Close Menu

Could synthetic alcohol replace booze?

A synthetic alcohol that reduces the risk of a hangover could replace fermented and distilled alcohol by 2050, according to its inventor Professor David Nutt – the UK’s former chief drugs officer.

Professor David Nutt

Nutt has already patented around 90 compounds used to produce Alcosynth – a synthetic alcohol that mimics the positive effects of alcohol, but reduces the risk of a hangover.

Speaking to The Independent Nutt, a professor at London’s Imperial College, said two of these compounds, made from a benzodiazepine derivative, which is in the Valium family, were already being tested for public consumption.

Professor Nutt, who was sacked from his position as chairman of the UK government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2009 after he implied that taking ecstasy was less dangerous than riding a horse, is so confident in his invention that he believes it could completely replace normal alcohol by 2050.

“It will be there alongside the Scotch and the gin, they’ll dispense the Alcosynth into your cocktail and then you’ll have the pleasure without damaging your liver and your heart,” he said.

“They go very nicely into mojitos. They even go into something as clear as a Tom Collins. One is pretty tasteless, the other has a bitter taste.”

His comments chime with a rising interest in non-alcoholic drinks, and the recently launched Seedlip – a non-alcoholic distilled spirit.

Launched late last year, the non-alcohol ‘spirit’ announced plans to quadruple its production after only one month on the market, and has since attracted investment from Distill Ventures, a Diageo-funded spirits innovation group, with Diageo taking a minority stake in the business.

“With Seedlip we’re effectively developing a new drinks category, appealing to consumers looking for a refined alternative to alcohol”, said its founder Ben Branson. “This really was pioneering work and partnering with Distill Ventures has helped me understand the industry, shape the product I dreamed of, and launch it in the right way.”

Seedlip, a non-alcohol distilled ‘spirit’, was launched by Ben Branson last year

While Branson’s invention, a distilled, botanical-based, ‘spirit’, is designed to mimic the taste of alcohol, Nutt’s Alcosynth is designed to mimic the effects of alcohol, but without the addictive or negative effects on the liver for example.

“By 2050 alcohol will be gone”

Either way, the growing interest in non-alcohol spirits-based drinks and development of synthetic alcohol offers food for thought on the future of the drinks industry, and how alcoholic drinks companies should navigate this growing category going forward.

“People want healthier drinks,” Professor Nutt told The Independent. “The drinks industry knows that by 2050 alcohol will be gone.”

“They know that and have been planning for this for at least 10 years. But they don’t want to rush into it, because they’re making so much money from conventional alcohol.”

Despite a growing interest in non-alcohol alternatives to alcohol, it is likely to be years before Alcosynth appears in bars, with the substance required to pass several government hurdles before it can enter the market.

Seedlip on the other hand, which is already stocked at London hotspots The Clove Club, Dandelion, M Restaurant and Sexy Fish, is another matter, with it seeming likely that copycat products could emerge in the coming years.


It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No