Alternatives to Alcohol: Is the Ritual Part of a Healthy Drinking Life?
At one time or another, most, perhaps all of you reading this have tried to cut down on your alcohol intake.
Last weekend we had a family reunion and on a whim we chose to try cocktails based on Ritual Zero-Proof alternatives, available as gin, whisky, rum and tequila. We started with gin and tonics made with Ritual Alternative Gin, which has a surprisingly robust botanical nose and, like many Ritual alternatives, a viscosity that resembles alcohol. The G&T was quite a pleasant sip, and even for those of us who had been drinking for years, the botanicals in the gin, along with the tonic, made it one of the tastiest. soft drink in memory. Such a non-alcoholic alternative also allowed my daughter, who is expecting, to have a drink with her family.
I later made Manhattans with Ritual Alternative Whiskey, which has hints of vanilla, caramel, and smoke that suggest barrel aging, and capsicum (chilli) contributing to the slight burn in the throat we let’s wait for whiskeys. Again, any adult who’s had a few drinks in their life can say it wasn’t alcohol, but it was close flavor, mouthfeel and color of whisky.
I posted a picture of Ritual Alternatives on Facebook and Instagram and shouldn’t have been surprised to see that many of those who turned up their noses were also those most passionate about traditional spirits. A distinguished writer of bourbon books wrote, “Did you lose a bet? alternative. Seems disrespectful to Devil’s Nectar.
Obviously, convincing some people of Ritual’s value in cocktails will be an uphill battle, and it didn’t get off to a promising start.
Ritual Alternatives hit the market in 2019, just before the pandemic, and they’re the product of three friends from Chicago: David Crooch, Marcus Sakey (a Chicago novelist previously featured in Newcity) and Marcus’ wife, GG.
“Marcus is my best friend,” Crooch says, “and when I went to his house one night he was playing on his cutting board. He was just trying to do something that could replace a cocktail. He used things like ginger and chili peppers. I asked, ‘What in the world are you doing?’ He said, ‘Just try this,’ and I took a sip. I looked at him and said, ‘That’s awful.’ But a few hours later that night, I said, “You know, if we could do something that approximates the flavor profile of known spirits”…and that became the only thing we talked about tonight- the. And then we talked about it again the next day, and then non-stop for the past few years. Now that’s a real thing.
You can be served the no-fail Crooch and Sakeys alternative at places like Gordon Ramsay Burger and Chicago Athletic Association’s Cindy’s, or you can buy bottles of Ritual alternatives at Binny’s or online at Total Wine & More.
Just over half of us want to drink less
Diageo, the British drinks company, a major distributor of spirits and the world’s largest producer of Scotch whisky, recently made a significant investment in Ritual. “Diageo is our sole investor,” Crooch said. “They recognize the change in category. They see where it leads. Thirty percent of people don’t drink alcohol at all, and fifty-two percent of actively drinking adults try to drink less.
So Ritual may be hitting the market at the right time. But how do you go about creating a tasty and credible alternative to gin, whiskey, rum and tequila? “We decided to go straight to the heart of the trade: we made many trips to Louisville, the distillation center of the United States. We’ve worked with distillers and flavorers, and hired a third-party team to do the research for us. Basically, we went to the pros.
“A lot of people said, ‘It just can’t be done. But we were determined to do it and we found the right people to do it.
“We decided the best way to go was to focus on the cocktail, and so how do you replicate gin and whiskey well enough to work in a cocktail? It’s a bit like coconut milk, isn’t it? Coconut milk tastes different from cow’s milk. You can feel the difference immediately. But you use coconut milk the same way as cow’s milk. Coconut milk is close enough to work great in my latte. I don’t need dairy if I don’t want it. Can you make whiskey exactly as it’s normally made, minus the alcohol? No you can not. But is there a way to create a drink that people can use instead of spirits? Absolutely yes.”
But it wasn’t easy. Crooch tells us that “for our first two [gin and whiskey] alternatives, we did over 500 iterations to get it right.
Created for cocktails
My first move was to open the alternate whiskey and pour myself a straight shot. It wasn’t bad, not bad at all, but the best way to enjoy a Ritual alternative is to mix it into a cocktail. “Our products,” explains Crooch, “were designed for use in cocktails. But we’ve found that about twenty percent of our whiskey consumers drink Ritual alternatives neat or over ice. Which is wonderful! That’s actually how I use it often, but yes, they are meant to be used in cocktails. The same probably happens with nut milks. The first time people try oat milk, maybe it tastes weird. Maybe they have it in their coffee a few times, and it becomes their go-to for adding it to coffee. Then one day they pour a glass because they want a glass of milk.
The brand name “Ritual” is an evocative choice. There is the ritual of making a cocktail at home, but there is also the ritual of enjoying a cocktail with friends. “Let’s say you all get together,” Crooch hypothesizes, “maybe you’re all at a conference, and everyone’s meeting at the hotel bar, and you’re going to celebrate a big hit. , but you don’t want to go because you don’t want to drink that drink. You’re trying to avoid it, aren’t you? But with Ritual you can not only go, but you can say yes to another glass. And another. You can continue to be part of it. And if the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that you should say yes to more time with your friends and family; with Ritual, we can also say yes to another drink.
A taste, a trigger?
In “I Second That Emotion”, Smokey Robinson sings, “A taste of honey is worse than none at all.” So I was thinking, if I was an alcoholic, and I was trying to avoid alcoholic beverages of all kinds, would a Ritual whiskey sour, or Manhattan or whatever, make that process of avoiding alcohol alcohol even more difficult? In this (imaginary) scenario, I try to avoid whisky, for God’s sake; I went cold turkey and try to avoid all alcohol. Then I have something that’s pretty close, and it’s like, “Shit, this is good. I was expecting this flavor. It couldn’t be better. Or could he? Maybe a little real whiskey wouldn’t hurt.
I told this hypothetical scenario to Crooch.
“Could our alternatives be a trigger for an alcoholic? asks Crooch. “Spiral, isn’t it?” And we made a very conscious effort not to sell to that demographic at all. On the site, some people say, “You know what, I really want to try this, but I think I probably shouldn’t.” Personal choice, right? We also heard, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been looking for this forever. I am a recovering alcoholic. And I can have that and have all the experiences and do everything. However, if you think about it and decide that you shouldn’t take the risk, then I fully respect that you stay away from our product.
All about balance
The main message that Ritual is trying to send, Crooch tells us, is that it’s about balance, and “the opportunity to be part of the conversation, to be part of the party, to be part of the cheers and hugs but not necessarily alcohol, so deeply embedded in our social traditions. I love alcohol. We are a company of drinkers. But we have had meatless Mondays, and in the same way, you can choose one day each week when you don’t have alcohol.
Although Ritual offers a buzz-free experience, these alternatives provide the opportunity to join the party, even if some struggle, and enjoy a genuinely tasty drink with friends and family. If you’ve been a long-time fan of the hard stuff, you’ll probably be the hardest sell, but instead of thinking of Ritual as a gin or whiskey alternative, it might be better to just think of it as another drink – and a voucher – which happens to be non-alcoholic.
Editor of restaurants and bars for New cityDavid also writes a weekly food column for Wednesday newspaper in Oak Park and is a frequent contributor of food/drink and travel coins to the Chicago Grandstand, Plate loader and other publications. David has also written chapters for several books, including Street food around the world, street foodand The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. Contact: [email protected]