Over the last few years, countless “alcohol” alternatives have entered the beverage market, very few of which offer anything remotely similar to drinking booze. Some of these belong to the cannabis space, others utilize adaptogens and herbs to offer relaxation or bliss, but most commonly, most are just regular beverages that do nothing but quench your thirst.
My interest was piqued, then, when I came across a TikTok taste test of what was allegedly a true alcohol alternative. Rather than using ethanol as its active ingredient as all other booze does, this new, science-backed product was said to use a different chemical in the alcohol family: R 1,3 butanediol. Having never heard of the possibility of an alcoholic drink without ethanol, I had to give it a try.
The beverage, offered by a company called KetoneAid, claims to deliver a mild buzz without any risk of a hangover. Per their website, ethanol converts in the liver into a toxic by-product, which is what results in the hangover symptoms people experience after drinking. Meanwhile, R 1,3 butanediol is converted into ketones, something we’d naturally produce during ketosis, a metabolic state where fat is converted into energy. For that reason, the beverage is thought to be appropriate for people on a keto diet, but I was more interested in the whole “buzz with no hangover” thing, so I reached out to KetoneAid for some samples.
KetoneAid offers two products, a “G&T” and a hard seltzer, neither of which contain alcohol as we know it. While ABV doesn’t exactly apply in the same way to these products, they come in at 5.4 percent R 1,3 for the gin and tonic, and 3.6 for the seltzer. And so, they can basically be understood as relatively low ABV drinks. They’re pricey, though — an eight-pack of G&Ts and a 12-pack of seltzers is going for $130 for the duo, or $6.50 a can.
I started with a can of G&T, adding a squeeze of lime for a more authentic gin-and-tonic experience. Like the actual cocktail, the G&T has a bitter taste to it. I drank the can as quickly as I could, and did feel a mild “buzz” and sense of excitement. I drank another, and I felt much the same. It was certainly not anything like what I’d feel if I drank two actual gin and tonics in close succession, but it felt as though that vague edge of sobriety had been thinly sliced off.
Another night, per the recommendation of the product’s creator Frank Llosa, I drank three seltzers in quick succession on an empty stomach — apparently, many find these beverages to be appetite-suppressing. Again, I experienced the same mild feelings. It was pleasant, but not quite akin to what the feeling of drinking three regular hard seltzers would provide — I felt about as buzzed as if I had drank one regular hard seltzer, like a White Claw. The feeling was sustained as I drank three, but didn’t really seem to progress with the addition of each drink. My “buzz” lasted around 45 minutes, and, crucially, I felt none of the tiredness I normally would post-drinking. No hangover the next day, either. Still, the creators don’t recommend driving after drinking the product, or drinking more than three at a time (both warnings are printed on the can).
According to Llosa, around 80 percent of people who try the drinks feel a buzz, while 20 percent feel nothing at all. What’s the difference? KetoneAid doesn’t know yet. But as the reviews on the site and the original TikTok indicate, most people do feel an enjoyable something.
Why the hell haven’t these options hit the market sooner, then? We could have been drinking hangover-free, non-ethanol booze all this time! For starters, it’s the price. While $6.50 a can is steep as it gets, Llosa tells me R 1,3 butanediol was once far more expensive. Previously, there just wasn’t much demand, meaning online chemical sources could charge upwards of $1,000 a gram. But after a few promising studies resulting in both mice and humans exhibiting drunken behavior after consuming it, Llosa and his team figured out a way to scale production and offer it at a more affordable price (relatively speaking).
I don’t see R 1,3 replacing regular booze for me entirely, as it just doesn’t yield quite the same effect. I could, however, see myself choosing it over an evening glass of wine on a weeknight, or any other time I just want a slight change in feeling. Unlike other alcohol alternatives I’ve tried, I did feel something. And the potential that it could be helpful to other people wanting or needing to drink less ethanol alcohol seems huge. Both of the KetoneAid drinks provided the taste, sensation and mental shift of drinking booze, without actually doing it. I’ve yet to find another alcohol alternative that can say the same.