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  • Writer's pictureLushmuddled

Spirits, Interrupted


Non-alcoholic spirits. We all knew that I'd get there eventually. I've been using three for the last few weeks - the Lyre's London Dry, Lyre's Dark Cane and ALTD Green Grocer. There are plenty to choose from these days. Seedlip. Monday Distillery. Seadrift. The list goes on and on. You know it's a booming business when the big boys get involved - Gordons have recently put a non-alcoholic spirit on the market. Now, legally you can't call them gins or rums or liqueurs - these are protected terms and they require a certain percentage of alcohol to qualify - but it isn't hard to figure out what's what. The Lyre's Dark Cane is clearly meant to be something like a dark rum. The trouble, though, is that it isn't.


These non alcoholic spirits are not one-to-one replacements. I cannot stress this enough. If you're the kind of person who enjoys their rum neat, a non-alcoholic "rum" simply won't fool you. This is because (and hold your duhs, please) there is no alcohol. For something which is supposed to be odourless and tasteless, its absence definitely is noticeable.


This is a big problem with the non-alcoholic drink category (or whatever the kids call it these days - #sobercurious #mindfuldrinking). The benchmark for a non-alcoholic spirit is always going to be the spirit it's imitating. This is absolutely not a fair comparison to make - they're different beasts entirely - but it is unavoidable. Once a product is made to "replace" something, it will always be judged by what was already there. Electric cars are judged against combustion engines, dark cane will be judged against rum. Where these non alcoholic spirits start to shine in their own light is when they're mixed. This got me thinking - what does alcohol actually bring to the table? And can it be replicated?


Weirdly, there isn't a lot of easily accessible information about how alcohol affects the taste and structure of things. I found a few scientific articles, which were dense and made for dry reading to say the least. One paper I found studied how alcohol affects taste when mixed in water. The results, in brief, are:

  • Less than 1.4% is not perceptible on the tongue

  • 8% creates a noticeably bitter sensation

  • 16% is bitter/burning

  • 32% becomes burning

Obviously, there is a spectrum here. But you also get a slightly different reaction when you look at what alcohol does when it isn't in water, but in a wine or a beer.


I like to think of it as a seasoning. In low doses, like you'd find in most beers, its bitterness highlights the sweetness of the malt and barely. In a wine, where the percentage is higher, its bitterness is more noticeable and it balances out, rather than emphasises, the intense fruit flavours that wine has. Moving up to spirits, and that burn and viscous feeling is part of the experience. Alcohol is a bit of a weird chemical too. It bonds with both water and oils, making it a great carrier for flavour and enhancer of aftertaste. So of course when you remove alcohol from the equation you are going to have a drink which feels lacking.


But, now that we know exactly what we're missing, we can try to make up for it in our mocktails.


A lot of the producers will list recipes on their website, and that is a great place to start. A good quality mixer is almost essential as well. Even though there's no replacing the real thing, it certainly starts to feel a bit more adult as the flavours build and combine. Some spice helps to replicate the alcoholic burn, if that's what you like. That is definitely what I like, so I've taken to muddling some ginger or chilli into my virgin GnTs and mojitos. If you like a drink which doesn't use a mixer, like an Old Fashioned, a syrup is essential. The added sugar helps build some weight and substance here, and makes what you're drinking feel a bit more complete and less like a kid's soft drink. A simple sugar syrup is fine, but you can mix it up and be creative. Basil and black pepper syrup. Delicious.


Starting to understand this really makes me look at non-alcoholic spirits differently. Where once I saw a pale imitation, now I see golden opportunity. It isn't about pouring a shot of English Dry Spirit into a tonic and calling it a day. It's about playing with your tastes and engaging with what flavours you like. Yes, it's a bit more effort. Yes, you'll have some misses before you come across a solid, perfect hit. But it's a choose your own adventure. And I like that. A lot.


