With alcohol-free cocktails inching their way onto mainstay menus, and an ever-expanding selection of low- and no-alcohol spirits, beers and wines to choose from, it’s little wonder that 2020 is forecast to be Dry January’s biggest year yet. From mood-altering plant tonics to low-alcohol gin-alikes, we take a look at the latest teetotal tipples on the market…
With 8.6 million Brits actively moderating their alcohol intake, according to Drinkaware, and a sizeable 20.9% of the UK adult population completely teetotal in the latest ONS survey, the low- and no-alcohol movement can no longer be seen as a passing fad. Driven by demand for a lower ABV lifestyle, the market for alternative adult drinks has transformed from a one-brand-band – led by pioneers Seedlip – into a full-blown drinks category. And it is brimming with innovative creations.
“People who are reducing their drinking still want to have a fun night out and enjoy the time they spend with friends and family, so they are looking for drinks that give them the experience – just without the booze,” says Richard Clark, founder and MD of alcohol-free craft beer and cider producer Drynks Unlimited. The challenge, he says, lies in developing liquids that taste, look and smell like their alcoholic counterparts.
Non-alcoholic beer has integrated into social occasions with relative ease, and alcohol-free wine is well on its way, with the likes of Jukes Cordialities premiumising the arena. Created by the Daily Mail‘s wine writer Matthew Jukes, the non-alcoholic cordial range is designed to mirror the ‘length and build quality of a fine wine’, the website states, with ‘complex, aromatic characters as well as uncommon texture, flavour and richness on the palate’.
Booze-free spirits, meanwhile, have faced a greater challenge winning over drinkers, largely because it’s far more difficult to replicate the real stuff. “Texture is a big thing,” agrees Geyan Surendran, development scientist and botanical alchemist at Three Spirit. “Some of the earlier non-alcoholic spirits, once mixed out, can be a little bit insipid, they don’t have that mouth-coating ability. The cooling and heating elements alcohol has are pretty key to the experience; complex textures that don’t just feel like flavoured water.” From punchy Siberian ginseng to calming valerian root, the non-alcohol spirit brand harnesses the power of plants to stimulate the mind and body as well as the palate.
It’s an approach shared by adaptogenic plant spirits brand Senser, founded by plants alchemist Vanessa Jacoby. The three-strong range sees ‘functional botanicals’ combined and treated in a way that means each 50ml serve ‘delivers an effective botanical dosage’. The Love bottling, for example, contains rhodiola, caraway and passionflower – all known for their calming, anxiety-soothing effects. “It’s about addressing why people drink beyond the aesthetic part of it, that’s what we’re interested in,” Three Spirit’s Surendran adds.
Physical elements aside, alcohol-free producers are also keen to tap into the social ritual associated with drinking and make their offerings as accessible and acceptable as other full-strength products. And not just to appease teetotallers, either. Increasingly, drinkers are mixing traditional spirits with low- and no- options during the same drinking occasion. Take William Grant & Sons’ ‘ultra low alcohol spirit’ Atopia, created by Lesley Gracie, the master distiller behind Hendrick’s Gin. If you’re looking for moderation, Atopia enables you to go out and stay out, according to the website an Atopia & Tonic contains 75 times less alcohol than a Gin & Tonic.
“We see that people within an evening are having the ‘wedge drink’ – moderating by alternating between an alcoholic and then a non alcoholic drink through the night,” says Mark Livings, CEO of Lyre’s Spirits. “The challenge here is that it’s obvious to others what you are doing and it’s a compromise that ‘breaks’ the taste of what you’re drinking.” Lyre’s, which offers a wide array of non-alcoholic spirits including Absinthe, American Malt and Dark Cane Spirit, intends to closely match the flavours and appearance of classic spirits to give sober curious drinkers more freedom.
It’s not the only producer to move into this space. Scotland’s first distilled alcohol-free spirit, Feragaia, is an amber-coloured liquid that wouldn’t look out of place in a Glencairn glass. Distilled in the Lowlands, the team combines 14 responsibly-sourced botanicals, including seaweed, bay leaf and chamomile, capturing the flavours through ‘multiple runs’. The delicate notes of flowers and leaves combine with the earthier elements of root botanicals and spices to create a taste of clean complexity, the website explains. Non-alcoholic spirit Amplify, meanwhile, has adopted a classic botanical recipe – juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root, lemon peel, lemongrass and ginseng root – to emulate the flavours drinkers are used to.
“We developed a menu hack that assimilates the non-alcoholic offering into the existing cocktail menu which has been a huge hit and helped to drive our brand forwards,” says Alex Carlton, founder and CEO of alcohol-free spirits range Stryyk. “By simply offering a non-alcoholic version of a bars’ existing cocktail menu by swapping out rum, gin or vodka for our Not Rum, Not Gin or Not Vodka – denoted by our Strykk asterisk on menu – consumers who are looking for quality non-alcoholic drinks can do so without breaking ritual and also enjoying the same experience as their friends who are drinking.”
Of course, not every alcohol-free offering sets out to imitate the alcoholic aspect of the drink. Rather than recreate a classic booze category, sparkling botanical drinks producer Humble Warrior cold brews, distils and extracts various roots, leaves and spices to make healthful adult soft drinks. Regardless of whether you’re emulating the spirit or levelling up the mixer, when you want to bring no and low to the masses, familiarity is key.
“Products that are already aligned to make-at-home drinks are extremely appealing as they can enjoy their very same rituals without having to learn new unique and overly complicated serves from non-category aligned brands,” Carlton adds. “They can easily pick up a bottle of Not Gin, Not Rum or Not Vodka on the shelf in the supermarket or online safe in the knowledge that it’s already going to do what they expect it to do.”