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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Low- and no-alcohol drinks

Mother Root, the drink bringing the switchel back

New to MoM, the fiery Mother Root Ginger Switchel combines a 17th century recipe with the 21st century rise of delicious zero ABV drinks. We chat to founder Bethan Higson…

New to MoM, the fiery Mother Root Ginger Switchel combines a 17th century recipe with the 21st century rise of delicious zero ABV drinks. We chat to founder Bethan Higson about how becoming a mother inspired her, the health benefits of a switchel and taking her creation worldwide.

I usually only reserve the term ‘mouthfeel’ for describing drinks. However, on this occasion I’d also argue that saying the word ‘switchel’ feels good on the lips, tongue and teeth. It certainly beats ‘ginger-water’, ‘switchy’ and ‘haymaker’s punch’, three other terms that this – until recently – long-forgotten vinegar-based drink went by in the American colonies during the late 17th century.

I say until recently because in 2019, Bethan Higson released Mother Root, an elixir made up of organic apple cider vinegar, blossom honey, ginger juice, ginger extract and capsicum extract. When she was pregnant with her first child in 2015, Higson became very aware, very quickly, of the lack of non-alcoholic liquid on the market (this was pre-Seedlip). On a quest to find ways of bringing acidity into her drinks, she stumbled across an article in The New York Times, ‘Dropping Acid’, that explored the world of drinking vinegars – and the switchel came into her consciousness.

“I started to research and came across these old shrub recipes,” she explains. “They had the complex flavour profiles that I love in Champagne and Riesling, that balance between sweet and sour characters. I tried them and they were amazing, so I just started making them for my own benefit.”

It wasn’t until she became pregnant with her second child however that she decided to turn her homemade shrubs into a brand. She booked a spot at the Peckham Christmas Market (Pexmas, love it) to give herself a goal and made 180 bottles – they sold out in less than two days. Now, Higson makes around 3,500 bottles every few months. Not too shabby for a drink that’s been out of the spotlight for four centuries.

Beth Higson from Mother Root

Mixing in her kitchen, it’s Beth Higson from Mother Root

Old world meets new

This isn’t Higsons’ first rodeo in the world of drinks. “I studied languages at university, French and Italian, and I really wanted to work in an industry where I could use them. An opportunity came up where I could work for a wine PR brand and they needed a French speaker. I knew I liked wine, but I didn’t know anything about the trade. I fell in love with the business straight away because it’s all about the stories behind the products, the people. With wine and craft beverages in general, it’s the care and attention of the people, their love of the land, and the simple ingredients that you take for granted but people obsess over. That romanticism was amazing.”

She stayed in the industry working for the likes of Sopexa, LVMH and Champagne Devaux and then she fell pregnant and her sights turned to the no-ABV space. “I love ginger for a start and ginger beers are never gingery enough for me, so when I heard about the switchel I was fascinated.”

The origins of the switchel are largely unknown (the American Colonies, the Caribbean and ancient China are all mooted), but its existence in the USA is well documented in literature. Carrie takes a glass to Laura and Pa in one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, The Long Winter set in Wisconsin. While Herman Melville (best known for Moby Dick) writes about it in I and My Chimney: “I will give a traveler a cup of switchel, if he want it.”

What we do know is that it was often consumed by farmers in the long hot summers due to its thirst-quenching and refreshing powers – and tales of those farmers carrying them in the fields in mason jars and keeping them chilled in cold streams abound. Variations emerged in various regions with the likes of molasses being used in the south, and maple syrup in the east, and then they fell out of fashion when refrigeration and access to refined sugars became possible.

When Higson discovered them during her research, it quenched her thirst for an alternative to booze: “Alcohol is not the prerequisite to quality – I liked having that problem to solve.”

Mother Root PeNOcillin

Mother Root PeNOcillin, see what they did there?

Ginger spice

The choice of a ginger switchel was two-fold: “I love ginger for a start – ginger beers are never gingery enough for me – and I thought that ginger had the added benefit of having a warming finish which you miss when you’re not having a drink. It makes you sip it more slowly.”

There are also the numerous health benefits associated with both apple cider vinegar and ginger. Oh, and there’s one more benefit: I’ve found that it works a treat on a hangover. Higson laughs when I make my confession: “My sister says that too! Apple cider vinegar is actually said to balance your blood sugar, because alcohol really messes with your blood glucose levels.” It’s also good for settling the stomach, making Mother Root a great choice for an aperitif.

