Tested for you: alcohol-free aperitifs

‘What to drink when you’re not drinking’

Dry January to ‘flush out’ the festive period, tournée minérale in February to tighten the belt, or a personally imposed dry spell? Alcohol-free alternatives are popping up everywhere. Not only the trade, but also restaurants are showcasing alternatives. From mocktails to alcohol-free aperitifs. From non-alcoholic wine to special beers with little or no alcohol content. The market has really broken open in recent years and fits perfectly within the healthy awareness of drinking less – or differently. Alcohol is no longer always necessary.

The primary factor of non-alcoholic alternatives, of course, remains taste. What’s tasty sells. What’s tasty endures. In the past, we often had to settle for just one non-alcoholic beer on the menu. Now the offerings are extensive and diverse, catering to everyone’s tastes. Designated drivers can enjoy themselves without missing out on alcoholic beverages. While non-alcoholic beers and mocktails continue to gain ground, we delved into the booming business of alcohol-free aperitifs.

Local fare 

Undoubtedly, the hype surrounds alcohol-free gin. Of course, the assortment is vast, and major players like Tanqueray, Gordon, and Hendrick’s have jumped on board, but we prefer to champion local options and found ourselves drawn to Gent-based entrepreneur Charlotte Matthys, who is conquering the world in a glass with NONA. Three variations are now available. Charlotte earned a degree in bioengineering and combines this with her other passion: a love for nature and innovative food. “One summer evening, I was sitting with friends on a terrace and asked for an alcohol-free alternative. The bartender could only suggest one drink. I thought I could do better, and I began to experiment with different herbs and botanicals. NONA June was born, followed later by NONA Spritz and NONA Ginger.”

Up to three times less sugar 

During development, Charlotte sought advice from various top chefs. The result is that NONA can now be found in leading establishments like Oak, The Jane, and Boury. Matthys explains, “NONA June combines nine herbs in a balanced flavor profile with fresh citrus flavors and a spicy touch. NONA Spritz is a mix of 27 herbs with fresh citrus notes and a light, bitter finish. NONA Ginger is the latest addition, a balanced blend of twelve distilled herbs including yuzu, verbena, turmeric, and organic ginger. Despite the complexity, I always opt for steam distillation. This creates a refined palette of flavors that contains up to three times less sugar than ginger concentrates. NONA June was the first creation and a bullseye. “When I think of gin, I think of juniper berries. Making those berries the basis of NONA June was my plan from the beginning. To add extra flavor to the distillate, I included eight other natural aromas, such as citrus, pepper, and basil. That’s how you get to nine herbs, or NONA in Latin.


“I’ve been fortunate enough to quickly supply renowned restaurants like Oak and The Jane. Apparently, there was a real need for an alcohol-free distillate that you can drink as an aperitif or in a cocktail. Convincing top establishments’ chefs and sommeliers so quickly has attracted many other customers. ‘If it’s on their menu, it must be good,’ is the reasoning of many people. Due to the rapid success, I’ve been able to hire three employees. I no longer have to bottle and label everything myself. But I still check every bottle before it goes into the box. That’s a kind of perfectionism I can’t let go of.”

Booming business 

NONA is Belgian and booming, but the global market is bursting with initiatives. Seedlip is a confirming example. ‘What to drink when you’re not drinking’ is Seedlip’s premise for developing its range of non-alcoholic spirits. For blending, each ingredient is distilled separately with pure grain alcohol and water, from which the alcohol evaporates during the process. Seedlip Garden, for instance, is a spicy and floral aperitif based on hand-picked peas, hay from English soil, and traditional plant distillates in honor of the English countryside.

Fun without alcohol 

It may sound less ‘funny’ without a real glass, but it works. Funny – like NONA, made in Belgium – introduced a range of eight different aperitifs to the market. Spicy, sweet, tropical, or bitter? The range offers something for everyone. Funny Amaretto offers a bittersweet taste of almonds, nuts, and vanilla. Funny Bitter is a red bitter cocktail with hints of orange zest. Funny Blue adds a Mediterranean touch with a blue triple sec-style cocktail, Cranberry Peach combines the light tartness of cranberries and peach; Mojito Latino blends mint and lime, Tropical mixes aromas of passion fruit, lychee, and mango, and Funny Coco gives fans of piña colada a taste of coconut and pineapple.

Campari or Gimber?

Campari lovers also have alcohol-free options. Crodino is a refreshing yet bittersweet alternative made thanks to the infusion of thirty herbs and extracts from various fruits. It can be enjoyed neat or diluted with soda or fruit juice. And finally, we recommend another Belgian drink, spicy and alcohol-free: Gimber. A certified organic drink with healthy ingredients like ginger, lemon, herbs, and spices. Fresh sparkling water or special tonic complete the combination with Gimber. In other words, even without alcohol, dining out is no longer boring. Put it to the test and serve your guests a non-alcoholic gin, only revealing afterward that it’s completely alcohol-free.

Text: Daan Vanslembrouck