Lyre's Dark Cane Spirit

I like rum. Depending on my mood, it's one of my favourite spirits. I wanted to get this because I'm familiar with what it should be, or at least what it's trying to replicate. The nose has a lively a fresh spice to it, just not the brooding spice you'd expect to it. Instead of tobacco, molasses and oak, it is all vanilla, coffee and chocolate.


Buried Treasure (Rum Old Fashioned)

2 shots Lyre's Dark Cane

1 shot ginger syrup

Orange


Add cane spirit and ginger to a tumbler. Stir with ice. Garnish with orange rind.

Look, you don't need ginger. You could use a simple syrup. But the ginger heat really provides some length of flavour and helps with the complexity.


Little Lie (Cuba Libre)

1 shot Lyre's Dark Cane

Half a lime, sliced

Chilli

Mint

Cola


Muddle chilli, mint, lime and cane spirit in glass. Fill with ice and build with cola. Fun fact, the Cuba Libre is sometimes called the mentirita in Cuba, depending on your stance with the government. Cuba Libre translates to "a free Cuba" and mentirita is "little lie." An apt name for a non alcoholic drink.


Lyre's London Dry Spirit.

I like gin. Depending on my mood, it's one of my favourite spirits (I know, we've danced this dance - doesn't make it less true). With the amount of herbs and spices you can use with gin, I'm not surprised that there is a lot of non-alco gin around. You can really get into creating a unique flavour. The nose of this is really citrus driven - I get heaps of orange blossom and ripe lemons with a little bit of those spearmint leaf lollies.


Parthenos (Gin and Tonic)

2 shots Lyre's London Dry

Lemon

Mint

Ginger

Good quality tonic water


Muddle lemon, ginger and mint with the Dry Spirit in a tumbler. Add ice and build with tonic to taste. The lemon and mint really work well with the orange blossoms here, and makes it feel more Mediterranean than English garden.


The Bitter Truth (Americano)

1 shot Lyre's London Dry

1 shot BS Bitter

Slice of orange

Soda Water


I wanted to make a Negroni-type thing but didn't have any non-alcoholic vermouth. So I made do with this. Pour Lyre's London Dry and BS Bitter over ice and stir. Add slice of orange and taste. If it's too bitter, add soda water to dilute. You could probably add some rosemary here as a garnish too if you wanted.


ALTD Spirits Green Grocer

This is made with native Australian ingredients. Lemon myrtle, Tasmanian pepperberry and native thyme, among other things. Native Aussie botanicals definitely pack a punch, and this has a bit more under the hood than a lot of other non-alcoholic gins I've had. I had this on ice and didn't hate it. Which says a lot, really.


Land Down Under (Gin and Tonic)

2 Shots ALTD Green Grocer

Pepperberry (optional)

Good quality tonic

Any native garnishes you have on hand


Crush pepperberries and put them into a tumbler. Add ice and ALTD Green Grocer. If you have any native botanicals, add them to taste - sliced finger lime, lemon or cinnamon myrtle, lilipili, seablight - and top with a dry tonic. If worse comes to worst, you can use black pepper, lemon and rosemary instead, which is what ALTD suggest. But you do need to sing Aussie pub-rock classics while drinking this.


Russell Coight (Tom Collins)

2 shots ALTD Green Grocer

Splash of syrup (I used strawberry gum)

Soda water to taste

Dried lime and native leaves to garnish


In the late 1800s, your friends at the pub would say that Tom Collins was insulting you. You'd want to set him straight, so you'd ask the bartender for Tom Collins. And you'd get a drink instead. Assholes. Coit is Aussie slang for 'asshole' and Russell Coight is an iconic, Aussie outback survivalist. What better name for this rendition of the Collins?


Mix ALTD Green Grocer and syrup (to taste) in a wine glass. Add ice and soda water to taste. Garnish with a wheel of dried lime and crushed, dried native leaves, like cinnamon myrtle or saltbush.

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