When it comes to making it, Higson develops the recipe in her kitchen, while production takes place at a small husband and wife-run manufacturer just outside London. Apple cider vinegar is macerated with the ginger before being sweetened with blossom honey, lightly filtered and then bottled, all in small batches. It’s a simple recipe but one that requires the use of high-quality ingredients. “It’s a relatively simple drink to make, but the complexity comes in with choosing the right ingredients. When I was going through the process we went through 20 different iterations of tiny differences – ‘should we us this honey, that honey’. Even if you just go into a supermarket you have about 12 different styles of honey and there is the minutiae of the aromas. That’s where you get the differences in quality and balance.”

Mother Root Switchel and soda landscape

Mother Root Switchel and soda

Hot take

When it comes to drinking Mother Root, Higson’s signature serve couldn’t be easier. Her Mother Root & Soda mixes one part Mother Root with four parts of soda water, garnish with a slice of orange and a sprig of rosemary. She explains that although the garnishes look good, they also help to build the flavour profile, with the addition of the savoury, herbal notes of the rosemary and the orange’s essential oils.

Other non-alcoholic and some alcoholic recipes on her site include the likes of a Hot Not Toddy, a Dry White that gives drinkers the option of adding Riesling wine, a Switch Cobbler using sherry and an Old Kyoto. Higson also likes it in her no-ABV riff on a Penicillin (a Pe-No-cillin). “I’m a huge whisky fan, so I mix lapsang souchong tea with Mother Root, lemon and honey – it makes a smoky, peaty and warming cocktail.”

Come summer, she’ll have more flavours to play with as she teases a new launch that will add a new string to Mother Root’s already popular bow. Until then, Higson is focusing on the constant growth of the original. “As we’re growing, I’m looking to offset my carbon emissions and then going forward, that sustainability piece will be more of an anchor.” She also has her sights on going international. Perhaps one day, Mother Root will find its way into the hands of a 21st century, Wisconsin farmer.

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New London Light – zero ABV with distinction

Inspired by the historical distinction of London Dry gin, Salcombe Distillery Company intends to set a benchmark for flavour in the alcohol-free sphere with the release of New London Light, its…

Inspired by the historical distinction of London Dry gin, Salcombe Distillery Company intends to set a benchmark for flavour in the alcohol-free sphere with the release of New London Light, its first non-alcoholic spirit. We spoke to co-founder and director Howard Davies to find out more about the bottling, the first in a series for the distillery…

The London Dry style rose to prominence in the 19th century as the gold standard for gin production. At a time when such spirits were produced “in rather dubious fashions of very varied quality,” says Davies, the designation guaranteed that the bottling hadn’t been doctored post-distillation. “London Dry was introduced to put some kind of assurance to the consumer about the quality of the gin they were consuming,” he says. The style set a standard for production that continues to this day.

While today’s alcohol-free producers certainly aren’t poisoning their customers, the fledgling category faces its own consistency challenges. Davies and the team sought to bring the London Dry ethos to the alcohol-free sector with the launch of their first 0% ABV bottling, New London Light. “In these early days of non-alcoholic spirits, there’s a mix of quality of product out there,” says Davies. Against this backdrop, New London Light intends to be “the benchmark of taste and flavour in the non-alcoholic spirits sector.”

Angus Lugsdin and Howard Davies, founders of Salcombe

The name ‘New London Light’ doesn’t only refer to the historic gin style. It’s also a nod to the coastal location of the distillery, which lies on the south-east coast of England in the town of Salcombe, Devon. “There’s a couple of other little ties,” says Davies. “Our distillery is by the sea, one of the only distilleries in the world you can reach by boat, and so our product names are often inspired by lighthouses.” 

There’s Start Point gin, named for a lighthouse on the coast of Devon, and Rosé Sainte Marie gin, named for a lighthouse in the Mediterranean. New London Light is a lighthouse, too – located on America’s east coast, in Long Island Sound. Incredibly, it was once a beacon for the crews of 19th century Salcombe Fruiters. Built in Salcombe and neighbouring Kingsbridge, these speedy Schooner sailing vessels were designed to transport perishable fruits, herbs and spices sourced from across the globe – including America – back to England’s ports.

Developed by master distiller Jason Nickels, New London Light is made using a two-step process. The first sees Macedonian juniper berries, ginger and habanero capsicum distilled to create a base spirit. “This initial distillation uses alcohol, but at a weaker strength than we would normally do it,” says Davies. Using alcohol at this stage of the process allows the team to capture a fuller flavour profile from the botanicals. “Often when you do a plain water distillation, the flavours don’t come through as much,” he adds.

This base liquid is then blended with a further 15 botanical extracts, including orange, sage, cardamom, cascarilla bark and lemongrass. Some of these flavours are captured in concentrates and oils, while others are achieved through more technical methods, such as vacuum distillation. The team experimented with endless distilling methods before settling on this two-pronged approach. “It’s very much a horses for courses approach, in that there’ll be specific distillation methods and extract methods that are going to be a better fit for specific botanicals or botanical types,” says Davies.

