Searching for a bourbon replacement.

27 January 2022

Disclaimer: I'm not getting anything for these reviews. I haven't been asked to write them, I'm not being compensated for them, and I don't have an in with any of these companies. My Amazon links are affiliate links but I rarely get anything from them (and you are, of course, free to look at the affiliate link, do your own search on Amazon, and buy it on your own). I'll also probably update this post once in a while as I try new products. Also, none of what I'm writing is medical advice. Some of the stuff I tried may have interactions with medication you may be taking or negative effects in conjunction with medical conditions you may have. If you fall into any category where this could be an issue, talk to your physician first.

As I've mentioned in the recent past, I've been starting to feel the years more strongly. To this end I quit drinking a while ago. Ironically, I've put on some weight since then, because my body likes to give me the finger occasionally. Also, if the pandemic ever lets up (and I'm not sure that it will) I'd like to have some option to ask for during times when I'm expected to drink (such as all-hands meetings with my co-workers).1 Anyway, after finding out on Twitter that non-alcoholic drinks were a thing, I went searching.

First, I'd like to prefix this by stating that my sensorium is really, really nonstandard. Synaesthesia aside I don't have much of a smell of sense or taste. I haven't had covid, I've always been this way. As anyone who knows me can attest to, this means that I can and do eat some pretty horrifying things. The reason I bring this up is because I'm going to be talking about things that I (try to) smell and taste. So, please don't take my opinions as "this thing sucks" or "this thing doesn't suck."

The first thing I tried was Whiskey Alternative from Ritual Zero Proof. RZP advertises it as "all the soul-warming heat and rich spice of a great American whiskey" though it's specifically recommended as a mixer or cocktail component. I'm not particularly a fan of cocktails so it's largely lost on me in this respect. However, over a period of months I did make my way through a bottle of Whiskey Alternative after work, each time neat after dinner. I'm sorry to say that I couldn't really taste anything. It does bear a resemblence to whiskey, but when you pour it the liquid is kind of syrupy (but doesn't feel like it when you drink it). All in all, it's a no-go for me. Maybe folks with a sense of taste will like it, maybe it's really only good for making mixed drinks. It wasn't particularly good in hot cinnamon tea.

A few weeks later I did some additional searching and came across an outfit called Lyre's, which has an extensive catalog of products (including amaretto, aperol, bourbon, campari, and rum). They also claim that they worked for an unknown number of years to make decent. I don't know if this is true or not. I also haven't tried their products yet.2

Around the same time I stumbled across a company called Kin Euphorics, which seems like this weird, hippy alternative... something. Their "About Us" page talks about ayurvedic medicine, quantum physics (bleh), karma, kindred spirits, all that New Agey stuff that probably sets your teeth on edge regardless of what path you walk. But, I figured, "What the hell." I wasn't expecting something that smells and tastes exactly like Four Roses, just something that approximates bourbon. In looking through their website I came across two things that seemed worth trying, Social Magic High Rhode, which is supposed to be for kicking back during social situations with friends and family, and Delve Into Dreams Dream Light, which is marketed as kind of a relaxing-after-a-long-day nightcap. Much to my surprise their products are available on Amazon (High Rhode, Dream Light, both affiliate links) so I bought a 16.7 fluid ounce bottle of each because I was doing some last minute Yule shopping.

A day or two later they arrived on my doorstep. The first thing I tried was the High Rhode social hour drink. The label says that it contains a blend of adaptogens and nootropic compounds that are supposed to be both tasty and good for you. If you came out of the 90's chances are you remember so-called "smart drugs," 95% of which were worthless. The ingredients on the label include GABA, L-theanine, Citicoline, caffeine, 5-HTP, L-tyrosine, Phenylethylamine, and rhodiola rosea root extract, most of which sound very familiar from the 90's. But I try to keep an open mind.

I cracked open the High Rhode bottle. The liquid looks like a very dark bourbon or possibly apple cider. The best way I can describe it is that it smells kind of sweet and a little medicinal. If you pour some into a glass it looks reddish under a bright light and is slightly viscous. I tried it neat. If you sip it there is a strong citrus note, a faint bitter note that I can't quite characterize (maybe vinegar-y?) and that's really about it. There is an aftertaste of both but it's not unpleasant. It doesn't feel gritty or sticky in your mouth, either (like very sweet things tend to). As for the effect it had, the 1700 slowdown has more or less gone away, and I'm able to pick up where I left off on this article decently well. Would I have a drink or two of it as part of a social situation, though? Well... yeah, I would. I find it much easier to detect bitter and acidic flavors than anything else, and overall I find it quite pleasant. As I write this (having taken my adderall today at breakfast) I find myself a little more twitchy than usual but my ability to concentrate is unaffected. I also didn't seem to have any trouble falling asleep last night. I had a small glass of High Rhode around 1730 hours local time the day I wrote this part and fell asleep around 0030 hours per usual.

The other drink I tried (and which has become my favorite) is the Dream Light. It's brown like bourbon and also looks kind of murky, like an unfiltered apple cider from a farmers' market. You really should shake it up before pouring it. Scanning its label Kin Euphorics lists L-theanine again, L-serine, L-tryptophan, magnesium glycinate, reishi mushroom extract and good old melatonin as its active ingredients. Melatonin's the only ingredient that I can vouch for, as I've used it off and on for insomnia and jet lag for years.3 Giving it an experimental sniff (caveat, of course) it is both kind of fruity (apple, if I had to guess) and spicy; I pick up a definite scent of clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon. As for sipping it (again, neat) it feels a little syrupy and tastes spicy in the same way that it smells (that is to say, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon, though to my sense of taste less cinnamon and more nutmeg, maybe with some white pepper). I also detect something that reminds me a lot of the taste of a magnesium supplement, or possibly a zinc throat lozenge.

I'll probably update this post periodically as I discover new options.

  1. Being a security geek I am expected to drink with co-workers. Not doing so has been a career-limiting move for me at least twice in the past; I've been passed over for both promotions and raises because I "wasn't a team player." And yes, it came up in my quarterly reviews, which is how I know what happened. So it goes. 

  2. I'm going through my bookmarks and receipts in chronological order as I write this article. 

  3. Also, never mix up melatonin and your vitamins. Trust me on this.