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Food for thought: The truth about non-alcoholic spirits

"Why is a bottle of non-alcoholic spirits the same - or even more expensive - than a bottle of fully-leaded booze?"

The answer I desperately want to give is that we as a culture ascribe more value to alcohol than we should. Ethanol alcohol, in and onto itself, isn't really all that valuable at all. In fact, you can buy a gallon of the stuff on Amazon for under $40. Considering the average ABV of a Bourbon is 40%, around 300ml of your 750ml bottle is alcohol. That means there's around $3 of alcohol in your average bottle of Bourbon ($40/gallon = ~$.30/fl oz).

And, of course, that's not how spirits are made but, in my, maybe overzealous, effort to show that alcohol isn't the 'liquid gold' many of us make it out to be, it felt like, at least, a fair input.

But let's throw that analysis away. At the end of the day, what we're paying for in a bottle of great booze is the centuries-old craft, the generational stories, and the time it takes to transform the liquid.

And yes, there is the issue of the TTB tax baked into the bottle cost of alcoholic spirits that non-alcoholic spirits aren't subject to. Let's just agree that the 20% delta there covers the cost of innovation, creating this whole new category, figuring out how to replicate the burn of alcohol without ethanol, how to prevent spoilage (again) without ethanol and so much more.

As I see it, there's only one valid reason that a bottle of non-alcoholic spirits is worthy of equal pricing relative to their boozy cousins. Non-alcoholic spirits are a real food product, governed by the FDA and made with ingredients cultivated, farmed, and yes, even distilled. That requires an immense amount of natural and human resources and expertise across a large array of different industries and geographies.

Non-Alcoholic Spirits

Consider when a quality non-alcoholic spirits producer puts in the R&D time, the innovation, and the effort to craft an NA Tequila. All the tasting notes and flavor elements that a drinker would get in a great Reposado need to be identified, grown, harvested, decanted or distilled, and then crafted into an FDA-regulated product safe and healthful for human consumption. Think of the agave, vanilla, oak, citrus, and so on - all from the real stuff that real people have planted, farmed, harvested, transported, and finally magically transformed into something complex, bold, and delicious for your non-alcoholic Margarita.

Where the non-alcoholic spirits industry is governed by the FDA, the alcohol world is governed by the TTB, The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The same folks who have been responsible for regulating the sale and advertising of cigarettes for decades now (before 2003, they were known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). Let's just say there's a different level of transparency required here.

Here's the thing, I'm not saying one is better than the other or that non-alcoholic spirits should get a 'pass' on providing value to the drinker - I think there's equal magic, effort, resources, expertise, and creativity that go into each. I guess the net is simply that both versions of the product - alcoholic or non-alcoholic - have tremendous amounts of resources that go into them. All so that Manhattan, that Margarita, that Negroni is exciting, complex, and satisfying to the adult pallet.

Milan Martin
Founder & CEO
The Free Spirits Company

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