, and after dinner a little nightcap is called for.
Whatever the reason for it, when I get that urge for a whisky, I don’t always want to drink alcohol, I just want the taste and the warming feeling that it gives me. For a long time, this has seemed an impossible complication of impulses – wanting whisky but not wanting alcohol.
Now things are different, though. Now, we don’t just have a non alcoholic whisky, we have so many that it is quite difficult knowing which one would be best for us. There are so many different options available, that we felt it necessary to compile the following list of the best alcohol free whisky, so that we can help you find your perfect drink for those nights.
How Is Alcohol Free Whisky Made?
Before we get into that though, let’s take a quick moment to have a look at how alcohol free whisky is made, and how it comes to have no alcohol in it.
Well, it is all in the distillation. While there may be a few differing techniques, the most common way to make alcohol free whisky is to make it as you would make ‘traditional’ whisky – that is to say, whisky with alcohol in it – but you repeat the distillation process again and again until the alcohol level reduces down sufficiently.
This can often take a lot more time than other types of beverage, and as whisky tradition has dictated, the more time is taken over a drink, the better it is – you get to really blend in the natural flavourings over this time. This means that you can get some really great tasting whiskies, and a real diversity in the range of whiskies available.
To be honest with you, there are plenty of alcohol free whisky producers that play their cards quite close to their chest when it comes to making their products. I guess, with such a new product, they are all being a bit cautious and protecting their own methods. Which is completely understandable.
Is There Such A Thing As Alcohol Free Whisky?
Now, let’s quickly deal with the semantics. What do we mean by alcohol free whisky? The answer to that lies very much in how it has been produced. Using the standard distillation method, where the whisky is made traditionally, and then has the alcohol removed, it is very difficult to remove every last bit of alcohol, so invariably there will be traces there. This can be 0.5%, or lower – which is roughly the same as a ripe banana, but still contains alcohol nevertheless.
The alternative method of making alcohol free whisky, is to never put the alcohol in in the first place. This relies on the botanicals for the flavour, and is often considered to be a more difficult way of creating a similar flavour to whisky, and acts more as a non alcoholic alternative to whisky, rather than a non alcoholic whisky. Of course, these are completely alcohol free.
One last little thing to address – the legal definition of whisky dictates that it must be at least 40% abv. Therefore, all of the drinks that we are looking at today are not technically whisky, so for ease we will be referring to them as alcohol free/non alcoholic whisky.
Top Non Alcoholic Whisky
Anyway, that’s enough preamble, let’s delve into the world of the best alcohol free whisky.
Lyre’s American Malt
We’ll kick things off with this excellent example of an alcohol free whisky. Now, if you haven’t heard of Lyre’s, you’re probably not alone, but that will change quite soon, I’m sure. They were only established in 2019, which I am slowly starting to discover was ‘Year 0’ for the alcohol free industry, they have very quickly built themselves up a reputation as a giant of the industry.
They are a company that only make alcohol free drinks, and they claim that their output represents “quite simply the finest range of non-alcoholic classic spirits the world has ever seen.” Pretty bold claim, right?
Well, it’s not completely unfounded. Lyre’s American Malt has already become one of the top selling alcohol free whiskies available today. As we know, though, popularity does not necessarily indicate quality, so is it really any good?
Well, yes (as you’ve probably already gathered from it’s inclusion on this list). They describe the drink as being ‘impossibly crafted’ – not a helpful line when you’re writing a section entitled ‘How Is Alcohol Free Whisky Made?’ – and there is something quite mysterious about the taste of this drink.
It has string oak, caramel and vanilla notes, which really gives it that authentic American feel. It brings to mind a bourbon – very well balanced and smooth. The thing that is most notable, though, is that this is not a non-alcoholic drink that tries too hard. There is no overcompensating here – they simply let the drink do the talking without reaching for something different or powerful, which many of their competitors end up doing.
The result is a drink that is incredibly easy to drink, and is so incredibly versatile. My default is always to have a whisky neat, maybe with a cube or two of ice, and this worked well with that. It also, though, made for a few great cocktails, and I had a very enjoyable evening trying out a few different recipes. It makes a brilliant Old Fashioned – highly recommended.
In terms of price, this is positioned right in the middle of what you can expect to pay for a drink like this, and it is similar to a ‘standard’ bottle of whisky. This is a great starting point for you to dip your toes into the world of alcohol free whisky – give this a go and you will not be disappointed.
