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9 Jun 2022

Are non-alcoholic botanical spirits worth it?

Can alcohol-free gin alternatives make a convincing G&T? Our expert panel give their verdict, plus why they cost so much when they don't contain alcohol
gin and tonic

Alcohol-free 'gins' and botanical spirits have become increasingly popular in recent years as people look for low-alcohol alternatives to sip on.

Even gin stalwarts such as Gordon's and Tanqueray now sell non-alcoholic alternatives - known as 0% or botanical spirits, as to be called gin a drink legally has to have an alcohol content of 37.5% ABV (alcohol by volume).

But can these alcohol-free alternatives really replicate the taste of a G&T?

In our recent gin taste test, we asked our panel of experts to blind-taste and give their verdict on a selection of non-alcoholic botanical spirits. They tasted five options, including offerings from established gin brands such as Gordons and Sipsmith, to newcomers such as Pentire and Asda's own-brand. 

All were served like a G&T with a 50ml shot of spirit, ice, a slice of lemon and a can of tonic water. 

Overall our experts weren't particularly impressed, but some products fared better than others.


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What are non-alcoholic botanical spirits made from and why do they cost so much?

No-alcohol spirits are usually a mix of botanicals (herbs, spices and plant-based ingredients) designed to create a complex flavour profile that can be enjoyed in the same way a classic gin might be. Some look to recreate the gin experience, while others branch out into more adventurous flavour notes.

Despite containing no alcohol, there isn't a huge difference in price compared to standard gins. This might seem like a bit of a swizz, but actually alcohol plays a more crucial part in carrying the flavour of a drink than you might think, both extracting and retaining it better than a water-based equivalent. Trying to replicate this in a non-alcoholic version can be quite a complex and costly process. More raw ingredients are needed to create depth of flavour, which again adds to the expense. 

Alcohol acts as a preservative too, increasing shelf life, so producers also have to come up with alternative ways to preserve the drinks.  

Which are the best non-alcoholic botanical spirits? 

If you're looking to replicate the look and taste of a gin and tonic, low-alcohol options from Tanqueray and Gordon's are a good choice. 

As well as looking the most similar to their alcoholic counterparts, our experts felt they had at least some suggestion of an authentic G&T taste. This is where the pricier brands, such as Pentire and Sipsmith, fell short. 

Tanqueray Alcohol Free 0%

£16 for 70cl

 

Most of our experts agreed that Tanqueray's 0% spirit came close to the real deal, with the gin flavour notes really beginning to emerge once tonic had been added. 

It has strong notes of citrus and juniper, with a cardamom spice that becomes more balanced after the addition of tonic. 

Some of our experts felt the aftertaste was a bit soapy, however. 

Available at AmazonTesco and Sainsbury's 

Gordon's Alcohol Free spirit 

£14 for 70cl

If you like a sweeter G&T, Gordon's Alcohol Free spirit should appeal to your taste buds. 

Starting with aromas of juniper and light lavender, it becomes sweeter on the palate. One of our experts thought it had hints of lemon tart.

You may find its sweetness compromises its initial crispness, but overall our experts though this was a decent choice.

Available at AmazonTesco and Sainsbury's

As we found when we asked ordinary gin drinkers to try both and see if they can spot the difference, it's not a perfect substitute, but is a good option if you want to cut back on alcohol.


Best gins - discover the supermarket gins that impressed our experts 


Asda Extra Special Botanical drink

£10 for 70cl

Asda Extra Special Botanical drink

Our experts felt this budget non-alcoholic spirit had a fruitier style which was pleasant to drink but wasn't quite a substitute for a G&T. 

With the addition of tonic, notes of pear and melon sing through. The taste is refreshing but also has a dryness that makes it feel like more of a 'grown up' drink, according to our experts. 

It's well priced compared to other botanical options, so could be worth a try if you're looking to branch out, but don't expect it to replicate a G&T. 

Available at Asda

Pentire Adrift

£26.80 for 70cl

Pentire says its pricey spirit is inspired by flavours and scents native to the Cornish coastline, include rock samphire, sage, citrus and sea salt. 

Our experts detected lime and cucumber notes, which were emphasised even more by the addition of tonic. 

Although an interesting alternative to a G&T, the lack of juniper notes stop it from being a true substitute. 

Available at Amazon and Ocado

Sipsmith FreeGlider Non-Alcoholic Spirit 70cl

£22.50 for 70cl

This botanical split opinions on our panel, with one of our experts likening it to a G&T garnished with a lot of cucumber, while another found it too watery with not enough character. 

Tonic brings the citrus flavour through slightly, but it's not the most interesting flavour compared to other G&T alternatives. 

Available at AmazonSainsbury's and Waitrose


Prefer a glass of wine in the sun? See our pick of the best rosé wines, best prosecco and sparkling wines, and best red wines


Cheaper alcohol-free alternatives to try

If you don't want to fork out on an alcoholic-free botanical, try sticking with a glass of a plain or flavoured tonic for that refreshing bitter edge. There's a whole array of flavours to choose from now, plus it's not too sickly compared to some soft drinks. 

Another alternative our experts often suggest is kombucha - a fermented fizzy drink made from yeast, sugar and black tea that's become increasingly popular over the past few years. It has quite an acquired taste - fizzy and slightly sour - but has a similar texture and body to alcoholic drinks thanks to the fermentation process used to make it.


Discover more tasty ways to cut back on booze this summer with our round-up of the best low and no-alcohol alternatives.  


Our gin and botanical spirit taste test

In March 2022, we asked a panel of five experts to blind-taste and rate 20 supermarket gins and five non-alcoholic botanical spirits. 

You can find out more about our expert tasting panel, and our testing, in our full guide to the best gins.