CHICAGO — Adulting is not easy. Often after a day full of work, life and general stresses, it’s relaxing to settle down with an adult beverage. Alcohol, however, may not be appropriate for a variety of reasons. For the nearly one-third of U.S. adults who are non-drinkers, the growing category of spirit-flavored beverages makes sense.
“There are times when you have to be a designated driver, or you cannot drink,” said Vesselina Tintikova, senior beverage applications technologist, Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill. “Whatever the reason is, you would like to feel a part of the event. Developing a non-alcoholic beverage that is still very similar in taste and smell as the actual product is a great solution. For example, using ingredients like bourbon and rum flavors can enhance the character of a non-alcoholic beverage whose alcoholic counterpart typically contains the real deal.
“Creativity is the driving force. It’s like being an artist using spirit flavors instead of colors. Creating a wine without wine or an oak-aged beverage without being aged in a barrel. This innovation gives the opportunity for nondrinkers to raise a toast.”
This is where flavor technology comes into play.
“A spirit flavor contains unique molecules found in the spirit in a concentrated solution,” said Andy Ericson, research and development manager-beverage alcohol, Kerry, Beloit, Wis. “The flavor is used either to replace the spirit, or in combination to enhance the character of the spirit in a beverage.”
Examples include the use of a whiskey flavor in a malt-based whiskey and cola, or a rum flavor in a wine-based mojito.
“Sparkling mocktail flavors, including Valencia orange mock-rita, could be in our future or drinks infused with herbs and spirit flavors to give you herbal inspiration, such as a rosemary gin-flavored ginger ale,” said Juliet Greene, corporate chef, Mizkan, Mount Prospect, Ill.
Maggie Harvey, new product development manager at Mizkan, said, “Spirit flavors and reductions can be used to give an extra punch to a low- or no-alcohol ready-to-drink beverage without the addition of alcohol. Spirit flavors can be especially useful in high-temperature applications or processing steps.”
If a real spirit is heated, the volatile compounds and some flavor components may evaporate or dissipate. The alcohol also may cook off, too. Manufacturers may add either more of the spirit or a supplemental flavor to help compensate for this loss. The flavor tends to be less expensive.
“The flavor and sophistication of spirits and the return to heritage drinks, such as the Manhattan and old fashioned, are driving this trend,” Ms. Greene said. “Consumers are looking for the ‘kick,’ but not necessarily the ‘effect’ of alcohol. These flavors are getting translated into boozy-like innovations.”
ArKay Beverages Inc., Laredo, Texas, is all about alcohol-free boozy beverages. Reynald Vito Grattagliano, the company’s founder, is the principal behind the ArKay zero-alcohol, zero-calorie liquor collection.
“After five years of research and development, Mr. Grattagliano created a distillation- and fermentation-free process that allows the beverages, when consumed, to send stimuli to the brain triggering the illusion of the alcohol burn without drinking alcohol,” said Richard Simmons, president of sales. “ArKay drinks can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere. They can be consumed all night long without any intoxicating effects. Individuals with medical conditions or religious beliefs that prohibit the consumption of alcohol can enjoy the crisp, refreshing taste of these liquor-flavored drinks straight-up, on-the-rocks or with a mixer.”
The line includes most spirits, from amaretto to whiskey, as well as mocktails such as margarita and piña colada and after-dinner drinks like Irish cream and coffee liqueur. The beverages are based on a proprietary blend of water, glycerol, flavors, carboxymethylcellulose, xanthan gum, maltodextrin, lactic acid, caramel color, potassium sorbate and potassium chloride, with some products including added color.
The company is getting ready to launch a line of single-serve ready-to-drink mocktails in 355-milliliter glass bottles. Varieties include gin fizz, mojito and sugar cane martini.
“We are putting real fresh ‘mocktails’ designed by professional bartenders into convenient glass bottles,” Mr. Simmons said.
Earlier this year, Utmost Brands Inc., New York, maker of less-sweet GuS Grown-up Sodas, introduced a line of single-serve, sparkling cocktail mixers. Available in 7-oz glass bottles with twist-off cap, the new non-alcoholic mixer line comes in four flavors: Sparkling Cosmo, Mojito, Moscow Mule and Tonic & Lime. They are sized for one ready-to-drink sparkling cocktail — just add 1.5 to 2 ozs liquor — or enjoy straight for an easy non-alcoholic cocktail. Each variety contains key lime juice, natural roots and extracts, and cane sugar with 55 to 60 calories per bottle. Designed to be easy, there’s no need for measuring syrup, adding soda or muddling or squeezing garnish.
