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Think lower ABV cocktails have less flavour, then 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 flavour.

The first cocktail competition I won was also the first cocktail competition I entered. Call it beginners luck or blame it on the fact that this was a non-alcoholic cocktail competition and the fact that I had been able to practise 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 flavours 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. Also you could add more syrups and acids to get volume and flavour but keep the balance. Just make sure you don’t overpower the base spirit so you don’t taste the gin or 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 flavour or aroma to any of the drinks 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


20ml Soda water

20ml Red vermouth

2 Dashes creole bitters


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.

(1.2 standard drinks* - 1.2 units per serve)

Ceylon Spritz


60ml Oolong tea infused soda water

1 Barspoon of muscovado syrup (2:1)

1 Dash orange bitters


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.

(1.2 standard drinks* - 0.9 units per serve)

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