Bars and restaurants around the world are incorporating more low or no-alcohol options on to their menus. Tim Philips-Johansson looks at the changing cocktail culture and asks: just how low will we go?

A CHANGING LANDSCAPE

If we only ate to get full, the world would be without literal and figurative texture, dismissing the need for dining habits and switching to consuming bottle meal replacements – a technological leap to becoming primitive in our consumption.

People have an increasingly wide variety of reasons to drink less or not at all. There are personal and professional causes, but there’s no denying there’s a change in the tide.

Today people are watching what they drink as much as what they eat. A collective increase on consciousness means people around the world are more mindful about what they’re consuming. This is in stark contrast to the late 80s and 90s’ penchant for neon-coloured cocktails and the ingredients inside them that achieved that glow.

LOW RIDER

68% of developed global alcohol markets are drinking less than they did since 2000*. This research would indicate not only are people drinking less, but they are drinking better. A big win for professional bartenders around the world.

Cocktail bars as a matter of urgency are now being required to increase their lower and no-er cocktail offerings, as well as improve said offerings to not just being the “that’ll-do” gesture of apple juice with a sprig of mint.

This changing of the tide and expectation from consumers then begs the question: what’s the best way to dedicate part of your venues offering to lower alcohol cocktails without compromising on flavour and your craft?

Here are some tips to get started:

SEASONING

The Reverse-Classic - a traditional classic cocktail with spirit and vermouth, reversed in specification to highlight the wine - has been partly engineered through the new wave of vermouth makers seeking to push more liquid and partly from the low ABV movement.

What better way to feature a new vermouth than to reverse the specifications of a martini or Manhattan and ‘season’ your cocktail with a spirit. This not only amplifies the qualities in the wine, but also brings down the ABV on a traditionally austere style of drink. Win-win.

TANNIN AND SPICE (AND ALL THINGS NICE)

A lot of the time, coming up with great alternatives to traditionally spirituous drinks is about replicating what makes their flavor profiles great. This depth of flavour is usually achieved through spice and tannin.

Using ingredients that are high on spice whilst replacing wine tannin and mouthfeel is vital. If the alcohol level is long in a drink, pump up the spice and try using alternative acids that don't just make the drink ‘sour’. Cue ingredients like verjus, vinegars, coffees and tannic teas.

YEASTIE BOYS

Great low ABV cocktails, like the Coronation and Adonis, are full of flavour but low on alcohol. Both are reminiscent of the martini and Manhattan without the base spirit and substituted with dry sherry.

There’s a reason sherry is a bartender’s best friend. It provides a flavour profile that is hard to replicate and it’s all down to oxygen. Oxidation occurs when wine is stored in wood. That oxidized ‘parmesan’ aroma is complex, lingering and wonderfully perfumed. You never feel you are missing out on flavour when drinking a sherry-heavy cocktail.

Playing around with house fermentations like kombuchas or lacto-fermented fruits is a great way of pumping up the flavour-dial, whilst keeping the alcohol units at bay.

HALF-DOSING

Guests still don’t want to give up the bracingly cold and strong nature of a well-made Negroni? I feel them.

In this case, your best bet is to offer those guests a half-cocktail, whilst keeping the alcohol level low. Venues like Dante (New York) and Maybe Sammy (Sydney) who offer guests a range of half-serve cocktails. What better way to not only keep the drink’s ABV low, but let a guest try more of your creations?

Every bar is built on regulars and looking after those regulars as well as new guests, alike. A bartender’s job includes a duty of care over all guests to make sure their experience is always memorable - not just in providing a hospitality experience, but memorable the next morning.

Keeping guests fresh and looking after them by not over-serving, whilst also showing the same attention to detail in the drinks to guests not drinking alcohol, is a sure way of retaining customers and keeping your venue full.

PRECURSORY COCKTAIL

RECIPE

METHOD

(Alcohol content: 9.95g)

FRESH QUINCE OF BEL AIR

RECIPE

METHOD

(Alcohol content: 10.27g)

*Source: UK National Statistics / NHS report - May 2017

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