We’re solidly into Dry January at this point, so we’re taking a break from our usual spirits to take a deep dive into some of the newer, non-alcoholic options on the market. Today, we’re looking at the non-alcoholic gin from Ritual (a company whose whiskey we have previously tested). I have higher hopes for this gin than I did for the whiskey, since the manufacturing process for gin is much easier to translate into a non-alcoholic version. So lets dive right in and see how this stacks up.
While we appreciate alcoholic spirits as much as anyone (maybe even moreso), we can’t ignore the fact that they’re, well… alcoholic. A healthy adult can only drink a small quantity before becoming impaired, and some can’t drink at all due to health issues. Which is bad news for parties or happy hours where you want to drink socially but either can’t or prefer not to. Not to mention, no one enjoys t`he occasional hangover the following morning. So a few years ago, three friends had an idea: what if you could make something that tasted like a spirit and made good cocktails, but without the intoxicating effects or the calories?
Launched in 2019, Ritual is a Chicago based company founded by novelist Marcus Sakey, his wife GG Sakey, and best friend David Crooch. The goal was to use botanical ingredients to mirror the smell, appearance, taste, and even the burn of alcohol but without the actual alcohol. The company remains privately owned, and in 2020 sold a small minority stake to the British distilled spirits giant Diageo.
The marketing materials are light on the details of how this product is made, which I suspect is because the process is proprietary and really is the “special sauce” that they want to keep secret.
What we do know is that, according to Ritual, this gin alternative starts as a set of botanicals that are distilled to extract the flavors within, and then blended to achieve the right flavor profile. According to their website the specific ingredients are:
Filtered water, natural flavors, sugar, xanthan gum, citric acid.
As you might notice, there is indeed sugar in this zero calorie gin. The company claims that it’s such a small amount that it doesn’t even register as more than two calories worth, and is listed in the nutrition facts as “<1 g” of carbs and sugar.
Overall, this looks exactly like a standard craft spirits bottle. Normally, I wouldn’t consider that to be a good thing — unique bottles are part of the experience when it comes to spirits — but for something that isn’t alcoholic (but wants to be part of that world), going with a standard design makes sense. The company is all about the ritual of drinking without the alcohol content, so using standard bottles is right on target to make you feel like you’re drinking ‘real’ spirits.
The label does hit my biggest pet peeve (being too large and obstructing the view of the contents within), but here I think that might be a strategic move instead of just a visual choice. Usually, you like to see the contents of the bottle… but in this case the contents are actually a bit cloudy. I don’t think that would be very appealing for many gin drinkers who prefer a crystal clear liquid, so they chose to cover it up as much as possible with a big white label that has some minimalist printing on it. You can still see the contents over the top and bottom, but it isn’t nearly as prominent as the label.
Can’t fault them for that design decision. In this case, I don’t actually want to see what’s in here, and the label looks much better.
Like I mentioned in the packaging, this liquid is a bit cloudy. Normally, with a gin, you’d expect a crystal clear liquid in your glass but here we’ve got something else going on. It just looks a bit strange and viscous.
The aroma coming off the glass is similarly odd. I get a good hit of botanicals and herbs but not in the usual combination you’d expect. There’s some juniper in there, but instead of being a “Christmas tree on Christmas morning” kind of freshness, it smells a bit more like pinecones that have fallen on the ground. There’s still that pine note in there but it’s more earthy and soapy — almost like cilantro. There’s also a good bit of lemon citrus adding some sharper fruity notes in there as well.
Those flavors are pretty much the only things you’re getting in the taste as well. The citrus is the first thing to hit you with a good bit of sourness and some lemon and lime components, but that’s followed very quickly by a spicy heat, as if you added a dash of cayenne pepper to the mix. That’s not a component I usually associate with gin, but I suppose it exists to simulate the alcoholic bite on the palate? It just seems strange and out of place here, though. After that dissipates, I get a tiny bit of juniper… but to be honest the spicy heat is what really lingers and that just about ruins any other flavors.
I really can’t underscore how much that spice destroys the rest of the flavors. I subjected my poor wife to a blind taste and she immediately called it as “spicy water”.
Adding a bit of ice tones things down a touch, which is appreciated. There’s still a faint pine-ish aroma coming off the glass, but the real change is in the taste.
Most noticeable is that the cayenne pepper burning sensation is greatly reduced. The lemon and lime citrus flavor is still the first thing you get, but that’s no longer overpowered and erased by the spicy component. Instead, it mixes much more with the juniper pine flavor that was trying very hard to make itself known before and does, in fact, result in something that tastes vaguely like a gin.
At this point, I’d call it as being similar to Bombay Sapphire — lighter flavors with a much lower intensity. But, improved as it is, it still has none of the same complexity as that other real gin. There’s about three flavors in here that I can pick up, and that cayenne spice continues to threaten to overwhelm them all.
There’s a lot going on in a traditional negroni. The Campari alone is a tough component that has a very strong flavor, which a gin needs to overcome or tame in order to function well in this cocktail.
Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough force in the flavors from this gin alternative to make it work.
All I get here is Campari with some vermouth-y wormwood notes on the edges. The citrus doesn’t make it through, nor does the juniper, which would usually balance out that Campari. It’s just a very bitter and unfortunate cocktail.
Fizz (Gin & Tonic)
Okay, this isn’t bad. And this might honestly be where this product is designed to function.
We talked previously about how with a little bit of ice the negative components are toned down and the positive flavors are given a chance to flourish. Adding a touch of tonic water here does indeed add some complexity and texture to the liquid that makes it much more enjoyable and something I might voluntarily drink. The citrus (lemon and lime) are front and center here with the juniper bringing up the rear, and thankfully the cayenne pepper is only a tiny hint at this point.
This isn’t a gin, and that’s evident from the start. But I think that, even as a gin alternative, this misses the mark.
For a traditional gin (skipping over the modern American nonsense for a minute), a bold shock of juniper is the trademark component that adds some interesting herbal and aromatic components to the cocktails you are making. Throw in a bunch of other botanicals and now you’ve got a party. Sure, some lemon and lime are often part of that cadre, but usually you see them in service of the juniper — not the other way around.
What we’ve got here is some liquid that has way too much citric acid added compared to the mark it’s shooting for. That lemon and lime component far overshadows the juniper and keeps it from really making an entrance, which is not something you want to see in a gin.
Add in the confusing spicy cayenne pepper spiciness, and it really no longer makes any sense as a gin.
It’s fine in a gin & tonic. But in every other way… I don’t think I would recommend this.
|Ritual Zero Proof Gin Alternative|
Produced By: RitualProduction Location: Illinois, United States
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Price: $28.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 1/5
Spicy water with some lemon, lime, and a light pine cone flavor.