Meet Lauren, Lexie and Abbey, the dynamic trio behind Spiritless

Finding compelling, high-quality non-alcoholic spirits that genuinely taste good is no easy feat. That’s why we were so excited to discover Kentucky 74. This non-alcoholic Bourbon from Kentucky comes from the dynamic trio of entrepreneurs and drinks-enthusiasts at Spiritless: Lauren Chitwood (CEO), Abbey Ferguson (CRO) and Lexie Lancaster Larsen (COO). We recently caught up with Lauren, Abbey and Lexie to learn about the inspiration behind Spiritless, the development of Kentucky 74 and get some tips on making the perfect Bourbon-based mocktails.

Funnily enough, ‘spirit’ is the word that comes to mind when listening to Spiritless’ origin story – the company’s co-founders Lauren, Abbey and Lexie are nothing if not resourceful and tenacious innovators. The three joke that Spiritless began in their basement, testing recipes for would become Kentucky 74 “in a popcorn tin with some machinery and tools that you could find at your local Home Depot.” Yet in just a few short years, their de-alcoholised Bourbon would be taking the world by storm.

“We were mostly just responding to the demand that we were seeing and feeling in the marketplace.” With shared backgrounds in the food and beverage industry, Lauren says they frequently found themselves being approached by customers seeking high-quality non-alcoholic alternatives, “specifically nothing syrup based, nothing in a can and nothing that feels like fruit juice. We were struggling to solve this consistently.”

For the trio, this was the ‘a-ha’ moment and the inception of Kentucky 74: “initially we wanted to step in to solve it on a very micro level for our customers. From that, we started to consider options for a macro-level solution, and we decided we should give it a go.”

This was the impetus to create an alcohol-free Bourbon. However, the decision to make a non-alcoholic Bourbon also appealed on a personal level, motivated by their roots in Kentucky, the heart of Bourbon country in the US.

“The three of us have had the distinct pleasure of working together - this is our second business that we've run together. And as we were founding this company, we were being very thoughtful about what we wanted to stand for, and certainly what felt authentic to us – Bourbon, and American whiskey was just a very obvious answer to us.”

American whiskey, specifically Bourbon is, is the American Native spirit. It holds a strong cultural significance in the southern US, especially with its ties to the Kentucky Derby; there seems to be an abiding excitement and a sense of nostalgia for the category among American consumers. Bourbon has long held an important place in the American drinks landscape, but globally it also represents one of the “largest and fastest growing categories still to this day amongst spirits.”

So, what makes a good Bourbon, and how does this translate to Kentucky 74?

“Ah,’ says Lauren, “I think this is a great time to just talk about expectations versus reality. If you are coming to look for complex flavours, important building blocks that make classic cocktails, adult profiles and mouthfeel - you will find that here. But you aren't necessarily going to find an exact replica of full-proof Bourbon.” And this comes down to ethanol. This magic molecule is a congener that makes flavours meld and contributes a sensory component – the weight on the tongue and the warmth in your chest. By removing that molecule, you naturally change the way a spirit tastes and feels.

In Bourbon, its distinctive flavour profile develops from time spent in barrel. The ‘white dog’ – the raw, unaged distillate – sits in barrel and “over four years, the crazy Kentucky weather that barrel expands and contracts and slowly but surely gives you that delicious flavour.”

So, with Kentucky 74, the Spiritless team focused on capturing the essence of the oak, the smoke, the vanilla, “those things that if we made a whiskey sour and old fashioned, really scratch that itch and hit that mark.” To create this, the team developed a proprietary blend of American oak and a ranger of char levels that will bring out those notes and textures. This is added to a pot still to infuse with a corn-based neutral grain spirit, “in this huge kind of engineered teabag”. Then by modulating temperature and pressure, they mimic the process of barrel ageing. Instead of years, it just takes a few hours to produce something Lauren describes as “a quadruple oaked spirit.”

The next step is to transfer this high-proof spirit to a second still and put it through a process called reverse distillation. “We’ve figured out how to cleanly take off just the ethanol and the esters – the stuff that makes you feel bad – and what is left in the pot is this incredible concentrate that holds on to all the flavour from the oak and everything that makes you go ‘oh yeah, that’s Bourbon breath’.”

The Spiritless trio make this sound effortless, but the journey to market was not always simple. In the Bourbon heartland, it was a challenge bringing this process to scale and finding manufacturing partners willing to work with them: “We basically wanted to make a high proof spirit, de-alcoholise it and throw away 100 years of distilling tradition; it was probably one of the most challenging and tedious parts of the process.”

But their persistence has paid off as the number of consumers looking for high-quality no- and low-alcohol options continues to grow rapidly. “Spiritless has skyrocketed in terms of awareness and acceptance,” says Lauren, “bars, restaurants and retailers are recognising that this is a tool in their toolkit – that there’s a place for their incredible full proof spirit and then there's a place for that spacer, when they're out with buddies or they're at a business meeting and they have to drive home.”

One of the things that also makes the execution of Kentucky 74 very appealing to a wider breadth of consumers, is its ability to blend beautifully with the full-proof spirits that inspire it. Lauren is a big fan of a half-half cocktail: “on the weekend I usually have an Old Fashioned – I use it with half Kentucky 74, of course, and then half of my favourite Bourbon whiskey.” The result is a low proof cocktail that's less than 100 calories, that allows you to enjoy drinking on your terms and feel good the next day. 

Spiritless is about saying yes to more, more often and empowering people to make healthy decisions around drinking, to pick their own potency and enjoy their favourite spirits without sacrificing quality, character, and above all, flavour. 

Try Kentucky 74 Non Alcoholic Bourbon for yourself.