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Think lower-ABV cocktails have less flavor, think again! Leading World Class bartender Tess Posthumus discusses inventive ways to create lower-ABV cocktails to help create a variety of serves for your customers without affecting the quality and flavor.

The first cocktail competition I won was also the first cocktail competition I entered. Call it beginner's luck or blame it on the fact that this was a nonalcoholic cocktail competition and the fact that I had been able to practice this style of drinks from an early age. A good bartender has to be able to create delicious drinks for everybody—and that includes people who choose not to drink or want to drink lower-alcohol serves

Why lower-alcohol serves?

The trend of low-alcohol serves is on the rise, with many bars having a whole section of their menu dedicated to these drinks.

In the past, these lower-alcohol cocktails didn’t really have a category name and in most classic cocktail books you’ll find this style of drink under the wine section. This changed when Dinah Sanders published her book ‘The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to keep you level. Dinah started calling them shim cocktails, after a carpentry word for the small bits of wood used to keep everything level. Recently low-ABV serves have also adopted other names such as spritzer (if soda added) or low proof serves.

Low-alcohol serves are a great way to add diversity to your menu and give you more options to offer different customers. These serves also work really well for various occasions such as early afternoon or summer.
Another benefit of offering low-alcohol serves is that they can really help ensure your guests drink responsibly. These serves allow your customers to have the option to drink less alcohol but still get the same quality and experience as everyone else.

How to create exciting lower-alcohol serves

The tricky part in creating low-alcohol cocktails is that you need to create complexity and volume.

When I make low-alcoholic serves, in order to ensure I don’t just create a glass of juice with a little bit of alcohol, I try to use interesting ingredients and mature flavors such as bitter and spicy components.

You can also do this by using bitters and herbal ingredients as well as vegetable juices, wine-based products and amaro Or try adding more syrups and acids to get volume and flavor but keep the balance. Just make sure you don’t overpower the base spirit so you don’t taste the Gin and Whisky anymore. A couple of drops or dashes of cocktail bitters also work very well in adding an extra layer of complexity into the drink.
When creating your low-alcohol serves (or any serves, in fact) make sure you always use fresh ingredients. Don’t buy bottled lemon or lime juice but use a Mexican elbow instead and juice them to order. This way you get as much freshness as possible.

Another tip is to use lots of ice. The more ice, the longer your drink will stay cold and the less your serve will dilute. As for garnishes, if you’re not sure what type of garnish to use for a particular cocktail, use a complementary flavor or aroma to any of the drink's ingredients.

When to serve them

These lower-alcohol serves can be a great addition to your menu for various opportunities, such as summer and afternoon occasions, when people are often looking for a lighter alcohol serve.

Another great opportunity is to offer lower alcohol serves alongside food. You could pair these serves with certain dishes and showcase these as suggested cocktails on a food menu, or you could serve these before or after a meal.

Ready to get started? Take a look at my lower-alcohol recipes below for some inspiration.

Key Serves

Creole Royale


Pour the TANQUERAY LONDON Dry Gin, Red Vermouth and creole bitters into a mixing glass and stir.

Strain the cocktail into a pre-chilled coupe glass.

Top up with soda water.

Garnish with an orange zest.

Ceylon Spritz


Cold brew oolong tea in soda water overnight.

Fill a rocks glass with cubed ice and add the Whisky, syrup and bitters.

Pour the JOHNNIE WALKER Black label, muscovado syrup and orange bitters into a mixing glass and stir.

Strain into a rocks glass filled with cubed ice.

Top up with the oolong infused soda water.

Garnish with a lemon zest.

( One standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol )