Close your eyes and imagine the fragrance experienced after the first rainfall following a heatwave. Now picture the oldest library you have ever visited, the memory evoking leather bindings, musty books, and sweet tobacco aromas. Finish by visualising an immense bonfire on an autumnal evening, the smell of smoke and burning oak reaching your nostrils as you inhale the cold night air.
These are just a few of the literal tasting notes (or sensory experiences) used to describe different varieties of whiskey. There’s no other spirit quite like it, so it’s no wonder why the alcohol-free industry is attempting to emulate it.
But is it possible to make alcohol-free whiskey taste like the alcoholic version?
In today’s article, we’ll be discussing everything you need to know about whiskey, how it gets its flavour, and whether or not alcohol-free whiskey is truly attainable.
What is whiskey?
Whiskey is a distilled spirit made from mashed and fermented grains, such as malted barley, corn, wheat, and rye. It is then aged in wooden barrels. Types of whiskey include Scotch, bourbon, Irish, and rye. Although it is now made all over the world, whiskey likely originated in Scotland.
Monks, well-known for their experimentation with alcohol, had perfected a distillation technique, which they used to create spirits out of wine. It is thought that the monks brought over the art of distillation to Scotland in the 15th century, where, instead of wine, barley beer was used and the resulting spirit became known as ‘uisge beatha’.
The Gaelic term ‘uisge beatha’, meaning 'water of life' or ‘aqua vitae’ in Latin, was corrupted to ‘usky’ in the 18th century and then to whisky. Nowadays, whisky is spelt without an ‘e’ in Scotland, Japan, and Canada, but is known as whiskey with an ‘e’ in other parts of the world.
What does whiskey taste like?
There’s no definitive answer to this question, with so many varieties, it’s impossible to say what whiskey actually tastes like! Just like wine, whiskey varies according to the ingredients, the duration of the fermentation and maturation stages, the secondary constituents present due to different distillation processes, the barrels used to age the whiskey, and geographical variables such as the natural elements of water, peat, and climate.
But, if you pinned us down and forced us to give you an answer...whiskey generally tastes woody, malty, peaty, smoky, and/or grainy with hints of spice, fruit, chocolate, vanilla, and/or caramel. They can be remarkably smooth, while other varieties induce a harsh alcoholic burn.
With so many flavour profiles, you might be cottoning on to how difficult it is to imitate an alcohol-free whiskey because all whiskey brands are so entirely unique!
Does alcohol-free whiskey exist?
Kind of. Most alcohol-free whiskey brands distil their products and then remove the alcohol so there is a chance that traces will remain. Therefore, technically, some do not consider these “alcohol-free” whiskeys.
CROSSIP Drinks, however, undergo a different process. Instead of brewing and distilling our spirits, we macerate sustainable ingredients and steep them to extract the flavour. That makes our drinks, including the Dandy Smoke, 100% alcohol-free.
So, is CROSSIP Dandy Smoke an alcohol-free whiskey?
Not quite. At CROSSIP, we don’t imitate. Instead, we take inspiration from alcoholic spirits and create flavours that evoke the same sensory experience as some of our favourite cocktails, without the negative effects of alcohol. Whilst Dandy Smoke can be used effectively as an alcohol alternative in whiskey-style drinks, it is not a direct substitute for whiskey.
Why not try out Dandy Smoke in an Old Fashioned?
Does alcohol-free whiskey taste the same as the real thing?
Well, that depends on what sort of whiskey experience you are looking for.
Let us explain. There are two main types of whiskey alternatives on the market: those designed to be exact imitations that can be consumed neat or on the rocks and those intended to be used in alcohol-free whiskey cocktails.
As we explained earlier, many of the variables that give whiskey its flavour are defined during the fermentation and maturation process. Therefore, it’s a huge challenge trying to replicate that depth with a truly alcohol-free whiskey. Without that process, it’s likely you’ll only ever end up with a weak and watery imitation.
Did you know that by law all Scotch whisky must be matured for at least 3 years? In fact, most single malts lie in the wooden barrels for 8+ years!
However, all is not lost! The non-alcoholic spirits designed to be mixed in whiskey-style cocktails fare much better. That’s because they do not attempt to mimic whiskey. Instead, the goal is to give drinkers a sensation of a more mature, full-bodied drink, making up for any imbalances caused by the lack of whiskey - perfect if you’re craving an old-fashioned or a whiskey sour!
For example, CROSSIP 0% Dandy Smoke was curated by Carl Brown, world-renowned mixologist and Founder of Crossip, to emulate the whiskey cocktail experience. According to Carl, "Like all aged alcoholic spirits, Dandy possesses the same rich spice flavours. It’s robust, smoky and packs a punch."
With Dandy, you can create non-alcoholic cocktails that are luxurious, meaty and smoky. It’s especially good in sour cocktails or with cola and a squeeze of lime. In fact, Dandy is so good at evoking a whiskey experience that world-renowned London cocktail bars are serving it in their own NoLo drink creations. So yes, alcohol-free whiskey can taste the same as the real thing...in cocktails!
How can you drink Dandy Smoke?
The possibilities are endless. Let’s start with a Dandy Sour:
SIMPLE 1 2 3 4 5 VIRTUOSO
Warm orchard sweetness. Rich and rounded texture with a smoky finish.
35ml CROSSIP Dandy
20ml Lemon Juice
10ml Apple Juice
5ml Honey / Agave
20ml Aquafaba / Egg White
SHAKE... Add all ingredients to a shaker with NO ICE and shake. Fill shaker with ice, shake again and strain into a chilled fancy glass.
Visit our Dandy Serves page for more delicious alcohol-free whiskey cocktail recipes:
Read our related article: does alcohol-free gin taste like gin?