Gnista Floral Wormwood
One thing you notice when you delve into the alcohol free spirit world, is just how many companies that produce these drinks are based in Scandinavia, particularly Sweden. This time, we’re looking at Gnista, a company based in Malmo that specialise in alcohol free drinks and have been around since 2015.
They are another company that are somewhat mysterious about how they make their drinks, referring only to “a unique combination of gastronomy, state-of-the-art technology and classic spirit making techniques (where distillation, brewing and barrel ageing are central)”. So far, so traditional, but they are also aiming to make ‘next generation non-alco spirits’ – drinks that are as much about the experience of drinking, rather than just the drinks themselves. The feeling of going out and trying cocktails with friends – just because you don’t want to drink alcohol, doesn’t mean that you can’t experience this.
That is what Gnista are all about – the feeling. They tend to push the idea of having their drinks with mixers or as the base ingredient in a cocktail, and I am sure that is what they had in mind when they were creating it, but that is not how I like to test these drinks – I need to know what they taste like by themselves.
So, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from Floral Wormwood on its own. I imagined that it would be quite bland, as if it was just waiting for some other ingredients to come along and wake it up a bit. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was an absolute delight, and so much more complex than I was expecting. It is both floral (as you would have expected) but also has that intense bitterness that you want from a whisky. There are citrus notes, as well as hints of rhubarb, and then a whole host of different herbs and spices (oregano, juniper and star anise). Like I said, this is a complex drink that doesn’t talk down to you – it is for grown ups.
Of course, I then tried it in a couple of cocktails, and it really didn’t disappoint. The Highball was particularly delicious, and incredibly easy to drink.
This is the same price as the Lyre’s one above, and it offers something completely different. It’s certainly more complex, and more distinct, which may not be to everybody’s taste – but for me, this is a great example of what non alcoholic spirits can be. A deep, flavorful experience. Give it a go.
We’ll move a little closer to home now, with this offering from London-based South African, Craig Hutchison (his wife is Swedish, and at this point I have no idea whether I should read anything into that or not!). Having developed an alcohol free alternative to gin in 2017, called Cedars, in 2019 he launched Celtic Soul – a no alcohol whisky alternative.
It is very much a similar mindset to that of Gnista – just because drinks do not contain alcohol, doesn’t mean that they need to be aimed at children. This is a mindset that is becoming more and more prevalent in the world, with more and more adults deciding that they do not want to drink as much, or any, alcohol for a whole host of reasons, and drinks like Celtic Soul are here to fill the gaping void between soft drinks and hard liquor.
Again, similar to Gnista, this is a drink that they strongly advise should be drunk as part of a drink, rather than by itself. While I fully understand why it is marketed in that way (you are opening yourselves up to a much wider market if you aim it at people that love cocktails, rather than just people that like neat whisky), it is not how I necessarily like to drink whisky, so I, again, decided to taste it on its own as my first drink.
It really is doing itself a disservice to say so explicitly that it should be drunk only as a base for more complicated drinks – this is a great tasting whisky with a couple of cubes of ice. It may not have the same depth of flavour that others, for example the Gnista that we looked at above, have, but as an easy-drinking, pleasant alcohol free whisky, it does a grand job. It has subtle notes of oak and vanilla, which are just about detectable, and a very smooth finish.
It would be remiss of us, though, to not try this drink as they recommend, which to be honest covers an awful lot. They see this as great with a mixer, so I tried it with ginger ale and plenty of ice first of all and it was incredibly refreshing, with a nice little kick to it. That was great, but I decided to be a bit more adventurous and I went for a ‘New Fashioned’, an alcohol free twist on an Old Fashioned.
There is a certain elegance and class about this drink, and I would wholeheartedly recommend buying a bottle of Celtic Soul, even if you only ever use it to make New Fashioneds – you will not be disappointed! It is one of the cheaper alcohol free whiskies that we’ll look at today, so you can easily justify having one in, just in case you fancy one.
CROSSIP – Dandy Smoke
Next up we have something a little bit different from London-based company CROSSIP. They are fronted by Carl Anthony Brown, who you might have seen on Sunday Brunch as the drinks expert. Well, 5 years ago he decided that he was going to lock himself in a room, and create his ideal non-alcoholic spirits. One of which was Dandy Smoke.
As you would expect from such a well respected expert, he spent a lot of time perfecting these recipes – the majority of that 5 years in fact. All of his spirits have the same core ingredients: eucalyptus, ginger, cayenne, gentian and glycerine. On their website, they go to great lengths to highlight the health benefits of each of these ingredients, which does seem to underline a shift in motivation from some of the other drinks that we have looked at so far.
