WHY LOW & NO COCKTAILS ARE MORE THAN A TREND
Low and no cocktails have gone beyond just being a hot new trend and are now an expectation from guests at cocktail bars around the world. Learn how to integrate these drink styles into your cocktail program, from pairing them with small bites to creating the ultimate low/no seasonal cocktail.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LOW AND NO?
Before diving into how to get the best out of these mindful drink styles, it’s best to understand what defines low and no ABV (alcohol by volume) cocktails.
Simply put, low ABV stands for low alcohol by volume, and it means precisely that: these drinks have less alcohol per unit volume than your standard cocktail. Within low-ABV cocktails, there is a spectrum of strength.
At the stronger end of the low-ABV spectrum, cocktails may include small volumes of 80-proof spirits such as tequila, gin, etc., but these typically play a supporting role in the cocktail as opposed to being the base of the drink - think: a reverse Manhattan where the ratio of sweet vermouth to rye whiskey is 2:1. Instead, lower-proof spirits like Ketel One Botanical, vermouths, sherries, ports, amari and aperitiv, and bittersweet fortified wines often serve as the foundation for these cocktails.
At the weaker end of the low-ABV spectrum, spirits are typically swapped for lower-ABV ingredients and non-alcoholic ingredients, like Seedlip, which serve as a spirit-adjacent element to achieve a complex flavor profile without the spirituous punch.
Overall, a few cocktail styles that fall into the low-ABV category are spritzes, cobblers, spritzers, and coolers. Fixes, Brambles, and some other drink templates that call for crushed or pebble ice or lengtheners (tonic water, soda water, juices, etc.) can also be considered low-ABV, but it just depends on how the cocktail is built and which ingredients are used.
No ABV (Otherwise Known as Non-Alcoholic)
These are serves that forego the use of any alcoholic ingredient, and instead employ the use of non-alcoholic spirits, teas, juices, ferments, flavored mixers, and so on to develop characteristics that mirror a cocktail but in a creative way, for example this 'French 0.5'.
Gone are the days where pineapple juice and soda suffice as a non-alcoholic drink — consumers now expect enticing no-ABV offerings that deliver on flavor and complexity. From a business perspective, the margins on non-alcoholic cocktails keep owners and accountants happy given the low cost of ingredients - this is an important factor to consider!
All-in-all, these are two categories of drink that are now here to stay, so it’s vital to find the best way to integrate these serves into your own beverage program.
SEASONAL SERVES: A CREATIVE OPPORTUNITY FOR LOW AND NO
With 59% of consumers more likely to purchase an item on a restaurant menu if it’s listed as seasonal, neglecting seasonality is a massive miss for any bar — regardless of the bar’s concept. Not only does buying and foraging for in-season produce help the bottom line as it’s typically more affordable given the quantities available, but it also ensures that your bar is getting an ingredient at the peak of its flavor.
For low and no cocktails, seasonality gives bartenders the opportunity to create bespoke ingredients, such as syrups, cordials, infusions, tinctures, ferments, pickles, and so on, to make these serves exclusive and therefore even more enticing for guests. Based on where your bar is located, the ingredients available to you will vary - be sure to research the peak harvest time for produce in your region.
A WINNING COMBINATION: INTRODUCING THE APERITIVO
Food and cocktails together, the ultimate combination, is arguably, one of the more difficult elements to do well. Unlike with wine, every cocktail has a distinct flavour profile that doesn’t need much sniffing or pondering to identify. For example, rhubarb will pop you right in the nose with its sharp, acidic character, as will alcoholic ingredients such as vermouth, sherry, and so on.
When it comes to combining low and no cocktails with small bites, it’s best to look to the Italian tradition of Aperitivo for inspiration. Aperitivo is a time of day—typically after work, from 6 to 9 p.m.—when Italians focus on the present moment and digest the day. During this time, low and no tipples and small bites are enjoyed, stimulating their appetites for the dinner to follow. Common bites include a variety of cheeses, charcuterie, bread, olives, nuts, dried fruits, mini sandwiches, and so on.
At the bar, if you haven’t already launched an Aperitivo hour or a similar concept, this could be the perfect way to introduce food to accompany refreshing low and no cocktails. Whether you want to create your own small bites menu for the programming and recommend combos to guests, or build-in food and drink deals, how you design your own version of Aperitivo hour is a creative endeavor that should serve as an extension of your bar’s brand.
FOOD ACCOMPANIMENT INSPO
- The Seedlip Cold Brew Highball with Parmesan cheese, crackers, and a fig jam
- Low-ABV Martini with dry vermouth, Tanqueray No. TEN, and orange bitters paired with charcuterie, cheese, olives, bread, and onion jam
- Ketel One Botanical Grapefruit & Rose Spritz paired with a citrus and goat cheese salad
HOW TO INTEGRATE LOW AND NO DRINKS INTO YOUR BEVERAGE PROGRAM
As the trend of drinking better, not more continues its upwards trajectory, more bars are exploring the best ways to build low and no cocktails into their beverage programs. This trend of mindful drinking has led to the increased frequency of non-alcoholic drinking occasions during the colder months of the year — a time when, historically, many bars struggle to retain their clientele.
Instead of losing business by not offering an inclusive spectrum of drinks on your menu for customers who are attempting to drink less, or more mindfully, these non-alcoholic drinking occasions present an opportunity to develop and create the perfect menu for all.
Ideas for occasion-based low and no cocktail programming:
- Selecting a brand partner (Seedlip, or Ketel One Botanical) to launch a special drinks menu that supports mindful drinking
- BOGO half-off deals (where legal) pushing new low/no-ABV offerings on the menu during happy hour
- For bar-restaurants: creating a tasting menu with low/no-ABV drink pairings, or have recommended low/no-ABV drinks next to food items on a special menu
The examples above are productive ways to test what works and what doesn't for YOUR bar. They are also a great way to gain insights into which types of drinks and flavors sell and are the most profitable, allowing you learn how to successfully integrate low and no drinks into your beverage program.
PUTTING PEN TO PAPER: HOW TO PRESENT LOW AND NO ON THE MENU
Next, you need to establish how you want to present these drinks on your menu. Here are a few thought-starters for both low and no drinks:
Low ABV on Menu
- If the bar’s operating hours are during the day, offering a low-ABV menu for that period — some of which can be low-ABV versions of drinks on the bar’s evening cocktail list to make it relatable for regulars (think: Aperitivo hour)
- Creating a low-ABV section of your cocktail menu
- Developing a menu key with symbols that indicate which drinks are low ABV
- Finding a percentage of low-ABV cocktails that should be on the menu and building them in without calling them out as low ABV
No ABV on Menu
- Offer non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic cocktails on the menu
- Create a separate no-ABV drink section
- Depending on how the bar’s menu is designed, creating one non-alcoholic drink for each section (stirred, citrusy, long and fizzy, rich and savory, etc.)
There are no hard and fast rules, or catch-all, for how to best weave these low and no drinks into your offering, so it’s best to stay agile and open-minded, listen to your guests and what they enjoy drinking at the bar, and to be creative and think more from a culinary perspective when it comes to these drink styles.
- Low and no cocktails are here to stay, and your guests will expect them, so it's time to get on board
- Seasonal ingredients are a great way to spice up your low and no offering, and encourage the guest to taste these exclusive serves
- Introducing the Aperitivo moment into your menu is a great way to integrate cool and creative low and no drinks
- Test out lots of different ways to integrate low and no serves in your bar, from a new Happy Hour to a tasting menu
- Have a long think about how you could best present your low and no serves on your menu like creating a new section or integrating icons which represent this style of drink