Non Alcoholic Gin - Does it exist?
We review the range of alcohol-free “liquor” in Australia, and find out - is there such a thing as non-alcoholic gin?
It seems that the latest trend to sweep the drinks world is non-alcoholic “spirit.” Although there’s been others before it, it was really Seedlip that kicked things off with its catchphrase of “what to drink when you are not drinking.” A teetotaler himself (by choice), founder Ben Branson chanced upon a 17th century book called Art of Distillation that advocated the use of distillation to make non-alcoholic health remedies. Two years of experiments later, Seedlip debuted in late 2015 in London.
Having launched in Australia in 2017, Seedlip has been joined by some Australian versions, both of which launched in 2018. We have to admit, we were a tad sceptical about these alcohol free options purporting to mimic spirits. So we rounded up the range of new wave options available to buy in Australia for the non-alcoholic drinker and put them to the (taste) test.
The big daddy-o of the category. Founder Ben Branson’s family have a farm in Lincolnshire in north England, which is the source of many a botanical that goes into the making of Seedlip. Each ingredient is distilled separately in copper pot still before the alcohol is removed, similar to de-alcoholised wine.
Seedlip Spice 94
The first expression when Seedlip launched in late 2015. This is a blend of aromatic Jamaican All Spice Berry & cardamom distillates, so it is rather earthy. The '94' in the name refers to 1494, the year Christopher Columbus discovered all spice berries in Jamaica. The cardamom comes through but is not overpowering on the taste; we found it more subtle here than in the Brunswick Aces below. In the suggested serve of Seedlip Spice and tonic, the aroma held up and made for a lightly spiced tonic drink.
$49.99 for 700ml
The follow up to Seedlip Spice, the Garden evokes a more summery feel with its focus on peas grown on Branson’s family farm, together with spearmint, rosemary, thyme and hay (yes hay!). The peas are definitely front and centre and although it isn’t in the blend, the taste reminded us very much of cucumber (maybe that’s the spearmint combined with the rosemary, thyme and hay). In a tonic garnished with peas, the peas added a bit of freshness to counter the earthy tone of the distilled peas.
$49.99 for 700ml
Made in Melbourne (Brunswick to be precise), Brunswick Aces is the brainchild of a group of 6 friends, who initially set out with the intention of creating gin. Whilst experimenting with the (non-alcoholic) botanical distillates for the formulation of the gin, they decided to make a non-alcoholic spirit instead. Instead of distilling with alcohol, their formulations are produced much like hydrosols, the aromatic waters that are a by-product of making essential oils.
Brunswick Aces Hearts Blend
Inspired by gin (though it is does not profess itself to be non-alcoholic gin), the blend contains juniper, wattleseed, cassia, ginger, sage and grapefruit and is the more citrussy of the two in the range. The grapefruit definitely jumps out on the nose and you get a hint of the clove and star anise on the tongue. Although it is present, the juniper (the key ingredient in gin) isn’t particularly dominant. The recommended serve is with Indian tonic (1 part Brunswick Aces to 3 parts tonic), which was pleasant enough, although we found 2 parts tonic rather than 3 let the flavours shine through better.
$49.99 for 700ml and $22.95 for 200ml
Brunswick Aces Spades Blend
The Spades blend contains a mix of lime, pink grapefruit but gets its earthiness and spice from the cloves, coriander, cardamom, lemon myrtle with a pinch of salt thrown in. The cardamom is apparent on the nose and lingers on the taste although not unpleasantly so. There is a slight tingle on the finish as you would get when you’ve had spices in your food. As with the Hearts blend, the recommended serve for the Spades blend is with Indian tonic, and this certainly went down well, again adopting a 1:2 ratio rather than 1:3 (although this comes down to personal preference).
$49.99 for 700ml and $22.95 for 200ml
Launched in August 2018 in Sydney, Altd Spirits is spearheaded by a brother and sister duo who decided to make their own versions of alcohol-free spirits inspired by the Australian bush after they were tired of the lack of options available for non-drinkers in the country. With a focus on sourcing botanicals from indigenous suppliers, each expression is named after an Australian cicada.
The citrus pine and rosemary comes out strongly in this one, which also contains native lemon myrtle, riberry and Tasmanian pepperberry. The recommended serve was mixed with tonic or taken neat martini style. You’ll need to really, really (like, really) like pine and rosemary for the latter. We had better joy with a tonic mixer, as the strength of the flavours melded quite well with the bitterness of quinine and sweetness from the sugar in tonic water. A garnish of grapefruit slice really balanced it all out really well too.
$64 for 700ml
Described as being berry, honey and spice, the Silver Princess does what it says on the tin. The native strawberry gum plays a starring spicy role (it is what hits you on the nose) and the blend also contains cinnamon and honey myrtle leaves. There’s a sour-y sweetness on the tongue but this is likely from the stevia, which is derived from the stevia plant and commonly used as a sugar substitute. We tried this served with soda and garnished with lime (as suggested by the brand) - that went down better than our experiments using tonic with it.
$64 for 700ml
It would be a lie to say that everyone has fully embraced the concept of alcohol-free spirits - whilst there are those who laud these as a credible alternative to the sugar-laden sodas normally trotted out to non-drinkers, there are also critics who call the blends nothing more than expensive flavoured water. Considering they contain no alcohol, the prices are still something we’re getting our head around and definitely put these new wave alternatives in a separate (premium) category to the usual sodas/fruit juices. Like any distiller making gin, there would be some level of skill involved in the making of these non-alcoholic spirits in the balancing of botanicals used, not just in the quantity but also in the extraction method. The resulting liquid does have more complexity than flavoured water (which often are simply infused with essences) and holds up better than the latter in a mixed drink.
Having said that, for regular booze drinkers, it would be a fallacy to approach or even think about these “spirits” like you would “normal” alcohol. For one, they don’t keep like your bottle of gin, rum or whisky - both Seedlip and Brunswick Aces recommend their bottles be consumed within approximately 3 months of opening. Wine, vermouth and cream liqueur drinkers might say this is nothing new. The key thing for us with non-alcoholic spirits though, is that you simply won’t get the body or mouthfeel (and to a degree the depth of flavour) that you would in the alcoholic equivalent nor some of the flavour complexity that comes with the process of aging spirits like rum or whisky. For the most part, these are clean and light liquids with oodles of aroma and flavour that are front ended but they can be rather thin if you’re looking for body. It’s something to bear in mind if you are mixing with it, for example, you might want to consider using umami-rich mixers such as tomato juice to contribute to a fuller body or perhaps using drinking vinegar such as fruit shrubs to add depth. It takes a bit of experimentation but with a bit of effort, they can offer a different drinking experience. Just don’t call these non-alcoholic gins, or alcohol-free rum/whisky, or whichever alcoholic spirit they are inspired by.