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Johnnie Walker owner developing alcohol-free alternative to whisky

Whisky Sour serve in a bar counter - Getty Images
Whisky Sour serve in a bar counter - Getty Images

Whisky drinkers hoping for a wee dram without a sore head in the morning could soon be in luck.

The owner of Johnnie Walker is researching non-alcoholic alternatives to whisky and rum, according to its chief executive.

Sir Ivan Menezes, who runs spirits company Diageo, said the business had “ideas in the pipeline” for “non-alcoholic brown spirits”.

Mr Menezes said: “We've got a pipeline of ideas and new product ideas and are doing a lot of technical R&D work and research on it as well.”

Diageo is the world’s biggest producer of Scotch whisky, owning distilleries including Talisker and Lagavulin as well as brands such as J&B and Johnnie Walker. The FTSE 100 business also owns Captain Morgan rum.

In recent years it has been developing non-alcoholic versions of some of its best selling brands, including Guinness, Gordon's and Tanqueray. It also owns the upmarket non-alcoholic drink Seedlip, which is meant to be drunk like a spirit.

While many drinks companies are expanding into non-alcoholic alternatives like Diageo, the majority are designed to resemble gin and vodka rather than rum and whisky.

Rival spirits company Pernod Ricard - the owner of Beefeater gin - sells a non-alcoholic dark spirit called Celtic Soul, which it launched in 2019, but it is one of the few to do so.

Diageo’s push to develop alcohol-free versions of its spirits comes as a growing number of people give up or cut back on alcohol.

Figures released by online supermarket Ocado in the lead up to Christmas suggested more than a third of people were planning not to drink alcohol at all over the recent festive period. The proportion was even higher among young drinkers, with more than half swearing off the booze.

At the same time, sales of non-alcoholic drinks have been rising as people seek to recreate the experience of drinking a beer, cocktail or wine without the after effects. Sales of non-alcohol alternatives reached £260m last year and are forecast to almost double over the next four years, according to Mintel.

Waitrose said earlier this month it was also seeing a rise in “sober curious” shoppers experimenting with moderation rather than abstaining completely, which had sent sales of low and non-alcoholic wine and beer surging.

Paul Mathew, founder of non-alcoholic aperitifs brand Everleaf, said: “Kids don’t want to do what the previous generation did. When I was growing up there was peer pressure to drink but it's almost going the other way now.”

He added: “I think we’re all realising the impact of alcohol and recognising it's really not healthy on many levels.”