“We felt the time was right to leverage our craft soda knowledge into the mixer category by offering an easy new way to enjoy a premium mixed drink,” said Steve Hersh, co-founder. “Our new line hits on all the beverage trends: small-batch produced, with premium natural ingredients, lightly sweetened, but most importantly, convenient.”
London-based Seedlip developed a range of distilled non-alcoholic spirits made with carefully selected herbs, spices, peels and barks. The calorie-free spirits are made using a proprietary distillation process and contain no sweetener of any type.
La Pavia Beverage L.L.C., Milwaukee, was founded in 2016 by two beverage industry veterans. They combined their talents to introduce Top Note Tonics, a line of herbal tonic concentrates used to make spirit-based cocktails. The name is a nod to the field of sensory science since top notes are the ephemeral aromas found in wine, beer and spirits that produce a multi-sensory experience. Since, the company has entered the sparkling mixer category with premium mixers designed to complement the high-end liquors entering the marketplace but equally refreshing by themselves as mocktails.
“Mixers have become commoditized. Tonic specifically has deviated from its origin, which was as an herbal medicinal drink that happened to taste great when mixed with alcoholic spirits,” said Mary Pellettieri, co-founder. “Americans are moving away from super sweet or complicated cocktails. This is good for everyone, as it encourages more responsible consumption without the calories normally associated with a cocktail.”
It is not just artisan and hand-crafters getting involved in the alcohol-free boozy business. Big brands are finding a way to stay relevant.
“We wanted to create something totally new with a more sophisticated flavor experience that consumers can enjoy any time of day,” said Clark Reinhard, vice-president of global innovation, Ocean Spray, Middleborough, Mass. “It’s like a reward at the end of the day; something to savor and help you unwind.”
That is what one gets with the company’s new Ocean Spray Mocktails premium non-alcoholic juice drinks. Made with fruit juice and inspired by favorite cocktails, the line comes in three varieties: Cranberry Peach Bellini, Cranberry Sangria and Tropical Citrus Paradise. With 90 calories or less per serving, and no high-fructose corn syrup or preservatives, they are a healthful alternative to their alcohol-containing counterparts.
Juices and fruit yogurt smoothies can ride the mocktail wagon. Tropical fruit blends meld well with many spirit flavors.
“Piña colada-flavored beverages are a place where the developer might introduce a rum flavor,” said Anton Angelich, group vice-president, Virginia Dare, New York.
Malt beverages, which typically contain alcohol, may benefit from spirit flavors, as they add an innovative twist. The same goes for sparkling wines.
“Another way in which spirit flavorings may be used is to decrease the cost of a beverage application or reduce the overall alcohol content,” said Joey Torkelson, beverage mixologist and applications manager at Kerry. “For example, our coffee liqueur syrup has a flavor profile comparable to Kahlua and similar liqueurs, but at a lower cost and without the actual alcohol. This could also be used in beverages like a lower-alcohol white Russian.”
Ms. Greene added, “As the non-alcoholic beverage space continues to grow with mocktails, shrubs, juices and more, the coffee space has grown as well. Coffee creamer flavors are getting more sophisticated. Think hot buttered rum without the alcohol.”
Ms. Torkelson said, “We have seen bitters and bitter-flavors added to coffee beverages as a trendy way to change the flavor profile and enhance the undertones of the coffee.”
However, ready-to-drink coffee beverages come with some unique flavoring challenges. This is due to both the process and the inherently strong cooked and bitter notes associated with these drinks.
“Additionally, beverages with a low pH need to be completely sterilized and this process can affect the flavors,” said Steve Fowler, director of beverage technology at Kerry. “Compounding flavors in a way to compensate for these conditions is what must be done to make these products better tasting. Building a library of flavors that can withstand the conditions of having both a challenging base and the processing involved, is something that can only be accomplished through a lot of research and trials.”
Using the right flavors can make low- and no-alcohol drinks taste just like the real thing. Don’t forget the salt-rimmed glass, paper umbrella or fruit garnish for eye appeal.