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From Seed to Sip: Unveiling the Manufacturing Process of Alcohol-Free Spirits

Alcohol-Free Spirits

Alcohol-Free Spirits From Seed to Sip

The grain that goes into your favourite spirits takes a long, complicated journey from the field to the bottle. This story explores the work that farmers and distillers do in tandem to create their products.


Fermentation is a chemical process that transforms sugar into alcohol. It also helps extract colour, tannins, and aroma compounds. It’s thought that the fermentation of alcoholic drinks and certain foods first started around 7,000 years ago in parts of Asia and Europe.

For large-scale brewing, winemaking, and distilled spirit production, pure cultures of selected strains of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae are used. The specific yeast strains employed in a given fermentation process significantly influence the flavour and aroma characteristics of resulting beverages.

In smaller-scale artisanal processes, natural, spontaneous fermentations may occur relying on native yeasts that are naturally present in the raw materials and the cellar. In these cases, the fermentation process typically takes longer.

The preparation of alcohol-free spirits involves the same steps as regular wine production. The starting liquid can but does not have to be a fermentable liquid such as finished wort or grape juice. Other suitable starting liquids include whey or fruit juice.

Producing alcohol-free spirits requires a license (premises and personal) under the Licensing Act 2003. The Spirit Drinks Regulations specify what must be in the product (compositional requirements), restrict what the product can be called (sales denomination), and limit its manufacture to specific countries or regions (registered geographical indications). All spirit drinks must display their alcoholic strength on the label. They must also be marked with the shelf life indicator, durability indication, and best before the end date as required for all prepacked food products.


As the number of teetotalers continues to rise, distillers have been working hard on creating alcohol-free spirits that can satisfy those who are either cutting back or ditching the booze entirely. These non-alcoholic drinks can be used to whip up mocktails, added to cocktails for a lower-ABV version of a classic drink, or enjoyed alone.

To achieve the taste, mouthfeel, aroma, and experience of traditional spirits, makers use various ingredients. In compounds, this can include extracts, juices, sugar, or glycerin for body and texture. For distillation, they’ll usually start with a base spirit and then add botanicals and other flavour additives for complexity.

Some brands have distilled their product twice and removed the alcohol in the second round. This approach allows them to capture a wider range of botanical flavours, such as spruce tips and citrus peels. Other producers use maceration to extract the desired flavours by soaking raw botanicals in a cold liquid for up to six weeks. This process mirrors how traditional herbal medicines are made and helps create more complex, nuanced flavours.

No- and low-alcohol spirits’ are a relatively new beverage category, but they have quickly risen in popularity. The term ‘spirit’ isn’t legally defined in the EU, but it’s generally accepted to mean a spirit with no more than 0.5% ABV (alcohol by volume). These drinks are ideal for those who want to reduce their drinking or prefer not to drink alcohol.


Depending on the spirit, ageing, and finishing can be an opportunity to bring complexity and nuance. Many distillers age their spirits in some form of wood cask or barrel, often charred oak, to impart tannins and vanillin. Some may mix and match ageing times to create a unique flavour profile, such as a spirit aged in a Bourbon barrel and then briefly “finished” in a Sherry cask.

The burgeoning sober-curious movement has led to various new brands, some designed as replacements for traditional spirits, others representing something entirely new. The first distilled non-alcoholic spirit to hit the market in 2015 uses a similar process as whiskey production but with a focus on botanicals. Its founder, Bill Garnock, has a particular view of water quality, and the Scottish spirit is made using a double distillation process that separates ethanol and a mix of botanicals (including blackcurrant leaf, chamomile, and bay leaves). The result is a spirit with complexity and texture that Garnock feels more closely resembles whisky than most non-alcoholic alternatives on the market.


Whether for health reasons, a desire to be a better host, or simply an oenological curiosity, many consumers seek drinks that mimic the look and taste of gin, rum, whiskey, and other spirits without the booze. Alcohol-free spirits have exploded into the marketplace, and they can be used to create mocktails or mixed with traditional spirits to reduce the ABV of cocktails.

Creating alcohol-free spirits is complicated and requires sophisticated equipment to ensure the highest quality product. This is why these products are often more expensive than their boozy counterparts. Despite the high price tag, these drinks are made with great care and attention to detail.

Many spirits are crafted through maceration, which involves soaking ingredients in a liquid to extract flavour and colour. The result is a delicious spirit with an aroma and flavour profile similar to the alcohol-forward version but without the alcohol bite.

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