As Dry January rolls along, many people are trying 0% ABV gin alternatives. And many people are realizing that no, the 0% version does not taste like the full strength version. And they’re also not technically gin, but since they’re often referred to as such, we’ll call them gins for simplicity sake.
Several people have left comments on this site— some of them even a touch angry! My gin reviews are for the alcoholic, full-strength versions. I separately review non-alcoholic gin-like products. But no, the non alcoholic version is not going to taste like the alcoholic version.
That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a non-alcoholic gin. Quite the contrary. However, you need to drink it for what it is— something altogether different.
Many major producers are selling 0% ABV gins under their flagship brand name. Many major producers have variants that look deceptively similar to their alcoholic counterparts (like Gordon’s Pink). However similar they are in name and description, the fundamental presence of ethanol will chemical impact its flavor.
How 0% Gins achieve their flavor
Distillation and Dealcoholization: This is the most straight-forward as it most closely resembles the process by which standard gins are made. Botanicals are macerated in ethanol, and then distilled. The alcohol is then removed.
Alternatively, other brands create a hyrdosol from similar ingredients that you would find in a gin. This is distillation, just with water.
In both cases, this means you’ll be left mostly with aromatic molecules that are water soluble. This is challenging for gin specifically because the molecule chiefly responsible for the flavor of juniper, alpha-pinene, is pretty much insoluble in water. It is miscible with ethanol; therefore, non-alcoholic gins, even while distilled, will uniquely struggle to capture this molecule.
Limonene, a chief component of citrus fruits and a molecule found in the aromas of nearly all gins is also insoluble in water.
Another alternative that is often mentioned, that is not truly 0% ABV, but is worth mentioning here is the super-concentrated approach taken on by Hayman’s in the production of their Small Gin. While the bottle itself is 43% ABV, the quantity of botanicals used if five times greater than in their standard gin.
The goal is for you to be able to use a “thimbleful” of gin in your gin and tonic and achieve a similar flavor with much less alcohol per drink.
If you’re familiar with seltzers like LaCroix, then you are already quite aware that there a great deal of water soluble flavorings out there that approximate other ingredients. Some manufacturers create “gin” flavorings available that emulate that of gin.
These gin flavorings are sometimes used in low-quality, non-distilled gins. The use of these flavorings for these sort of products should not be viewed through the same lens as their use in full strength products. In the liquor business, they’re used to skip a step and flavor a vodka quickly and inexpensively (they can call themselves gin, but they can’t call themselves a distilled gin or London Dry Gin). In the case of 0% gins, they might be a necessity to achieve the flavor, and part of a broader set of ingredients aiming to emulate the holistic flavor profile of gin.
How 0% Gins achieve their burn and texture
Spirits are not simply convenient vehicles for certain classes of organic molecules. They’re also an organoleptic wonderland. Ethanol and other distilled drinks can provoke a series of trigeminal sensations such as burning or cooling.
Makers of 0% Gins and have worked to emulate the holistic experience by adding additional ingredients that give these drinks texture and warmth. Here are some of the tools of the trade you might see:
Capsaicin or Chili Peppers: Perhaps the best way to emulate burn without ethanol. Capsaicin is the chemical that makes hot peppers spicy. A little bit goes a long way, though its inclusion in some N/A products like Ritual’s Gin Alternative can make them a bit harder of a sell to people who don’t like spicy food.
Citric Acid: Common in citrus fruits, at low quantities it can simulate the astringency and drying sensation of a spirit. You’ll find it in many N/A Gin alternatives, including Monday.
Xanthan Gum and Locust Bean Gum: These are used to add some richness, body and texture. Whereas some drinks like the Seedlip line embrace the watery, thinner character; others use these ingredients to add some mouthfeel.
Sugar(s): Can be used to add body, mouthfeel and moderate some of the other additives. Keep in mind that just because you’re drinking 0% ABV Gins, that doesn’t mean they’re calorie free. For example Monday uses monk fruit extract and Ritual uses cane sugar. While they may be more healthful or lower in calories than proper gin, be sure to read the labels.
Overall, 0% Gins?
With many big names like Tanqueray, Whitley Neil, Gordon’s, and more getting in on the 0% trend, it seems as if many are banking on it having some staying power. Time will tell if “sober-curious” is a long term trend or merely another passing fad in the gin and spirits world (R.I.P. Pink Gin! Long Live, Pink Gin!).
While those big names are present in the European and British markets, stateside we don’t have quite the brand recognition— though options are abound including ones we’ve reviewed on this site, including Ritual, Monday, Seedlip and others.
However, there’s one thing you should know about 0% Gin. If you expect your 0% Gin to taste exactly like a full strength gin, you’re going to be disappointed. Make some cocktails with it, mix a G&T with it, but expect it to be its own thing— not an exact clone of your standard distilled gin.