Synthalcohol, skip the hangover

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Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash

Some cabernet sauvignon with your filet mignon? How about a Bourbon at the clubhouse ? Neat, of course. Picking up some craft beer for the house warming party ? It is Netflix night, that calls for rosé, doesn’t it ? Did I mention some French bubbly at the alma mater event and the countless Sake infused, kanpai cheering, business dinners to get that deal.

Is it maybe time to drink less ?

Generation Y, millenials for the broad brush marketers, seems to think so. Alcohol consumption has been claimed to see a decrease in recent times.

That said, we see that the prevalence (not intensity) of drinking is highest across Western Europe and Australia. In 2010, close to 95 percent of adults in France had drunk alcohol in the preceding year.

Perceived stereotypes about consumption with regards to gender differences are still true as can be seen that in all countries men are more likely to drink than women.

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Comparing this with the global consumption of alcohol, we are far from consumers actually moving away from it entirely.

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Drinking behavior

Drinking large amounts of alcohol comes with the obvious results the day after. It is however not only the amount that is not good for you. Drinking in general, no matter the amount takes a toll on your health. The most obvious results of alcohol consumption can be observed in the brain. Alcohol interferes with the communication pathways and can affect not only how the brain works, but also how it looks. Disruptions such as changes in mood and behavior, as well as make the ability to think clearly and move with coordination can become more difficult. Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can also damage the heart, lead to cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias and high blood pressure. Add steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis, pancreatitis to the list as well.

The immediate, as well as the long term results of booze, are the reasons for many not only to drink less but more consciously. The increased awareness has lead the way to a variety of supplements that claim to reduce the feeling of post alcohol consumption as well as low alcohol variants of beer, wine, and liquor. So much so that in Germany & the United States non-alcoholic beer market is expected to grow on a CAGR of more than 7% between 2018 and 2024.

Where do we go from here ?

Professor David Nutt from the Imperial College London has patented around 90 different synthetic alcohol / alcosynth compounds. Two of which are currently being studied in order to be labeled safe for consumption. One is claimed to be tasteless and the other is supposed to have a bitter taste.

The two compounds are made from a benzodiazepine derivative. As a result of consuming synthetic alcohol, the body does not produce the compound acetaldehyde, which is a product of regular alcohol consumption.

The lack of acetaldehyde is attributed towards the synthetic alcohol’s hangover-free qualities, although it does mimic the neurotransmitter GABA. Scott Edwards, an assistant professor of physiology warned that the increase in GABA traditionally leads to less anxiety, which could be ‘messing with the system’ and lead to “significant impairment of judgment and motor function, with all the associated sociological and legal consequences.”

On the question of preventing misuse and drinking too much of it “We think the effects round out at about four or five ‘drinks’, then the effect would max out,” Professor Nutt said.

In 2016, the researcher Guy Bentley worked with Professor Nutt on a report on alcosynth regulation, which was later published by the Adam Smith Institute, a liberal think tank.

In late 2018 seed funding raised to attempt a raise of £20m from investors which would allow Professor Nutt to bring it to market.


It is the company and brand set up to commercialize Professor Nutt’s research results into alcosynth compounds. Alcarelle wants to be regulated as a food additive or ingredient because food regulations and the related requirements are easier to manage and meet. As of now a b2b and b2c business are planned, by selling a proprietary beverage to consumers and providing the Alcarelle as an ingredient to alcoholic beverage companies. The company targets to be ready for the market by the early to mid-2020s.

Synthetic is not the only way forward

Alcohol-free spirits have been one of the most interesting categories as of late and Diageo has acquired the majority stake in the non-alcoholic spirit brand Seedlip in August 2019. The company’s Spice 94, Garden 108 and Grove 42 are now stocked in more than 7,500 bars, restaurants, hotels, and retailers in over 25 countries. Having tried some of them myself, they make for a great drink, and arguably more complex tasting beverage.

Due to the initially mentioned shift among consumers away from alcoholic beverages, Diageo has founded the accelerator program Distill Ventures, through which it got to a minority share in Seedlip in 2016. The program is independently run and continues to receive funding from Diageo to support entrepreneurs as they launch and grow innovative drinks brands.

It is supporting more companies in the non-alcoholic spirit and beverage segments like Nonsuch and many more. It also has set up Redwood Brands to offer scalable craft beverage brands a long-term U.S. sales solution for the American market.

Diageo of course still produces alcoholic beverages and its accelerator program is not geared towards non-alcoholic beverages only. As I have written about in my previous post on beverages, whiskey is making inroads. Therefore Distill Ventures has backed several, one might say, conventional distilleries such as Stauning Whisky, Westward by House Spirits and Starward from Australia, to name a few.

Are we there yet ?

Consider this a closer look into the beverage market, which consumer preferences shifting in different directions across the globe. There has arguably never been a better time to launch a beverage company, but also the competition has never been as well funded either.

If Professor Nutts will bring its Alcarelle to market remains to be seen, but no matter the commercial success of synthetic alcohol, consumers will have better and more diverse beverages to choose from whenever they go and have a drink.

Cheers, and thank you for reading this post.

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