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How Non-Alcoholic Spirits Are Made

Apr 26th, 2024

Mocktails and non-alcoholic spirits are taking the market by storm, offering people more when it comes to zero-alcoholic beverages. 

But how does zero-proof vodka still taste like vodka, or how does non-alcoholic beer still have that characteristic hoppy taste? 

Here’s a good introduction into how non-alcoholic spirits and beer are made!

How is zero-proof liquor made?

Ingredients used

The ingredients used to make zero-proof alcohol are the same used to make alcoholic alcohol! Whether the spirit being made is rum, gin, whiskey, tequila or vodka, the ingredients remain the same while the process is the only thing that changes slightly. 

Like full-proof liquors, zero-proof liquors have a base ingredient that’s fermented and then distilled with flavorings to achieve the final taste. Although the ethanol from the alcohol is pretty much nonexistent, the flavorings remain and even the characteristics of the base ingredient still show up in the spirit. Pretty neat, if we do say so ourselves!


The main way to create zero-proof spirits is via distillation — which, if you’re already familiar with how different kinds of spirits are made, is also how alcohol content is increased in a spirit! 

Alcohol is made by making a mash from fruits or grains and allowing yeasts to feed on the natural sugars found in the drained liquid. The yeast consumes the sugars and produces ethanol as a byproduct, and the ethanol is what makes a drink alcoholic.

However, a fermented liquid can only reach ethanol levels of about 15-20% before the yeast starts to die. From here, distillers take the liquid to a still and heat the mixture enough to turn the ethanol into vapor, which they can then condense it back into a liquid that has a much higher ethanol content.

Here’s where paths diverge, though. While alcoholic spirits are made with the condensed, higher ethanol stuff, non-alcoholic spirits are made with the water that’s been left behind. The distillation process removes nearly all of the alcohol and leaves behind only trace amounts totaling less than 0.5% ABV. More water can be added to take the ABV down to 0.0%, making a truly zero-proof drink. 

The final product will have all the flavors of the fermented liquid, but without any of the alcohol! 

Infusion & maceration

Another popular method of creating non-alcoholic spirits is by infusing a liquid with natural flavors such as botanicals, fruits or spices. The liquid is usually the previously-distilled, zero-proof stuff made though the distilling process, so it starts off being zero-proof before the flavors get added. 

There are two main ways to get flavor into the distilled water: vapor infusion and maceration. 

Vapor infusion works by heating the water into a vapor and allowing the vapor to pass through a selection of natural ingredients; the vapor picks up flavor as it passes through, then is cooled and condensed back into a liquid. Maceration, on the other hand, is just making a cup of tea using loose leaf tea — natural flavorings are added directly into the water, allowed to steep and are strained out after the desired level of strength is achieved. 


You’re already familiar with the percolation process, as it’s the exact same you use to make your coffee each morning!

Distilled water is passed through a conical filter filled with a ground-up pulp of flavoring ingredients — using a tincture or mash instead of raw ingredients allows the water to pass through more slowly and draw out more flavor from the natural oils. As such, zero-proof spirits made via percolation are usually more deeply flavored than infused ones.


What do sustainable cooking oils and zero-proof spirits have in common? They both can be made via a cold-pressing method!

Cold pressing is as simple as it sounds. Flavoring ingredients like fruit, herbs or spices are slowly pressed under a powerful presser in order to extract the flavorful oils, which are then added to the distilled zero-proof spirit. 

How non-alcoholic beer is made

While beer isn’t necessarily a spirit, it’s worthwhile adding it into this list anyway!

Ultimately, there are three ways to make zero-alcohol beer: controlled fermentation, dealcoholization and dilution. 

Controlled fermentation involves keeping temperatures low enough to prevent the yeast from converting too much of the sugar to alcohol during the fermentation process. The result is a beer with minimal alcohol or even none at all! There are also some kinds of yeast that naturally produce less alcohol, so using that kind of yeast makes the brew even less potent!

The second process involves removing the alcohol from the already brewed alcoholic beer. This can be done by distilling it and allowing the alcohol to burn away, pumping it full of nitrogen and allowing the bubbles to catch the alcohol molecules or by using reverse osmosis to trap the alcohol behind a thin membrane while allowing the rest of the beer to path through. 

Finally, the last method for making non-alcoholic beer is to dilute the beer with enough water or flavorings to bring the ABV down.

As zero-proof liquor and non-alcoholic spirits become more popular and more widely available, the world of non-alc cocktails and non-alc drinks grows more interesting and more tasty! Try substituting your favorite full-proof cocktail with a zero-proof mocktail version and see how you like it! 

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Featured photo by Emerson Vieira on Unsplash

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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