You see, CROSSIP have placed a great deal of focus on promoting a healthy lifestyle. While the others often refer to the lack of alcohol, sugar, calories etc, and mention the health benefits in passing, this mindset seems to be at the forefront of everything CROSSIP do. They say that they want their drinks to ‘do a little bit of good’ (in fact the company actually gives 5% of their sales to local causes, to do their bit of good too).
They really are looking to provide an alternative to alcohol, rather than a replacement. It is certainly refreshing to see this sort of confidence in the alcohol free industry – the confidence to offer something different rather than attempt to make an imitation.
It is another drink that is clearly aimed at the cocktail making market, and as someone who has always drunk their whisky neat, it may appear that this drink isn’t for me – but that assumption would again be wrong. When I tried this with a couple of cubes of ice, I absolutely loved it. Like some of my favourite whiskies, it was deep and smokey, but it was completely different to anything I had ever tasted. There was a sharp spiciness to it, which lit up my mouth and left me wanting more. It wasn’t like whisky, but it was delicious.
Naturally, I then tried it in some of the cocktails that they helpfully provided the recipes for. The Dandy Sour was an absolute taste explosion – my taste buds tingled for quite a while afterwards! It also worked really well with ginger ale, as well as cola.
This is priced where you would expect for a non alcoholic whisky, but do note how whisky isn’t mentioned in any of their marketing materials – this is a great alternative to whisky, but it is not a replacement. Give it a try if you want to experience something new.
Feragaia Non-Alcoholic Spirit
It feels quite fitting to complete our list of best alcohol free whisky in the spiritual home of whisky – Scotland. To be specific, we are heading to the windswept coastlines of Fife to take a look at Feragaia, a non-alcoholic spirit that immerses itself in the landscape from which it has been created.
Before we carry on, I should probably clarify how you say Feragaia – it’s fe-ra-guy-a (I hate reading words that I have no idea how to say out loud). The traditional Scottish name is in line with the traditional Scottish distillery methods that they employ. Conversely though, they also claim to be innovative, which is more in line with the new modern industry of alcohol free drinks.
So what is the result of this combination of the old and the new? Well, the process of creating Feragaia takes around two months, from harvest to glass. This amount of time “optimises the extraction of natural flavours, which are then distilled, hand blended, cut with Scottish water and rested to achieve Feragaia’s bold depth of flavour.” They use 14 different botanicals in total, and it is produced in small batches to ensure quality.
What you are left with is an earthy, warming drink that works really well as just a neat alcohol free whisky. I tried it with a couple of cubes of ice and it was a really pleasant experience. The catalogue of botanicals that are used create a subtle, yet complex, taste. It’s not like whisky – there were hints of citrus while at the same time a dark warming earthiness to finish. You can imagine being in a leather armchair, in front of a fire, in the Scottish highlands, sipping away on this while the wind whistles against the windows. It was delightful.
Once again though, I was jolted out of this happy little daydream by the realisation that I had a job to do – I must try this in all of the ways that the producers suggest. I therefore soon found myself pouring a Feragaia and tonic – not a combination I would have tried had it not been for their recommendation. Pitched as their ‘Wid Serve’, for daytime drinking, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It was unbelievably refreshing and the tonic provided the perfect backdrop for the whisky to come to the fore.
They have a whole host of cocktail recipe ideas on their website, and I tried quite a few of them. The Negroni stood out as being particularly good – the smooth and fruity cranberry balancing perfectly with the more wild taste of the Feragaia.
It is, again, pretty standard in terms of price compared to the other products that we have looked at on this list, so there is nothing to put you off there. It is a unique taste, and there is some discussion as to whether it is more like gin than whisky, but as a big fan of both, that wasn’t a concern to me. It is a great drink in its own right though – so don’t worry about the comparisons and give it a go.
So there you have it – there are options out there for alcohol free whisky, but it all depends on what you are after. If you want something to replace whisky, then maybe the first two on the list would be better for you.
If you were looking to discover a completely new drink, unlike any other you have ever tasted, then the second two might be better. My guess is that you will end up liking different whiskies in different forms, so one you may like neat, another for a particular cocktail etc. That’s the way to do it.
We have spent so long with so little, or let’s be honest, no choice when it comes to alcohol free whisky that we should now bask in these newfound options.