A New Drink of Choice for the Conscientious Cocktailer
From left, Lexie Larsen (COO), Abbey Ferguson (CRO), and Lauren Chitwood (CEO) are co-founders of Spiritless. | Photo by Amy Campbell Photography
Local entrepreneurs provide a non-alcoholic option for those who are purposefully sober, others who want to save the alcohol effect for the weekends — and anyone in-between.
It takes some serious shakers to launch a non-alcoholic bourbon in Louisville, Kentucky — people are pretty serious about their bourbon here. But that is exactly what Lauren Chitwood, 35, and her co-founders Abbey Ferguson and Lexie Larsen did. These three entrepreneurs not only are changing the face of cocktails across the country, they are mixing up the culture in this male-dominated industry one guiltless Old Fashioned at a time.
The idea behind Spiritless’ first product came after extensive market research indicated the need for a great-tasting spirit without the headache of alcohol. The founders were already steeped in the industry through roles in hospitality, food and beverage, branding, logistics and manufacturing, so exploring this frontier in the city of Louisville naturally landed them in the deliciously dark waters of bourbon.
Kentucky 74, their first spiritless product, is crafted from actual corn-based, rapid-aged, high-proof, pot-stilled, quadruple-oaked bourbon in order to retain the caramel, oak, and vanilla notes of the original. But what sets this product apart is the second step: the bourbon is run through a patented inverse distillation process where the ethanol is vaporized off, leaving a product that tastes like bourbon but has the same amount of alcohol as a kombucha. Cheers to that.
Lauren Chitwood shares:
How did the idea of Kentucky 74 originate?
My co-founders and I were already in the industry. There was a consistent theme that kept emerging: a gap in the marketplace for a non-alcoholic cocktail experience. We had decades of contacts in the food and beverage industry, so we consulted with master distillers, chemical engineers, bartenders, investment bankers, market research firms, and conducted our own surveys. We decided on bourbon because it matched our hometown and then incubated the product internally for six months before launching.
What did it take to get the company up and running?
Capital, a patent for this unique product…it was a very intense process. We actually started the product in 2019 in Lexie’s basement with a homemade distiller we rigged out of a popcorn machine, PVC pipe and duct tape. Now, it is an incredibly large commercial scale operation.
What are the benefits of your product?
People primarily use our product to make mocktails. It is a great non-alcoholic alternative to bourbon, but it isn’t bourbon when you remove the alcohol. It has the same flavors — the oak, smoke, and caramel — but a different mouth-feel. Alcohol is going to hit you in the mouth, a spiritless product cannot do that.
Most people use it with mixers to make their favorite cocktail so that they can avoid the hangover. Also, whiskey has 140 calories and our product has 15, so people use it to cut down on the calories of drinking. Many people blend Kentucky 74 half-and-half with bourbon to create a lower-calorie alternative with the same taste and feel of their favorite drink.
How has your life changed since launching Spiritless?
I’ve only ever been an entrepreneur, so I am used to a certain degree of insanity. This is a new industry, so I am learning something new every day. All of us are mothers; there are eight children, nine and under, between the three of us. It is as wonderful and awful as you’d expect it to be. But we are doing some great things in this male-dominated industry. I think we are making quite a splash.
Where did the name “Kentucky 74” come from?
“Kentucky” honors our heritage and home state. Kentucky has played such a huge role in our past and present; it had to play a role in our future. And while we aren’t producing traditional spirits, Spiritless is Kentucky’s 74th distillery. In numerology, the number 74 signifies being on the right path, that there are better days ahead.
Spiritless Strawberry Mint Cocktail
2 oz Spiritless Kentucky 74
.5 oz maple syrup
6 mint leaves
Juice of half a small lemon
Garnish: mint sprig, lemon slice, sliced strawberries
Step 1: Combine strawberries, maple syrup, and mint leaves in a martini shaker and muddle gently to release juices and oils.
Step 2: Add Kentucky 74, lemon juice, and ice and shake well.
Step 3: Strain into a glass with ice and garnish.