Nonalcoholic cocktail brand captures authentic alcohol taste with natural flavors, not de-alcoholization

A trendy, booze-free cocktail brand skips the de-alcoholization process to make its drinks, drawing on natural flavors and a unique innovation process instead.

Rachel French, Contributing writer

May 21, 2024

3 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Nonalcoholic cocktails are not just “soft drinks for grownups,” requiring their own innovation process.
  • Free AF’s cocktails were chosen as the “booziest” in a blinding tasting with alcoholic beverages.
  • The company has produced 12 new nonalcoholic drinks in only four years.

When Free AF Founder and CEO Lisa King took a hiatus from drinking, she realized the need for sophisticated nonalcoholic drinks that replicated the experience of consuming their alcoholic counterparts.  

“I … discovered how hard it was to get a good nonalcoholic drink that wasn’t a sugary soft drink or juice,” she said. “I wanted a sophisticated, adult drink that was as good as my old gin and tonics.” 

Based in what she calls the “heavy drinking culture” of New Zealand, King also recognized the social isolation that accompanies sober living.  

“Saying you’re not drinking makes you feel like something of a social outcast,” she said. “It was odd to have to justify not drinking — no one questions anyone who stops smoking.” 

Free AF was born not just to create innovate nonalcoholic cocktails, but to help normalize sober lifestyles.  

“We were clear from the start that AF was not only about providing great alcohol-free options, but we also wanted to create conversation and change behavior to make not drinking cool and sexy,” she said. “Helping people to moderate and reduce alcohol consumption is ultimately our mission.” 

Unlike other nonalcoholic beverage brands, Free AF doesn’t use the process of de-alcoholization to create its booze-free beverages.  

“It never made sense to us (especially not coming from the spirits or alcohol world), that you would put something into a drink that you didn’t want in the end,” she said. “To remove alcohol seemed like a very expensive and time-consuming process.” 

Instead of fermenting, brewing or distilling a drink and then processing it to remove the alcohol content, Free AF uses natural flavors to build the “layers of flavor” in an alcoholic drink.  

The process starts with deconstruction — the product development team used the alcoholic version of the cocktail as a benchmark to create a nonalcoholic version “to match the layers of flavors, complexity and mouthfeel” of its alcoholic counterpart, King explained. 

The brand further builds on its products’ true-to-original taste by replicating the warming sensation of alcohol-containing drinks.  

“We also know that people drink alcohol not only for the taste, but the feeling you get from drinking — that slight alcohol burn and the warming sensation,” King said. “This is where Afterglow comes in.” 

According to King, Afterglow is a natural botanical that mimics the warmth of alcohol and “provides that little kick at the back of your throat.” The ingredient is sourced from New Zealand and uses a “hard to replicate” method of blending and extracting to produce the desired result.  

In blind tastings of gin and tonic beverages made with alcohol-containing gin, like Bombay and Tanqueray, Free AF’s version was chosen as the “booziest” tasting option, King said.  

Also important to Free AF’s innovation process, per King, is speed, or what the company calls “Fast AF.” The company’s innovation process typically takes six weeks from concept to pre-commercialization and has produced 12 drinks in four years.  

“The ability to provide a range of drinks has allowed us to cater for our consumer’s range of preferences, capitalize on trends and give retailers an innovation pipeline to stimulate the category,” King said.

About the Author(s)

Rachel French

Contributing writer

Rachel French joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products Insider, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. French left Informa Markets in 2019, but continues to freelance for both FBI and NPI.

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