Serving suggestion

Creating a genuinely tasty non-alcoholic spirit requires a new way of approaching flavour. Davies explained: “The original distillate whilst containing alcohol has proportionally a very concentrated botanical flavour load, and is intended to be very diluted. Therefore when blended with the other botanical extracts and water the alcohol strength is diluted significantly such that it’s final strength is below 0.5% ABV which qualifies as non-alcoholic”. Using multiple methods is where the future of the category lies, reckons Davies. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be one method that you can use across all of the botanical flavours and ingredients,” he says. “The best non-alcoholic spirits coming through are going to [use] a variety of different methods, depending on the type of botanical or flavour you’re trying to achieve in your final liquid.”

So, how should you drink New London Light? There are a whole host of cocktail suggestions on Salcombe Distilling Co’s website, along with signature serve New London Light and Light. “It’s essentially New London Light with a low-calorie tonic,” says Davies. “It’s garnished with a slice of orange – to compliment the citrus flavours coming through – and a sage leaf, which brings an amazing warm, herbal note. It really picks up that botanical within the spirit, so you get this lovely two-tone effect of the garnish on the nose and then again on the palate.”

Corks may be popping on bottles of New London Light this Dry January, but when it comes to distilling sans-booze, the team’s only just getting started. New London Light is the first bottling in what’s set to become a full non-alcoholic range, with two more booze-free variants planned for release before the end of the year. While the finer details remain well and truly under wraps, the focus for Davies and the wider Salcombe Distilling Co. team is centred on “innovation of taste and of process”.

“It’s about breaking new ground in terms of innovative flavour combinations and coming further away from traditional alcoholic drink flavours,” he says. “In the alcoholic sector, drinks are based on ingredients that you can ferment to create alcohol. We don’t have those constraints in the non-alcoholic sector, and so it’s a great opportunity to use less-familiar ingredients. It’s also about innovation in terms of the techniques that we use to extract the best possible flavour from these botanicals and plants.”

New London Light tasting note

Nose: Bursting with fresh lime zest and orange sherbet. A whiff of cardamom and violet, underpinned by a piney juniper note. 

Palate: Delightfully aromatic. Warming ginger and chilli make way for floral, woody notes with a hint of bitter orange and clove. 

Finish: Smooth and slightly drying. A tangy peachiness turns herbaceous, with fragrant lemongrass, fresh coriander and a hint of menthol. 

Salcombe New London Light is available from Master of Malt

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Top ten: Low- and zero-ABV drinks

Yes, it’s Dry January, for some, anyway. But whether you’re cutting out the booze completely or just fancy a change, here are the most delicious low- and no-alcohol spirit substitutes…

Yes, it’s Dry January, for some, anyway. But whether you’re cutting out the booze completely or just fancy a change, here are the most delicious low- and no-alcohol spirit substitutes rated by Master of Malt customers.

The low/ no ABV ‘spirit’ category is now firmly established. All it needs is a snappy name, we can’t go on calling them spirit substitutes or zero ABV gin-style drinks. Any suggestions on a postcard to MoM HQ, or you could comment below. Rather than pick our favourites as we normally do, this January we’ve picked the ones with the highest ratings on the Master of Malt website. So these are the drinks that our customers liked enough to leave a rating. There’s some five star products here…

bax-botanics-sea-buckthorn-spirit

1) Bax Botanics Sea Buckthorn

A non-alcoholic spirit from Yorkshire’s Bax Botanics. The main flavour is sea buckthorn and distilled alongside herbs and Seville orange. With absolutely no sugar added, the spirit boasts a complex and satisfyingly bittersweet fruity profile. 

How does it taste?

Highly aromatic, with rich savoury herbal notes and bittersweet fruit. Serve on ice and garnish with a ribbon of orange peel.

everleaf-bittersweet-aperitif-spirit

2) Everleaf Bittersweet Aperitif

Everleaf Bittersweet Aperitif is an apero, like Aperol or Campari, only with no alcohol. It’s made with a medley of 18 marvellous ingredients including gentian, iris, saffron, vanilla, vetiver, orange blossom and more. 

How does it taste?

Enjoyable herbal bitterness, with hints of anise, lemongrass, honey and caraway in support. Exceptional in a spritz with ice, tonic water and a fair whack of fresh orange. 

aecorn-bitter-spirit

3) Æcorn Bitter

Æcorn is a range of non-alcoholic aperitifs created by the Seedlip team.  The bitter version is made from Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay grapes flavoured with citrus fruits, bay leaf, oak and quassia.

How does it taste?

