4 Non-Alcoholic Whiskeys Bartenders Love
If you're dreaming of a dram of whiskey without the hangover, try one of these bartender-recommended non-alcoholic whiskeys.
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Cutting back on drinking alcohol
Have you ever woken up with a splitting headache after a night at the bar and asked yourself if you’re drinking too much? Or has the constant access to food and drinks while working from home led to overeating and over-imbibing?
It’s enough to make you give up alcohol for good. Or at least reduce your daily intake.
Regardless of your reasoning, if your goal is to cut back on alcohol, you’re not alone.
About 47 percent of Americans 21 and older have reported efforts to reduce alcohol consumption, according to market research firm Nielson.
For many, that means seeking out tasty non-alcoholic mocktails. For me, that meant cycling my way through a tasting of alcohol-free beers, alcohol-free wines, and alcohol-free spirits.
Whether you’re cutting back on booze or quitting alcohol for good, you can expect some health benefits from swapping Jack Daniels for a zero-proof whiskey alternative.
Benefits of cutting back on alcohol
Booze does have its benefits. And, no, I’m not talking about its ability to make you a better dancer or an A-plus flirt. (Hate to break it to you, but those effects are largely in your head.)
Drinking certain types of alcohol in moderate amounts might provide health benefits. But it’s not free of all side effects.
“Drinking alcohol may feel like a simple way to reduce stress, but the secondary effects can be sleep problems, anxiety, depression, and inflammation of the body,” says Austin-based psychologist and career coach Janet Civitelli. “Anyone who has ever experienced a hangover knows how awful alcohol can make you feel.”
At the end of the day, alcohol is a depressant, Civitelli says. Booze has mental and physical side effects, some of them long term.
“Drinking less or taking a monthlong break from alcohol is one way to assess whether alcohol is your friend,” she adds.
Reducing your alcohol consumption can help you determine whether it is inhibiting your health, sleep, or even your efforts at deeper connections with those you love.
Switching to non-alcoholic whiskey
If you’re new to sipping non-alcoholic spirits, there’s one thing you should know: These liquids don’t taste like alcohol.
There is no magic ingredient that perfectly mimics the burn and ethanol of booze. Most purveyors of non-alcoholic whiskey focus on the spirit’s quintessential color, flavor notes, and aroma instead.
Once you’ve adjusted your expectations—and possibly the ratio of ingredients in your mocktail recipe—approach the switch to non-alcoholic libations with a spirit of adventure.
Try a variety of non-alcoholic spirits, alcohol-free wines, or even prepackaged mocktails.
Focus on the experience of sharing a well-crafted drink with friends or the ritual of unwinding in the evening with a delicious beverage. You can accomplish both without alcohol.
One important note: Experts say faux-alcoholic drinks aren’t meant for people with a history of alcohol-use disorder—the flavors could trigger a relapse.
(Here are the five best alcohol-free beers I tried.)
The best non-alcoholic whiskeys
The requirement for a great whiskey alternative is that it “can both play well with others in a zero-proof cocktail while also holding its own served neat,” says Chris Marshall, CEO of Sans Bar, an alcohol-free bar in Austin.
He opened the bar as a gathering place for anyone, fully sober or sober-curious, who wants to have a good time without a booze-induced haze.
To narrow down the best non-alcoholic whiskeys on the market, I queried Marshall and other cocktail and mocktail experts. Their recommendations, along with my own preferences, resulted in the four top picks below.
Monday Whiskey is a brand-new non-alcoholic spirit from the makers of Monday Gin, which was my No. 1 pick of dozens on my 2020 quest for the best alcohol-free spirits.
Monday Whiskey is still in its prelaunch phase, but it will be available to the public in June 2021.
Marshall got an early taste and said it’s one of the best non-alcoholic whiskeys in the business.
“Monday Whiskey was my top pick for the best new product of 2021,” raves Marshall, adding that it has a rich “oakiness,” vanilla notes, and a smooth velvet finish.
Nicole Popkow, a veteran bartender who shares non-alcoholic mixology on social media as Tonix Mocktails, tried an early sample and agrees it’s one of the best options out there. She calls it “very caramel and molasses forward,” the perfect complement to the orange peel and bitters in a classic old-fashioned.
Spiritless Kentucky 74
When I tried Spiritless Kentucky 74 for the first time last year, I was impressed by the whiskey’s smoky warmth without the blatant use of pepper.
Sure, it’s missing alcohol’s trademark burn, but when mixed into a mocktail, Kentucky 74 manages to taste startlingly bourbon-like.
Marshall calls it “the whiskey we’ve all been waiting for” and recommends sipping it in an icy, refreshing mint julep.
Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey
In the world of non-alcoholic spirits, Ritual will come up again and again.
It’s a mainstay in part because it’s offered at an affordable price point (at least in comparison with many alcohol alternatives), is sold on Amazon, and comes in an easy-to-sample trio: whiskey, gin, and tequila.
Marshall, who got sober in 2007 and has worked in the addiction treatment industry and the blossoming non-alcoholic drink space, says an old-fashioned with mesquite-forward Ritual whiskey is his “go-to after-work drink.”
My take is that Ritual’s spin on whiskey is less nuanced than Spiritless Kentucky 74—but that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes spirits need a kick to hold their own in mocktails mixed with several ingredients.
Here’s what happened when I tried Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey.
Free Spirits The Spirit of Bourbon
Despite tasting dozens of non-alcoholic options over the last few months, I’d never heard of Free Spirits until Popkow recommended the brand’s The Spirit of Bourbon.
According to the manufacturer, Free Spirits products are made by gathering the core ingredients of each spirit—oak and caramel, for instance—and infusing them rather than fermenting them.
In a hat tip to the wellness crowd, Free Spirits adds B vitamins and amino acids into the mix.
As for the flavor? “It has a little spice and a little smoke and is the perfect candidate for any bourbon mocktail,” says Popkow.
Next, here are more no-alcohol drink recipes that taste like the real thing.
- Janet Civitelli, PhD, Austin-based psychologist and career coach
- Nicole Popkow, founder of Tonix Mocktails and contributor to The Sober Curator
- Chris Marshall, founder and CEO of Sans Bar
- Nielsen IQ: "Many Americans Are Looking for a Bar Experience Without the Buzz"