Like many spaces in the spirit world, the bourbon industry is known to be male-dominated, all the way from production to consumption. A fact that is not lost on Lauren Chitwood, Abbey Ferguson, and Lexie Larsen, three young, female entrepreneurs hailing from Louisville, Kentucky. All three women have hospitality backgrounds and saw a growing need for non-alcoholic options both in the industry and at home. Wanting to steer away from the classic fruit juice and seltzers, Chitwood, Ferguson, and Larsen sought better, more exciting options. After “scrambling to think of something elevated compared to other non-alcoholic options,” they landed on bourbon. They all found that starting with bourbon felt natural and seemed to house the most opportunity for them.
Once the idea of a non-alcoholic bourbon was decided upon, it was extensive R&D from there. Chitwood, Ferguson, and Larsen’s first step was trying to dealcoholize a four-year-old bourbon. What sounds like a great solution to creating an alcohol-free spirit left their desired product too watery and without much flavor. This showed the need to develop their very own and intensely flavored spirit that would be able to survive the reverse distillation process. Chitwood explains, “when you think about bourbon, it’s breathing, it’s moving in and out of that wood, and it’s aging by virtue of the season and the change in temperature. What we do in a very compressed time frame is create our own very high proof, intensely flavored spirit, by modulating temperature and pressure, and what we get off that first still is a quadruple oak, something so potent that it allows the molecules to survive the next step of the process which is the reverse distillation.” Then, when they strip the product of any ethanol, they are left with a delicious concentrate that maintains the oak’s tannins and oils and becomes their first product in the Spiritless line, Kentucky 74.
Spiritless is Chitwood, Ferguson, and Larsen’s distilled non-alcoholic spirit brand, claiming the slogan “Less is Yes.” When I spoke to these ladies, I have to admit; I was apprehensive about non-alcoholic bourbon. As a bartender, I failed to see an immediate use for it, but Chitwood pretty quickly changed my mind. Curious as to when and why this product would be needed, she explained that being “fitness and career-oriented, having three drinks over a business dinner isn’t sustainable, but we still want to be out and social.” Using Spiritless instead of a full-proof spirit allows you to have that one last drink without feeling it the next day. Following an “a-ha moment,” Chitwood realized that Spiritless would also blend well with full-proof spirits: “If a cocktail was half and half, you wouldn’t be able to tell, and by doing so you’re able to cut the ABV and calories in half.” According to Louisville Magazine, a classic old fashioned made with Bulleit Rye has 129 calories, but a “New Fashioned” made with Kentucky 74 has just 40.
Spiritless was kind enough to send me a kit to try their take on an old fashioned, and I was extremely impressed. Kentucky 74 is marketed as delivering a “high quality, smooth finish, underpinned by familiar notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak,” and this non-alcoholic bourbon delivers just that. The kit included recipes for a New Fashioned and a Spiritless Mint Julep. I was able to try the New Fashioned which is made with:
- 2 oz Spiritless Kentucky 74
- ½ oz Locally Made Simple Syrup
- Three dashes Angostura Bitters
- One Orange Peel
Though I did find the drink to be a little sweet at first, I also found myself going back for more. I think mixing up one with the half full-proof bourbon and half Kentucky 74 drinks Chitwood suggested would make a near-perfect cocktail.
Taste aside, what I find most impressive about the brand are the women who started it. Between the three of them, they have eight kids under eight years old, but that hasn’t stopped them from taking the bourbon world by storm. These women work 24/7/365 on their product because they believe in it and are not intimidated by the stigma of a male-dominated industry. Chitwood thinks that “sometimes it takes people pulling away from the problem to say there’s a better way to solve this,” and believes it’s their “genetic make-up that makes [them] able to solve for X.” In their quest to solve for X they’ve met with distillers and naysayers alike who may consider their product sacrilege. These women aren’t put off by the criticism and believe it’s their confidence that allows them to push forward and release a product they’re genuinely proud of.
Between an impactful social media presence, a spot in The New York Times, word of mouth, and digital ads, people “all over the country” have been pre-ordering Spiritless. Because their product is technically non-alcoholic, they can ship directly to the customer, making their national reach much more natural to fulfill. A bottle of Kentucky 74 retails for $35.99, keeping them in line with premium spirits. Chitwood, Furgeson, and Larsen are planning to have bottles in hands and stores early this Fall, and the product is available for pre-order now on their website. Whether you’re a drinker or a non-drinker, Spiritless will act as a great addition to any home or commercial bar because the options with it are endless, and it leaves you with better days ahead.