Bourbon is an iconic American whiskey that has been popular for centuries. The sweet, oaky, vanilla flavors make it a quintessential spirit for sipping neat or using in classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned or Manhattan. However, with rising health consciousness and sobriety movements, demand for non-alcoholic bourbon alternatives has grown.
Can you find a booze-free bourbon substitute that retains the familiar flavors without the alcohol? I tested some of the most popular options to find out. Here’s my review of non-alcoholic bourbon drink substitutes.
What Gives Bourbon Its Signature Flavor Profile?
Before reviewing alcohol-free options, it helps to understand what makes real bourbon taste the way it does.
The Mash Bill
Bourbon must contain at least 51% corn in its mash bill (grain recipe). The corn lends bourbon its sweetness. The remaining portion usually contains rye and malted barley.
The Wood Barrels
Bourbon acquires much of its flavor from the charred oak barrels it’s aged in. Bourbon picks up vanilla and caramel notes from the wood.
The Angel’s Share
As bourbon ages in the barrels, some liquid evaporates – the “angel’s share.” This concentration of flavors helps develop bourbon’s oakiness.
Any good non-alcoholic bourbon alternative needs to replicate these essential elements.
Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey
Ritual is one of the most popular alcohol-free spirit brands. Let’s see how their bourbon substitute stacks up.
Ritual uses a 9-botanical blend to mimic bourbon flavors. It’s meant to be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or mixed into cocktails.
The aroma is oaky and sweet, like caramel corn. The liquid is golden brown and dense. Initial flavors are predominately vanilla and cinnamon with a bit of molasses. It finishes with potent woodiness and a kick of spice.
Ritual nails the bourbon barrel notes. The vanilla, caramel, and woody flavors transport you. It’s a touch sweeter than real bourbon but still complex and convincing.
Three Spirit Livener
Three Spirit takes a unique approach with its distilled non-alcoholic spirits. Let’s sample Livener, their bourbon alternative.
Livener contains botanicals like saffron, goji berry, and chamomile designed to energize and renew. It aims to provide bourbon flavor along with functional benefits.
Livener is golden amber in color. The nose has bright citrus and ginger notes along with vanilla. Drinking it reveals complex layers of orange peel, baking spices, honey, and vanilla. It finishes dry with lingering spice and oak.
Livener nails the spicy, vanilla bourbon vibe. The citrus aromas are unexpected but make it taste vibrant. Of all the options, this feels closest to a real whiskey.
CleanCo Mocktails Bourbon
CleanCo makes a line of non-alcoholic mixers. Let’s see if their Mocktails Bourbon holds up on its own.
This aims to mimic bourbon for cocktail mixing. It uses flavors like vanilla, cinnamon, and oak extract to create familiar bourbon notes.
This has a maple brown color. The aroma is sweet and intensely vanilla. Drinking it reveals candy-like vanilla and cinnamon flavors, along with a hit of spicy ginger. It has a smooth mouthfeel, but the finish turns slightly artificial.
This needs to be corrected if you’re expecting a straight bourbon flavor. It drinks more like a vanilla soda. The flavor profile is artificial and one-dimensional. But it could work nicely mixed into cocktails.
Ghia Leap Year Bourbon
Ghia is an alcohol-free aperitif brand that launched a limited edition bourbon flavor for 2022. Here’s how it tastes.
Ghia Leap Year contains botanicals like sage, dandelion, and burdock root. They aimed to make a spirit-forward NA beverage ideal for sipping.
This has a light caramel color. Aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon zest emerge. Drinking it reveals spiced maple, vanilla oak, and cinnamon flavors. It has excellent viscosity and a smooth finish.
While not a precise bourbon dupe, this has lovely flavor and complexity. The maple and baking spice notes deliver a delicious, bourbon-inspired experience. It’s sweet yet perfectly balanced.
Final Verdict: Which is the Best Bourbon Substitute?
All the options tasted different from one another. If I had to pick one winner, Three Spirit Livener most convincingly mimicked straight bourbon’s flavor nuances. The ritual also came remarkably close with its rich vanilla oakiness.
Ghia Leap Year they uniquely evoked bourbon’s Spirit for a more conceptual take. And CleanCo Mocktails excelled as a mixer.
The market for non-alcoholic bourbons and whiskeys has expanded exponentially. While no substitute is precisely the same, these leading options capture the familiar flavors we love creatively and deliciously.
So next time you’re mixing up a cocktail or want to sip on something smooth without the alcohol, try one of these top choices. Your tastebuds will thank you!
5 Frequently Asked Questions About Bourbon Substitutes
Still curious about bourbon flavor alternatives? Here are answers to some common questions.
- What’s the best bourbon substitute for cocktails?
CleanCo Mocktails Bourbon works best for mixing into cocktails. It has strong sweet, and spicy flavors to balance and enhance other ingredients.
- Which option is the closest dupe in taste?
Three Spirit Livener most convincingly mimics real bourbon’s complex spice, vanilla, and oak notes.
- Is there an alcohol-free whiskey instead of bourbon?
The ritual also makes a zero-proof whiskey that mimics rye and bourbon. Lyre’s Dark Cane Spirit aims to duplicate bourbon precisely.
- Do any alcohol-free bourbons contain real whiskey?
None of these contain distilled liquor. They use botanicals, spices, and flavors to recreate bourbon-tasting notes without whiskey.
- Can you recommend an NA bourbon for sipping straight?
Ritual, Three Spirit Livener, and Ghia Leap Year all shine when sipped neat and hold up well over ice. Their depth and balance make them ideal for savoring straight.
Bourbon has an unmistakable flavor profile. While no NA beverage fully replicates it, brands like Ritual, Three Spirit, and Ghia are coming impressively close. We can now enjoy complex, spirit-forward bourbon tastes anytime we want – no hangover required.
So pick up a bottle of one of these top non-alcoholic bourbon alternatives. Then fix yourself an NA Old Fashioned or Mint Julep and sip away with no regrets. Because finely crafted flavor is something we can all raise a glass to, with or without the alcohol.