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The Big Non-Alcoholic Spirits Taste Test

For a long time I've been tracking the increasing number of non-alcoholic spirits. There are now more than 115 brands on the market. 

I've also made hundreds of non-alcoholic cocktails with these n/a spirits (mostly Seedlip) for events, when there used to be events pre-Covid. In my opinion, these products do not perform well when you taste them neat, nor when they are mixed with carbonated beverages like soda water and tonic water.

 

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I have found that taste good when mixed in a basic Daiquiri or with a strongly flavored syrup, as in these recipes I shared a couple years back. Since then, I've received a lot more n/a spirits in the mail - I share new products on Instagram by the way, in case you're not already following the @alcademics account over there. 

So I decided to lead a tasting of all the non-alcoholic spirits in my house in a Daiquiri format. Actually, I didn't taste them at all - I invited three bartenders over to my house to do it. I made one batch of sweet-and-sour mix (lime, simple syrup) and added equal parts of each n/a spirit to it. The bartenders tasted them all and I wrote down their impressions, which are recorded below. 

After we tasted all of them, the bartenders went back through and tasted them unmixed. Boy did that ever give different reactions! And that confirmed that trying these products neat really doesn't reveal all that much about how they'll taste mixed. 

We tried 11 gins or herbal spirits, 2 tequilas, 2 rums, and the Three Spirit line of herbal beverages. 

The tasting notes are below (from the bartenders, opinions are not mine), and some conclusions I wrote down after the tasting notes. 

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Gin/Botanical Spirits
  1. Bowser Leaf -
    1. lots of licorice, playdough, elmer's glue
    2. cloves
    3. I like it, I don't think it's a gin though. Little bit of a piney finish, mentholy
  2. Seedlip Spice
    1. cloves, allspice, warm spices, like chai - cardamom,
    2. overpowering in this application but in another application it could be useful
  3. Wilderton Luster
    1. tastes like earl gray tea to everyone - tannic drying oversteeped tea
    2. acid- citric acid
    3. very low rated
  4. Sipsong Indira Tea
    1. cumin? culinary spice , caraway
    2. not so aggressive after a couple of sips
    3. "that doesn't taste like gin" - taste like Kummel
  5. Seedlip Garden
    1. they all identified it blind as seedlip garden
    2. it's its own flavor; not trying to be gin
    3. everyone enjoys
  6. Lyre's London Spirit
    1. this is bangin' i like this; banana candy; banana runts
    2. real bitter finish though,
    3. tastes like candy but that's a hard finish
    4. (turns out the finish is quinine)
  7. Damrak 0.0
    1. most like water to me
    2. a touch of apple and pear but that could be me grasping
    3. it lets the citrus shine
    4. expensive water
  8. Ginnocense
    1. taste reminds me of something chewy
    2. playdough on the nose
    3. taffy notes
    4. not gin-like
  9. Wilderton Earthen
    1. omg why! terrible
    2. cinnamon ret hots - dried out,
    3. not good in a daiquiri
    4. "sour cinnamon" and that doesn't go well together
  10. Seedlip Grove
    1. it's bitter, resiny
    2. I would not be surprised if this is what  juniper does in water distillation
    3. Musty, like when you walk into a thrift store
    4. Tastes more like gin - resiny but mellow; not the bright herby of the gin but not citrusy
    5. "interesting" i don't dislike it; it's weird, need a better application for it
  11. Fleure Floral Blend
    1. neutral
    2. wood thing going on, woody
    3. a finish more than a flavor; i don't get much
 
Rum
  1. Fleure Spice Cane Dark Roast
    1. smells like rum, spiced rum, bubblegum
    2. smells like coffee cake
    3. workable as a rum; but rum is easier than other spirits
    4. sweeter - i feel like this has sugar in it
    5. I dont hate it but it tastes like coffee
  2. Ritual Rum Alternative
    1. banana bread
    2. tropical fruit
    3. cadaverine /decay
    4. I lke this! tastes like a daiquiri, butterscotch, caramel, but good in a daiquiri
    5. Everyone enjoys and prefers this one
 
Tequila/Agave
  1. Fleure  Smoked Agave
    1. liquid smoke
    2. i don't hate that
    3. burnt rubber but not in a bad way; iodine
    4. everyone likes it !  - but not on its own; in this margarita
  2. Ritual Tequila Alternative
    1. "it has the cuervo smell"; mixto
    2. taste is more fruity but it smells like tequila - "smells like bad decisions"
    3. there's actual heat - spicy note - too spicy - spicy margarita
    4. pepper spice; not alcohol spice - too much of the spicness; maybe better in a long drink; if it was intended as a spicy margarita it would be fine
    5.  
 
Liqueur Fleure Raspberry Blend
    1. soapy
    2. raspberries and violets
    3. pink lemonade -
    4. could use it as a modifier but not a base spirit - but cheaper to use raspberries in a cocktail rather than this product - could be useful as a martini style drink where you don't want to add sugar
 
 
Herbal Liqueurs (these were tasted neat; not in a Daiquiri)
  1. Three Spirit Livener
    1. smells like tea, tastes a little like prune juice
    2. not a fan of this
    3. tons of warm spices
    4. capsaicin
    5. 1 didn't hate it, 2 hated it
  2. Three Spirit Social Elixir
    1. molasses
    2. bitter, burnt caramel
    3. not pleasant
    4. i could sub that for Averna in a cocktail
  3. Three Spirit  Nightcap
    1. something sour in the smell
    2. kinda like it - juicy
    3. spice in all of them, well integrated
    4. favorite of the Three Spirit line
    5. after-dinner beverage, one bartender would serve it as a digestif to a non-drinker after dinner

Conclusions of this Tasting:

  • This is a good way to taste/compare these products. When we went back through to taste them neat, bartenders had some radically different opinions; particularly with regard to the spicy notes that may have gone unnoticed mixed. 
  • Lyre's London Spirit- people liked flavor a lot but didn't like the quinine finish at all.
  • Seedlip Garden was enjoyed and identified easily - the favorite product of the whole tasting.
  • Seedlip Grove was considered interesting and generally well-received.
  • Every one wished there was juniper present in the gins, and found that none had any detectable. So none were really gin substitutes.
  • "I wish more of them were better" said one bartender. 
  • The rums and tequilas overall tasted more like their alcoholic versions. 

 

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Comments

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Earfdae

Oh man, I bet you were soooo not-trashed after this marathon tasting!! Probably drank yourself back OVER the table. ;)

Thanks for this break down. I've tried a few and was displeased but I tried them neat or with club/tonic.

Tracy Green

I've used the Ritual tequila in margaritas quite a bit (it is spicy!) and their whiskey to make Old Fashioneds with Pratt Standard's Old Fashioned syrup. I agree — not good straight, but they work fine in both those instances!

Anna Ravenscroft

I love the Ritual Gin Alternative for gin-based cocktails like the Aviation.

Kevin Ferret

I tried what I think was the Seedlip Spice a while ago (with tonic, then neat...so I got it all wrong apparently) and I personally remember something that tastes barely different than water. A few herbals here and there, but nothing that could stand up to any syrup/fruit/other ingredients that one would add to make a cocktail: basically, it seemed that the "cocktail" would be the same with/without the Seedlip....Did you really taste a big difference in the cocktail tastes with/without those N/A spirits?
I am a bit hesitant to try again (given the price of those bottles...seemed like very expensive fancy water in my experience).

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