Whether it's for a new year's resolution, FebFast, Dry July or you're just being health conscious, it's now easier than ever before for gin lovers to give up alcohol without having to forego G&Ts, thanks to the increasing array of non-alcoholic gins coming onto the market.
But what does alcohol-free gin taste like? And can you tell the difference between regular gin and one that's non-alcoholic?
Determined to find out, we called cocktail hour at CHOICE HQ and pitted well known brand Gordon's London Dry Gin against its zero-alcohol version Gordon's Alcohol Free in a blind taste test with 12 intrepid participants. See How we test for the details.
Can you tell the difference?
Yes. It was pretty obvious to our tasters which sample contained alcohol, and which one didn't.
Comments such as ''has an alcoholic vibe'', ''smells alcoholic'' and ''definitely can taste the alcohol'' were peppered through their tasting notes for the regular gin. And all our tasters correctly identified the non-alcoholic gin sample.
You're clearly not going to get the buzz and warmth associated with alcohol. But alcohol content aside, the appeal of gin is largely its signature flavour derived from juniper berries and other botanicals.
So when you remove the alcohol, does the flavour hold its own?
Which 'gin' tastes best?
After tasting each sample, our tasters were asked to describe it and rate how much they liked it overall on a nine-point scale stretching from 'dislike extremely' through to 'like extremely.'
Gordon's London Dry Gin (served with tonic water) was rated more positively overall than Gordon's Alcohol Free (also served with tonic water), receiving a total of 78 points – compared with 63 points – out of a possible total of 108.
Here's what our taste testers said.
Gordon's London Dry Gin
Price: $39 ($5.57 per 100mL)
Tasting notes (when served with Fever Tree Indian tonic water):
The aroma and taste of alcohol – or specifically gin – was noted by the majority of our tasters in their comments.
''Definitely can smell the alcohol,'' said one. ''Discernable gin taste with tartness on the back of the throat,'' said another.
Several people referenced citrus or juniper flavours, commenting that it ''tastes like gin with prominent citrus'', has a ''stronger smell of juniper'' [than the other sample] and ''Smells like gin – scent of juniper (and tonic) citrus. Tastes like gin.''
Although most people rated it favourably, not everyone was a fan: "For me the alcohol was the strongest flavour. Couldn't detect any botanicals or other flavours."
Gordon's Alcohol Free
Price: $35 ($5 per 100mL)
Tasting notes (when served with Fever Tree Indian tonic water):
Reviews for Gordon's Alcohol Free were mixed.
Some people weren't convinced of its allure, leaving comments such as ''Pleasant, not harsh, but nothing earth shattering'', ''Does not give the warmth of an alcoholic beverage, but is not unpleasant'', and ''It's almost gin. Drinkable, but not quite there.''
A couple of tasters were less flattering, describing it as smelling or tasting ''medicinal''.
But others were more complimentary.
''Nice floral, botanical flavour. Really enjoyed the sophisticated non-alcoholic taste,'' said one participant.
''Tastes good, presumably non-alcoholic, but a strong alternative,'' said another.
One taster summed it up with, ''Overall not a bad adult alternative if you're looking to pace yourself or have a day off.''
Cheers to that!
How is non-alcoholic gin made?
A regular gin is a neutral spirit (usually distilled from a grain such as wheat or barley) infused with flavours from juniper berries and other botanicals. The flavour can be varied by the adding of different spices, fruits and floral elements.
A low or no-alcohol version can be made the same way with a neutral spirit and botanicals going through multiple rounds of distillation to remove all the alcohol from the liquid. Alternatively, it can be made without a base spirit at all – instead, botanicals are macerated (soaked) in water, then distilled until a gin-like flavour has developed.
Gordon's, for example, describes its alcohol-free product as having a ''bold, juniper led character'' that's made ''using only the finest distilled botanicals, just like the original Gordon's London Dry Gin'."
Zero alcohol, zero calories?
Gordon's Alcohol Free is labelled as being 0.0% alcohol, but it does actually contain trace amounts, although no more than 0.015% alcohol by volume (ABV). But this is a negligible quantity compared with the 37.5% ABV of Gordon's London Dry Gin. In fact, you could drink an entire 700mL bottle of Gordon's Alcohol Free without even consuming the alcoholic equivalent of one standard drink.
Another benefit of choosing non-alcoholic gin over an alcoholic one is the lower number of calories you'll consume.
A 30mL pour of Gordon's London Dry Gin contains 64 calories (about 270kJ), whereas the same shot of Gordon's Alcohol Free contains just 3.6 calories (about 15kJ). But unless you're drinking it neat, you still need to consider the calories in your choice of mixer.
Where can you buy non-alcoholic gin?
You can pick up Gordon's Alcohol Free 700mL – as well as four-packs of 330mL bottles premixed with tonic – from a range of brick-and-mortar and online retailers including Dan Murphy's, Kogan, Liquorland and Woolworths.
Gordon's is perhaps the best known gin brand to have brought out a non-alcoholic version (popular brand Tanqueray has also launched one, though it's not yet available in Australia). But there are many other brands of non-alcoholic gin available, so you can shop around to find the botanical mix that most tickles your taste buds.
Each volunteer received one of each sample identified by a code only.
Our test coordinator got behind the bar and mixed the drinks. Both the regular gin and the non-alcoholic gin were served with tonic water, at a ratio of one part gin to two parts tonic.
Twelve people took part in our blind taste test. Each person received one of each sample identified by a code only. For each sample they were asked to:
- taste it
- describe it
- rate it on a nine-point hedonic scale, using descriptors from 'dislike extremely' through to 'like extremely'
- say which sample they believed to be non-alcoholic.
The score for each sample is the sum of all ratings out of a possible total of 108.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.