Whiskey (or whisky, depending on the style) is a staple for cold weather cocktails. But until recently, booze-free options were either lackluster—the warm lemonade of a whiskey-less toddy—or literally impossible, like a non-alcoholic Manhattan. Luckily, zero-proof whiskey options have exploded over the last few years, but it’s rare to find the non-alcoholic alternative that is one-size fits all. Armed with a cocktail shaker, an array of mixers, and a lot of ice, I set out to test seven whiskey alternatives to find out how they could best replace bourbon, rye, and other whiskeys. Below you’ll find the best non-alcoholic whiskey alternatives for every cocktail. There are some that are “uncanny imitations” that taste just like the real thing; three options that simulate the warmth whiskey gives you when drinking it that will satisfy those looking for heat over all else; and two “impressionists” that don’t taste like whiskey at all, but will satisfyingly scratch the same itch.
Photo by Spiritless
Spiritless’s Kentucky 74 is the closest to the real deal you can get. An undeniable blast of charred oak stays with you from first sniff to last swallow, the body and slip are perfect, and rather than using the industry standard capsaicin to imitate the burn of alcohol (more on that later), it has a subtle tongue numbing effect, like sichuan peppercorns. Sweet corn and buttery caramel flavors are present but not cloying, and a sharp kerosene note contributes to its verisimilitude (though becomes unpleasant in cocktails with bitter ingredients like a Manhattan). Kentucky 74 pairs perfectly with mixers and makes I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-bourbon old-fashioneds and mint juleps. This is the one to sip straight or on the rocks for the most accurate bourbon alternative.