Lately, I've been reflecting on a contentious topic in the non-alcoholic world and the recurring debates among those with even a passing interest in non-alcoholic spirits.
What exactly qualifies a non-alcoholic beverage as a 'spirit'?
This is not a new question.
In the five years that I've run ALTD Spirits, it has been asked countless times. Yet, for many, the answer remains unclear. Or perhaps more accurately, there's a divide between hydrosol purists and those who use flavors.
Is distillation the key criterion?
Having been immersed in the production of hydrosols for an extensive period (literally years of my life has been spent sitting in front of a hand-hammered copper Still watching it slowly drip) I am indeed a staunch advocate for distillation being a critical component, and that a substantial proportion of the product should be distilled to quality.
Yet, over time, my perspective has expanded. I’ve become more open to integrating other crafted components like homemade bitters or specialized extracts, which enhance the drink’s overall appeal.
Hydrosols are amazing. I love them. But they can only go so far, and are but one technique available to create something that ultimately fulfils ones desire for a spirit like drink, without the side effects of alcohol. Gather around *stokes open fire*
Decoding Non-Alcoholic Spirits
Non-alcoholic spirits are a unique blend of traditional spirit essence and sobriety. Distillation - a process used to separate or purify substance components - should be the primary step in their creation. The ALTD Spirits range exemplifies this. As a long-standing advocate of distillation in hydrosol production, I acknowledge its significance, but I also believe it's just one (major) part of the puzzle.
The Science and Art Behind Flavor and Preservation
Consider the citric acid often added to our favorite spirits, for instance. These additions help prolong shelf-life, an issue that their alcoholic counterparts generally don’t face. Therefore, even die-hard hydrosol producers like myself incorporate additional elements. So, is complete distillation necessary for a drink to be classified as a non-alcoholic spirit?
In my view, the introduction of handmade extracts and homemade bitters enriches non-alcoholic spirits, introducing new dimensions and textures. This evolving field should certainly accommodate these elements. While distillation remains critical in defining a non-alcoholic spirit, it shouldn’t be seen as an absolute requirement, but as a spectrum filled with subtleties and nuances.
Transparency and Misrepresentation in the Industry
However, the use of off-the-shelf flavors can be perceived as a shortcut. If this is how you produce your product, be open about it. Misrepresentation can harm the entire industry. If there’s no distillation involved, don’t claim there is. Let’s bring transparency to the forefront and allow customers to make informed choices.
Delving Deeper into Hydrosols
If this conversation piques your interest, especially in relation to hydrosols – a crucial component in non-alcoholic spirit production – I recommend this Facebook group. It's been a constant source of enlightenment for me, filled with valuable insights for anyone interested in essential oil and hydrosol distillation.
WARNING: Proceed with care. This group lead me down a multi-year rabbit hole that I've yet to find my way back from. At one point, I found myself distilling Cherry Ripes and Crunchies from the service station. Both of which are surprisingly awesome.
A Just Critique?
A recent article featured in SMH and other platforms criticized the non-alcoholic spirit industry, accusing us of deceiving consumers because we don't pay excise – the tax on alcoholic beverages.
I consider this criticism somewhat misplaced.
Non-alcoholic spirits aren't merely alcohol-free versions of traditional alcoholic beverages. They represent a revolution in taste experiences, offering alternatives for the abstinent, and pushing the boundaries of the beverage industry.
The absence of excise tax reflects the absence of alcohol, not a lack of value.
While distillation is a key component of what defines a non-alcoholic spirit, the conversation is more intricate and multifaceted. We're not merely eliminating alcohol; we're weaving in complexity, creativity, and inclusivity.
Non-alcoholic spirits may lack alcohol, but they're certainly not short on spirit.
Here's to informed and happy drinking.