How do you make an Old-Fashoined cocktail without the base spirit? Is it possible to mix a Manhattan without whiskey? These are questions we wanted to answer using Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey Alternative. As a base spirit substitute, its biggest challenge is to trick your senses as a passable main ingredient in spirit-forward recipes. While it may be slightly easier to stand up next to citrus or cola, we wanted to explore two of our favorite classics.
Before mixing anything, however, we needed to evaluate the flavor on its own. Ritual Zero Proof is made by drinkers, for drinkers, or so they claim, and it seems clear that a lot of effort went into simulating the experience. In the glass, the color is just right—a light transparent amber. The only giveaway is the ever-so-slightly thicker viscosity. Next to a real whiskey, you might notice a difference in the way it sloshes around in a glass.
On the nose, we detect an inviting aroma of ripe fruit mixed with cinnamon spice, vanilla and a hint of smoke. Whiskeys vary wildly, but they all get their color and most of their flavor from the barrel. Depending on the style, these flavors differ. Smoke, spice and vanilla are telltale remnants of charred oak. We don’t know if Ritual Zero Proof is taking their non-alcoholic elixir and aging it. It is more likely the creators understand the constituents of what they are trying to create and that these are flavors they are putting into the bottle.
A first sip adds a scent of orange peel to the mix, confirmation of the barrel effects, with a little sweetness—and then there is the burn. Like their Gin Alternative product, this has a hot pepper component to evoke the sensation of alcohol burn. While somewhat surprising at first, we have come to appreciate the effect which is not so strong to make you think it is a pepper infusion and not so subtle that it goes unnoticed. We feel perfectly comfortable sipping this product neat. If nothing else, the pepper slows you down as it should, just like the real thing.
Our goal, however, was to make a few NA cocktails and Ritual Zero Proof did not disappoint. We started with an Old-Fashioned. We follow a traditional method of construction, building the drink in the glass. It starts with a large strip of orange peel pressed with a muddler to express the oils. We do this in a quarter ounce pool of simple syrup and two dashes of Angostura bitters. We should mention here that Ango does contain alcohol, as does any flavor extract used in baking. In the US, NA beer can contain up to a half of a percent of alcohol by volume. By comparison, a couple dashes of Angostura will result in a negligible amount—a fraction of a fraction and well below the acceptable limit for calling it non-alcoholic.
Once we are satisfied with the orange peel, we add the base spirit, fill the glass with ice and stir to chill and dilute. Overall, we consider the NA Old Fashioned a success. You don’t get the whiff of alcohol vapors, obviously, but for someone trying to avoid booze but still participate in the social ritual, this is a very good take on the venerable classic.
Next, we mixed a NAnhattan using our house-made non-alcoholic vermouth. What can we say? It’s delicious, and covering both of these popular classics opens the bar to guests who might otherwise be restricted to ice water or sugary soft drinks. We don’t always garnish our manhattans often letting the spirits make their own impact, but a cherry would work nicely here (ours have brandy, so we opted out). Don’t forget these small details. Treat your non-alcohol drinks (and your non-drinking guests) with the respect they deserve. An equal garnish or that fancy ice chunk is all it takes to complete the illusion once you have the flavors covered. It shows you care and gives the non-drinker a lot more to enjoy and a reason to sip alongside everyone else.
We would like to explore more with this Whiskey Alternative. We expect The NA Whiskey Sour to be an easy win, along with a Sanbitter version of the NA Boulevardier—one of our favorite regular classics and not really any different than a base-swapped NAgroni. With the hardest part solved, the challenge shifts away from the base spirit to creativity with modifiers like our NA vermouth. Clearly, there is a lot to explore!
This is PART FOUR of the NA series
PART ONE: Look, Ma, No Booze
PART TWO: How to Make Non-alcoholic Vermouth
PART THREE: Non-alcoholic Gin Cocktails Using Ritual Zero Proof