Reviews: ArKay Alcohol-Free Whiskeys

, | March 24, 2021

Editor’s Note: These products were provided to us as review samples by ArKay Beverages. This in no way, per our editorial policiesinfluenced the final outcome of this review. 

Your smile is our top priority.

This declaration brought to you by ArKay Beverages. ArKay was founded in 2011 and is the first zero-proof spirit brought to market. Now there are several brands, but in 2011 this was a blue-ocean kind of idea.  

Founder Reynald Vito Grattagliano wanted to offer the world a safe night out, a party that doesn’t ruin your diet (and “will not affect your libido!”), an alternative experience to both booze and the disappointing mocktails presented in its place.

ArKay’s whole concept revolves around the “W.A.R.M. molecule” – “discovered” by Grattagliano – that produces a subtle burn on the palate. According to the brand, the products are water based and have said molecule added to them as well as flavoring, but no sugar or sweetners. I’m not a scientist, but I’ve eaten food, and I can tell you from first sip that molecule is “capsiacin” and feels nothing like “alcohol.”

Many zero-proof tipples are made with a gin-like re-distillation using neutral spirits, and then distilled again to evaporate the alcohol and isolate the desired flavors in a solution of mostly water. The process used to make ArKay, however, remains a mystery. According to the label, that method is requires quite a few preservatives to maintain.

ArKay make 33 different alcohol alternatives. They even have an alcohol-free vodka (so, water?). I applaud the trailblazing they’ve done. I really do. The vision is beautiful: sharp people hanging out in bars, making great life decisions; someone drinking 12 zero-proof old fashioneds, driving themselves home without incident; karaoke singers staying on the beat.

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But you’re not here for my daydreams. Let’s get to the reason I’m writing this, to the time I’m saving you. Let’s talk about how they taste. It should be noted ArKay sent us a full range of their non-alcoholic whiskey bottlings. We opted to review four.


The bottlings of ArKay (image via Cindy Capparelli/The Whiskey Wash)

Tasting Notes: ArKay Alcohol-Free Bourbon Whiskey

Vital Stats: Sold in one-liter bottles for $50.

Appearance: Very similar to instant iced tea: slightly cloudy medium amber

Nose: So much smoke – it’s like smelling all the dirty chimneys in a city at once. Curiously, this bourbon alternative is ‘heated.’ I thought maybe the wrong stickers had ended up on my bottle. But, alas, the website proclaims the bourbon to be peated as well.

Palate: If I ever drank water used to wash barbecue tools and also tires, this is what it would taste like. The spicy afterburn fits right in.

Tasting Notes: ArKay Alcohol-Free Canadian Whiskey

Vital Stats: Sold in one-liter bottles for $50.

Appearance: This liquid is a watery pale amber.

Nose: Peach Rings, the gummy candy, blend with a solvent aroma and a note of artificial caramel.

Palate: Tart and plastic-y with a finish of heat followed by a weird menthol coolness. The Peach Rings are back again on the mid-palate before being overwhelmed.

Tasting Notes: ArKay Alcohol-Free Scottish Whiskey

Vital Stats: Sold in one-liter bottles for $50.

Appearance: This one is a pale amber.

Nose: Floral like a cleaning product with artificial caramel and latex.

Palate: Reminiscent of wood shavings soaked in water, the Scottish edition is softly tart with the capsaicin spice and an aspartame finish.

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Tasting Notes: ArKay Alcohol-Free Tennessee Whiskey

Vital Stats: Sold in one-liter bottles for $50.

Appearance: Slightly cloudy medium pale amber that looks like weak tea.

Nose: This one straight up smells like gasoline and that fake caramel again, with a note of ‘new car smell.’

Palate: Sour, burnt rubber that makes you grateful for the burn at the end, which somehow has a bit more sweetness.

Final Thoughts: They are just all so bad. There is a strong evolutionary impulse telling me these are not things I should be putting in my mouth. It was a struggle to keep them there long enough to assemble these short tasting notes. I told myself I would make a cocktail with the best one. But I can’t do it. You, dear reader, would be wise to opt for the seltzer evermore.

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Cindy Capparelli

In 2014 I founded Portland Bitters Project with the vision to create the best bitters on the market. Now our bitters are enjoyed around the country and internationally to make expressive, delicious cocktails. I teach at two Portland colleges and visit private groups, distilleries and maker's spaces to spread the...