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A U.S. company is set to introduce what it calls the world's "first alcohol-free whisky."

ArKay Beverages, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is accepting pre-orders of its halal whisky-flavoured drink via its website, and vice-president of sales Zeshan Ahmed says it will begin fulfilling orders worldwide beginning in January.

"We felt there was a gap in the beverage market that was not fulfilled," Mr. Ahmed says. "You see a lot of different non-alcoholic beers, but have you ever seen a non-alcoholic spirit?"

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According to a press release, the beverage, which the company says conforms to halal guidelines, has 0 per cent alcohol and "tastes and looks exactly like traditional whisky."

Mr. Ahmed describes it as having a smoky flavour and a strong taste.

"Have you ever had whisky? You know it kind of numbs your tongue a little bit?" he asks. The ArKay product, he says, "gives a little numbing sensation as well."

Unlike traditional whisky, which is distilled from a fermented mash of grains, ArKay is made from mixing water with glycerol, natural and artificial flavours, lactic acid, caramel colour, potassium sorbate, aspartame, and other ingredients. It's also much cheaper, costing about $10 (U.S.) a litre.

Mr. Ahmed says the beverage is suitable for anyone abstaining from alcohol, and since it contains zero sugar, it may be appealing to those limiting their intake of carbohydrates as well. But as a halal product, ArKay appears to be particularly geared toward Muslim consumers. And judging from where most orders are coming from, the Middle East is becoming one of the biggest markets for the product, Mr. Ahmed says.

In recent years, a number of alcohol-free beers and wines have emerged to vie for a share of the halal market, such as Spain's Vincero halal wine and Germany's GranMalt non-alcoholic beer. But some have also raised controversy.

In May, Malaysia's New Straits Times reported that Muslims were advised against consuming so-called "halal" beer because the alcoholic content of beverage samples were found to be 0.5 per cent alcohol, above the 0.01 per cent that was deemed permissible.

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In Toronto, Sheik Omar Subedar, spokesman for the Halal Monitoring Authority Canada, says alcohol-free beverages may technically be acceptable, but he's not convinced the market will embrace them. Many Muslims have an aversion to anything associated with alcohol, he says, noting that many even stay away from root beer.

"Technically speaking, anything that does not have the ability to intoxicate is permissible for a Muslim to consume," he says. "But we can't separate the emotions of Muslims toward such products. If the target audience of this particular product is the Muslim community, I don't think it's going to fare very well."

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