Tournée Minérale, detox or toxic?
Bôtan Distillery, Antwerp - 01/02/2023. February is the month when we collectively forsake alcohol. During "Tournée Minérale," we are tempted by alternatives without alcohol, such as mocktails, alcohol-free gin, or de-alcoholized wine. But are these alternatives actually healthier?
About Tournée Minérale
Tournée Minérale was launched in 2017 by 'De Druglijn' and the 'Stichting tegen Kanker' (Foundation against Cancer). The campaign raises awareness about alcohol and its negative effects on individual health and society. But is alcohol-free inherently healthy? According to Antwerp's Bôtan Distillery, that's a myth.
I was astonished when reading the ingredient lists of non-alcoholic gins, mocktails, and de-alcoholized wines. The choice not to drink alcohol is a conscious and healthy one. So why do we consume unhealthy alternatives? - Ina Averhals, co-founder of Bôtan Distillery
Is Alcohol-Free Healthy?
There's no doubt: alcohol is unhealthy. For those who thought this article promotes alcohol use, we disappoint. However, we aim to make it clear that alcohol-free doesn't necessarily mean healthy. Often, we believe we're making a healthier or better choice by ordering a non-alcoholic drink like a mocktail. No alcohol, so it must be healthy, right? That's not entirely true.
Alcohol-Free Spirit or Alcohol-Free Lemonade?
Today, there are many alcohol-free alternatives. These are elegantly packaged and serve as imitations during an apéro or dinner. However, many non-alcoholic brands don't pay much attention to the contents of the bottle and produce their products using industrial ingredients and methods. The consumer? They're unaware of any harm: 'No alcohol, so it must be healthy, right?'
So, what are your alcohol-free spirits, wines, or mocktails made from? Certainly not real ingredients. The landscape is flooded with additives in alcohol-free gins, wines, and mocktails. Non-alcoholic drinks in the premium segment rely on the building blocks of cheap and minor soft drinks: water, sugar, artificial flavors, so-called natural flavors, and preservatives including citric acid (E330) and ascorbic acid (E300). It's unfortunate that the trend of alcohol-free has become almost synonymous with industrially manufactured drinks that aren't really healthy.
The Non-Alcoholic Beverage Sector
The non-alcoholic sector received a significant boost with the arrival of Seedlip, the world's first non-alcoholic spirit under the wing of one of the world's largest beverage giants, Diageo. The market is worth over 1.48 trillion USD globally and grows at a rate of about 4.65% annually (Statista, 2022, Non-Alcoholic Drinks Worldwide). Driven by this growth and market value, it's no wonder that the sector of non-alcoholic spirits, cocktails, and wines became industrialized from the start.
Can It Be Different?
Antwerp's Bôtan Distillery returns to the original source of alcohol-free flavor: Nature. The alcohol-free institute develops and produces only artisanal alcohol-free beverages, blending them from real ingredients cultivated in Schoten and Nijlen.
What a winemaker does on their winery, we do in our herb fields and our distillery. We harvest and cultivate our herbs ourselves, and then distill them individually before blending them into alcohol-free Botanical Spirits, Botanical Cocktails, and Botanical Wines. - Ina Averhals, co-founder of Bôtan Distillery.
Their motivation comes from their passion for all things natural. Ina Averhals, co-founder of Botan Distillery: It's a pity that the sector was immediately industrialized. Young brands and their owners immediately turn to industrial techniques for flavor production.
Imagine if the founder of champagne, Dom Pérignon, had chosen the industrial method right away. Well, then the champagne we know today would never exist. The noble drink would consist of alcohol, water, and natural grape aroma. Noble, or deception? - Ina Averhals, co-founder of Bôtan Distillery.
Ina Averhals, co-founder of Bôtan Distillery: Over five years ago, I visited distilleries in Belgium and the Netherlands. What I saw there opened my eyes. Classic distilleries entered the market of non-alcoholic spirits, which they eagerly offer to brands through white labels. And that's where it goes wrong. The production process of a non-alcoholic spirit can't be compared to the process of classic spirits. And the same goes for alcohol-free mocktails and wines. You can't rely on the preservative nature of alcohol (ethanol). Moreover, ethanol quickly absorbs flavors, so an alcoholic spirit requires only a fraction of the spices compared to an artisanal non-alcoholic spirit. Due to these challenges, brands and distilleries opt for an industrial solution. They don't distill fresh herbs. Instead, they combine water with artificial flavors, so-called natural flavors, and preservatives.
Alcohol-Free, with a Touch of Poison
If alcohol-free alternatives don't contain alcohol or real ingredients, 'What do they contain?' Below is an overview of the building blocks of the alcohol-free sector.
Did you know a drink can be called alcohol-free up to 0.5%? So, non-alcoholic alternatives aren't completely alcohol-free. Why do many drinks still contain traces of alcohol? Many non-alcoholic spirits and wines use a technique called 'de-alcoholization.' Essentially, alcohol is removed from a spirit or wine using an intensive industrial method. This process relies on techniques that go against the principles of natural flavor development. This process leaves traces of alcohol.
2. E-numbers, artificial flavors, natural flavors:
Much has been written about E-numbers. It's clear that the long-term health effects are detrimental. Did you know that a natural flavor is created in a laboratory? Or did you think citric acid is literally squeezed from a lemon? An aroma is considered natural if it meets two requirements. First, it must be derived from a natural source (which could be a natural mold or petroleum). Second, it must be obtained using a natural process, such as cooking, steaming, or fermentation.
Tip: Read the back of your bottle
Take on the challenge. Read the back of a non-alcoholic spirit, cocktail, or wine bottle. Do you see these ingredients? Well, then the spirit is industrially manufactured. Moreover, you'll find these industrial ingredients in a soda too. Why pay a high price for an imitation product in premium packaging and storytelling?
Tip for distinguishing quickly industrialized non-alcoholic imitations:
Citric Acid (E330)
Potassium Sorbate (E202)
Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C, E300)
Sodium Benzoate (E211)
Colorings — E129 or E102 or E124 or E122