Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Alcohol-free "whisky flavored drink": Taste-testing ArKay

"Why would I want alcohol-free whiskey?" If you ask that question, the answer is, you wouldn't.

However, what if you can't drink alcohol because of your religion? ArKay is certified Halal, and the bottle's green and gold pattern reminds me of shopping in the Middle East.

Also, some people can't drink for medical reasons. How many TV dramas show somebody smuggling a bottle of Scotch to a hospital-bound patient? This is more sensible.

For that use, ArKay would be perfect, because its best feature is that it smells very much like whiskey. If blindfolded, I would guess that it's Irish whiskey.

ArKay was launched in December by a company headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, though the beverage itself is made in Mexico. Because it's legally -- and actually -- a soft drink, shipping it across state and national borders is no problem at all. So far, though, I couldn't find any retailers selling it, but give them time to find it.

I poured a glass of ArKay neat next to a glass of Tullamore Dew 10-year. They look similar. ArKay has the hue right but the 10-year-old whiskey is, not surprisingly, a little darker. Still, they look like variations of the same product.


It's not surprising that the main element missing from the aroma is the alcohol itself. I noticed this immediately in comparison with the real whiskey, but hadn't fixated on it when I earlier tasted just the ArKay. ArKay has an aroma of wood aging -- probably artificial, but convincing. It smells like barrels with some Elmer's glue, which I often pick up from cheap barrels. There are also dried apple notes. If not allowed to taste it, I think most people would think it actually is whiskey, though not an expensive one.

If for some reason you wanted to carry around a glass with ice cubes and convince people you were drinking, this would work -- it literally passes the smell test. While I can't think of a real-life need for this, I watch a fair amount of spy shows (Burn Notice, Chuck) and can think of plenty of TV situations.

Unfortunately the flavor isn't up to the same level. Maybe that's unavoidable, as alcohol gives drinks body. ArKay tastes like flat cream soda aged in new wood. It's not nasty, and it does give you an oak-aged aftertaste, which if that's what you're jonesing for -- again, hospital patients -- I can see a use. The aftertaste reminds me of very cheap booze, but that may be nostalgic for some people.

The ingredients list doesn't shed much light: Water, glycerol, natural and artificial flavors, lactic acid, caramel color, potassium sorbate, aspartame and acesulfame k. But to be fair, Tullamore Dew, like most whiskies, doesn't even have an ingredients list. Neither does wine, which has all sorts of legal additives.

ArKay is zero-calorie, and the company suggests it could be consumed by people watching their weight. I suppose that's true; a single shot of liquor contains 115-200 calories. You could mix this with club soda, drink it all night, consume no calories and be completely sober. You are no fun.

Because ultimately, I wouldn't drink this if I had a choice. That said, I am not Muslim, bedridden, or dieting for my big break in Hollywood. The first and last are fairly unlikely for me, but I guess if I break my neck trying to dodge traffic, ArKay might be a comfort. This may not be the highest of standards, but I've put worse things in my mouth.

If you want to inquire about how to buy it, here's the company website.

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3 comments:

Adam M said...

Did you see the 60 minutes report on the company Givaudan? There's a lot of interesting things they can do with natural and artificial flavors.

W. Blake Gray said...

Adam: I haven't seen it but Fast Food Nation had some interesting stuff on artificial flavor companies. And I had a friend in Japan whose job was to seek unusual flavors to duplicate. She was always putting her fingers in everybody's plate.

John Guzman said...

"If for some reason you wanted to carry around a glass with ice cubes and convince people you were drinking, this would work -- it literally passes the smell test. While I can't think of a real-life need for this..."

As a former alcoholic I sometimes need a drink in my hand even though its just a non alcoholic beer. I just discovered that they made this in non alcoholic whiskey so I will definitely drink it. After spending much of my life drinking it sort of becomes a habit. The first time I tried a NA beer it was satisfying just holding a beer bottle in my hand. It got that good old relaxed feeling of knocking back a cold beer even though it was just in my head. I used to love smoking a good cigar with my beer so every time I puff on one now, drinking a NA beer with it is a must. Now that they have this NA whiskey I definitely want to drink a glass with a good smoke.

As for drink NA beverages around people, sometimes you just want to fit in. When I was still a drinker, sometimes my friends and I would order a single drink at a restaurant. But what would be the point since neither of us would feel any of the effects off of one drink? Because drinking is often times nothing more than a ritual. Sometimes you just need that one drink to take part in toast or just to sip on at a party while your friends are drinking. By drinking NA beer and soon to be NA whiskey, I am able to take part in the drinking while maintaining my sobriety and some sort of sanity in the insane world of sober living.