Best alcohol-free spirits for Dry January 2023: 14 to try

Cocktail glass of Margarita on a wooden bar with a bottle
ISH Mexican Agave Spirit Alcohol Free

The alcohol free drinks category is growing at an astonishing pace. You can now find no- and low-alcohol options in every supermarket. Most bars and pubs have NoLo beers and even cocktail options. A small number of dedicated NoLo drinking venues have also appeared.

According to figures from the IWSR, the UK recorded double-digit volume growth in the no-alcohol sector in 2020-2021 (along with the US, France and Australia). The NoLo category now accounts for 3.5% of the drinks market globally, with a value of almost US$10bn (£8.3bn) in 2021 – a figure that’s up from US$7.8bn (£6.4bn) in 2018.

And there’s no sign of a slowdown any time soon. The IWSR has predicted that NoLo volume will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 8% between 2021 and 2025. That’s in comparison with growth of just 0.7% for regular alcohol in the same period.

Supply and demand

What’s driving this growth? Firstly there’s demand: from people who simply don’t want to drink alcohol as a lifestyle or religious choice; as well as individuals who want to cut down their intake for health reasons. Initiatives such as Dry January offer added incentive to look for alternatives.

Alongside demand is increased availability. As well as more NoLo products now being available, there’s also been an increase in retailers selling them. NoLo products can be sold anywhere because unlike alcoholic drinks, they don’t have retail licensing requirements.

The first World Alcohol-Free Awards, which will be judged in March this year, were created in response to this surge in supply. ‘There have been hundreds of new alcohol-free products launched in the last two to three years – spirits, beers, cocktails, sodas, wines – and trying to make sense of it all is daunting,’ says awards co-director Chris Losh.

Sea Arch Coastal Juniper

Where to start

‘The move away from alcohol is demonstrated by pretty much every bit of research that comes out. It’s tempting to see it as younger people not drinking much, if at all. But while that’s part of it, it’s not the whole story,’ Losh continues. ‘There are huge numbers of people of all ages who have no intention of giving up alcohol completely, but are very definitely looking to cut back on how much they drink. The problem they’re facing, of course, is what should they try?’

Chrissie Parkinson, co-director and head of judging at the new awards, adds: ‘As you might expect, different categories are at different stages in their development. Beer is perhaps the most established – there are a growing number of really good alcohol-free brews out there, in all kinds of styles – and spirits are gaining ground, too. Some are imitating traditional drinks like gin or whisky, others are totally doing their own thing. It’s a very dynamic space.’

Capturing flavour – and preserving it – is the key challenge for producers. Alcohol serves to intensify flavours in a drink and also acts as a preservative, which accounts for the long shelf life of conventional spirits. Innovative drinks makers have come up with a number of different ways to recreate this effect.

A clear bottle and glasses on a wooden table with the sea and a person in the background

How no-alcohol spirits are made

Distillers will start with a base alcohol made by fermenting grain (or any other crop containing sugar or starch). Some macerate botanicals – any plant, seed, root or flower – in the base alcohol, then distil the liquid to completely remove the alcohol. Others distil the botanicals to create flavour, then continue distilling to remove alcohol.

So much for the flavour. What about the preservation?

‘You’ve got to be very conscious about preservation and about any kind of impurity or microbiological infiltration in the liquid,’ says Howard Davies, co-founder of Salcombe Distilling Co, the maker of New London Light, a no-alcohol alternative to London Dry gin.

New London Light is flash-pasteurised (heated to about 85°C for 30 seconds) ‘to make sure that the liquid is completely pure without any…

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