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Do non-alcoholic drinks taste as good as alcoholic ones?

woman holding alcohol free drink

We’re sure you’ll agree that drinking an orange juice or sugary soft drink is not the same as drinking alcohol. These sorts of non-alcoholic drinks lack the complex, full-bodied flavours imparted by alcoholic beverages. If you’re moderating your drinking (or cutting it out altogether), a lack of decent drink options doubtless makes it much more of a challenge. And sometimes it’s just nice to enjoy a luxurious adult drink without the risk of hangover anxiety the next day!

Wouldn’t it be great if non-alcoholic drinks tasted like the real thing?

Well, you may be pleasantly surprised to find out that it is possible to imbibe a drink with 0% alcohol and still feel like a grown-up who has quenched their thirst for unadulterated liquid.

In today’s article, we'll discuss the science behind why alcohol tastes so good and how to emulate it. We’ll also share some of our favourite non-alcoholic drinks that taste like alcohol!

woman tasting alcohol

What does alcohol taste like?

An alcohol connoisseur may reel off hundreds of adjectives and phrases to describe the flavours of an alcoholic drink; mellow, rose-like bouquet, dominant caramel notes, remaining vestiges of cedarwood…the list goes on. But these aromatics aren’t limited to alcohol. For example, caramel tastes like caramel. So what is it that makes alcohol taste so unique? 

If you’ve read our blog on What is Maceration? then you’ll know that the ethanol in alcohol acts as a solvent and is fantastic at capturing aromatics from ingredients. Ethanol also has its own unique and distinctive taste, which is often described as bitter with a burning sensation. We’re going to get technical; this feeling is known as the trigeminal sensation, which is actually perceived via the pain nerves rather than the taste buds…nothing quite like a bit of masochistic pleasure in a glass!

Another reason drinking alcohol feels different is due to the astringency caused by the ethanol disturbing the mucus levels in our mouths, causing them to feel dry.

Why does alcohol taste so good?

Ethanol is an excellent solvent, which means that alcoholic drinks are often bursting with complex flavours. What’s more, alcohol often imparts a delicious combination of bitter and sweet. There’s even evidence to suggest that the reason why some people enjoy the taste of alcohol more than others is that they exhibit different bitter taste receptor genes. In other words, it may be down to our DNA!

Other studies have shown that our enjoyment might be due to the way alcohol makes us feel, both in terms of the trigeminal sensation we discussed earlier and the behaviour-reward components associated with our beverage of choice.

woman emulating alcohol with alcohol free cocktail

How to emulate the taste of alcohol

There are a few ways in which you can make a drink taste like alcohol. Some of the following techniques may come in useful the next time you want to make yourself an alcohol-free cocktail:

Maceration

We’ve established that alcohol is bursting with complex flavours. So how do we emulate the effects of ethanol as a solvent? With maceration, of course! By soaking (or steeping) raw agricultural ingredients in liquid, we can soften them and draw out their natural juices and aromatics. Learn more about maceration here

To create a cordial that delivers similar tastes to alcohol, try experimenting by macerating a mixture of bitter and sweet ingredients. Or simply buy ready-macerated alcohol-free spirits to add to your next simple cocktail.

Add spice

Spices, such as ginger and chilli, stimulate pain nerves, akin to ethanol. They produce a comparable burning sensation and the resulting release of endorphins increases our sense of pleasure and euphoria when we drink. This is why spice is such a great addition to an alcohol-free drink!

Incorporate tannins

Tannins (a chemical compound found in tea, chocolate, coffee, tree bark, etc.) are well known for their astringent properties and bitter flavours. Whilst alcohol dries the mouth out by drawing water out of tongue cells, tannins bind with proteins to make your mucus feel less wet…different methods but both produce a similar effect!

Drinks that taste like alcohol

If concocting a macerated potion using tree bark and ginger sounds like too much effort, we suggest the following ready-made spirits and drinks that taste like alcohol:

1. 0% macerated spirits

Skip the hours of soaking, heating and pressurising raw materials by buying some ready-made macerated alcohol-free spirits. Designed by a world-renowned mixologist to deliver true bite and unparalleled mouthfeel, CROSSIP uses a mixture of natural botanical ingredients that are known for their health benefits whilst having the ability to impart exquisite flavour. All three of CROSSIP’s signature 0% spirits contain a core base of eucalyptus, ginger, cayenne, gentian and glycerine, brilliant for emulating those sensations associated with alcohol.

BUY CROSSIP

non alcoholic cocktail

2. Alcohol-free cocktails (mocktails but better)

If you are looking for a complex-tasting mixed drink that offers real depth and balance, we recommend opting for a non-alcoholic cocktail. Read our article on mocktail vs. cocktail to find out why we think you deserve more than just a sugary mocktail and click on the link below to try some of our recipes for:

ALCOHOL-FREE COCKTAILS

alcohol free beer

3. NoLo beer

Did you know that you can now get adaptogenic NoLo beer? That’s right, in the same way that the alcohol in an ice-cold beer at the end of a hard day can help one to relax, some NoLo beers reduce mental and physical stress without the need for a hangover cure the next day!

BEST NOLO BEERS

sparkling tea

4. Sparkling tea

Fool your brain into thinking you’re drinking champagne or sparkling wine by opting for carbonated beverages to imitate that mouthfeel, once again caused by stimulation of the pain nerves. We recommend sparkling tea, such as those sold by Copenhagen Sparkling Tea Co., since tea also contains tannins for that heavenly astringency. Alternatively, click on the link below for more:

ALCOHOL ALTERNATIVES

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