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Drinks trends tend to come and go but wellness and the option of a low sugar serve isn’t going away. Former World Class winner Tim Philips-Johansson looks at how to offer low sugar drinks without losing your bar’s signature flavors and serves.

Finding that sweet spot

Sugar in cocktails has long been associated with the disco drinking era, when cordials and curacaos were the norm and sugary liqueurs, concentrated fruit juices and traditional syrups were used to mask inferior alcohol bases. However, times have changed…

From “clean spirits” to “sugar-free” or “paleo-friendly” serves, the climate is changing in the drinks industry and bars are having to refine their offering to appeal to more health-conscious guests. Botanical spirits, for example, play a huge role in the healthy cocktail trend, with brands highlighting fruit characteristics with actual fruit or tinctures - rather than processed juices or fruit liqueurs, lowering the sugar level from the outset.

Much like adding a tablespoon of sugar in an Italian dish or to your favorite Thai stir-fry, adding sweetness to a cocktail will counteract any spicy, sour or bitter ingredients. There are many pitfalls and advantages to minimizing sugar intake when imbibing or creating cocktails but neither taste nor the wider cocktail experience should be sacrificed when doing so.

How Low Can You Go?

At some point or another you will have heard the phrase “nothing too sweet” or have been asked to use less sugar or leave it out entirely. However, there are several bartending skills and craft techniques that can be adopted to respond to this need.

Firstly, sweetness comes in many forms and there are alternative sweeteners you can introduce like maple syrup, agave syrup and honey which are becoming commonplace in many cocktail bars. Additionally, coconut sugar, brown rice sugar and xylitol have the potential to lower your cocktail’s glycaemic index (GI). Use our handy downloadable guide for a list of different sweeteners and their individual GIs.

Secondly, making your own syrup can help with managing the amount of sugar you’re using, helping you keep a closer eye on measurements and balancing of flavors.

Alternatively, finding styles of drinks that rely on straight spirits or drier fortified wines will help keep the sugar levels at bay. Sherry and vermouth, for example, have varied styles, ranging in sweetness levels. Using a sweeter vermouth or sherry will keep the additional sugar low, whilst helping to keep your drink drier or cleaner in taste.

Top tip: When adding sugar to a cocktail your aim is to reach a ‘bliss point’, a stage when sweet and sour are so balanced your palate salivates. How will you know when you strike that balance? Practice! You can test this for yourself by taking 30 ml of lemon juice and slowly adding sugar syrup until you find that point of harmony - the ‘bliss point’, where sugar highlights the existing flavors without making the drink just sweeter.

Try this “sweet” serve created by Tim and the team at Sweet&Chilli:


Golden Hour Highball



Alcohol content: 0.7 fl oz. per serve

5 Key Takeaways

Sweet&Chilli and Tim Philips-Johansson are paid partners of Diageo Bar Academy.

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