Bitter peels and juicy grapefruit, balanced by earthy herbs and a touch of pine resin. Try it in a Nogroni with Seedlip Spice (below) and Aecorn Aromatic.

william-fox-juniper-syrup

4) William Fox Juniper Syrup

From Liverpool-based William Fox, this delightful syrup uses juniper, the base of all gins as it flavour, so it’s sure to be popular. Add to a variety of drinks for reassuring gin-like flavour. 

How does it taste?

Slightly bitter, warm and savoury, with a tangy citrus-y backdrop. Try mixed with pink grapefruit juice and soda water. 

xachoh-blend-no-7-spirit

5) Xachoh Blend No. 7

Here we have Xachoh’s (pronounced ‘Za-ko’) second non-alcoholic spirit, Blend No.7. It contains botanicals inspired by the Silk Road, including ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, crystal dark malt, star anise, saffron and sumac. 

How does it taste? 

Full of fragrant spicy notes, namely ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon, accompanied by sweet malty notes. Mix with ginger ale and a good squeeze of lime. 

lyres-non-alcoholic-american-malt-spirit

6) Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic American Malt

This is a bourbon substitute made by an Australian brand that makes a huge range of non-alcoholic drinks to use instead of rum, gin, amaretto etc. The brand is named after the Australian Lyrebird, which is renowned for being able to mimic the calls of other birds. 

How does it taste?

Smooth caramel and a hint of oak with a slightly spicy finish. Makes a great Old Fashioned substitute, see here for more recipes. 

pentire-adrift-spirit

7) Pentire Adrift

A uniquely maritime spirit, this is inspired by the North Cornish coastline and made from botanicals including rock samphire, sea fennel, sage, citrus and Cornish sea salt, either sustainably sourced or organically grown. 

How does it taste?

A hint of anise, salty and herbaceous notes intertwine, with a dash of lively citrus and mineral sea salt, with a warming finish. It’s great with tonic and a twist of lemon peel.

three-spirit

8) Three Spirit Social Elixir

After much experimentation, the Three Spirit team of botanical alchemists settled on 11 plant-based ingredients from around the world, including lion’s mane, cacao, damiana, and yerba mate. 

How does it taste?

Stewed fruit and banana aromas fade into rich notes of dark chocolate and coffee. Makes a great Espresso Martini, details here

feragaia-spirit

9) Feragaia

Feragaia is a Scottish alcohol-free spirit marrying 14 botanicals including seaweed, bay leaf and chamomile. Before bottling, it’s then blended with Scottish water. Feragaia means ‘wild earth’, taken from Fera in Latin meaning ‘wild’, and ‘Gaia’ in Greek mythology translating to ‘earth’.

How does it taste?

A floral top note leads into earthier root flavours, with a balanced salty note and a warming, spiced finish. Try it with ginger ale and a sprig of mint to make what Feragaia calls a Winter Wanderer. 

seedlip-spice-94-spirit

10) Seedlip Spice 94 

We had to include the mighty Seedlip, the brand that started it all. Some people love it, it has five star ratings galore, and some people don’t, but there’s no denying its influence. This version is based around allspice, cardamom, grapefruit, lemon and oak.

How does it taste?

Warming (almost Christmas-y) notes of nutmeg and clove, with a balancing sweetness of fresh citrus. Serve over ice with tonic and a pink grapefruit twist.

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10 classic cocktails, served two ways

Thinking of going dry this January, or living with someone who is? We’ve pulled together 10 of our favourite classic cocktail recipes, presented with both boozy ingredients and non-alcoholic spirit…

Thinking of going dry this January, or living with someone who is? We’ve pulled together 10 of our favourite classic cocktail recipes, presented with both boozy ingredients and non-alcoholic spirit alternatives. No matter whether you’re swerving the sauce or in need of a stiff drink over the coming weeks, this guide is for you…

More than four million people signed up to Dry January at the start of 2020, skipping alcohol for 31 sober days to put some sober space between the unfettered indulgence of the festive season and their hopeful new year’s resolutions. While this year’s yuletide has been far from normal, once again many are looking to undertake the challenge and take a welcome break from booze. 

However, going teetotal doesn’t mean ditching your favourite drinks. There have never been more non-alcoholic spirits options available to choose from, with booze-free amarettos, aperitivos, whiskies and gins making flavourful substitutes for the ‘real’ thing. And if you’re not going alcohol-free for a month? You’ll find the original punchy recipe alongside in all its boozy glory…

1. Amaretto Sour

Amaretto is a sweet Italian liqueur traditionally flavoured with almonds or apricot kernels, and with an ABV of around 25 to 28%. Up until recently, there was no way of recreating this classic Sour serve sans booze – then Lyre’s stepped in and changed the game with their Amaretti.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 50ml Disaronno, 25ml fresh lemon juice, 5ml sugar syrup, egg white

Method: Shake all the ingredients with ice. Garnish with a slice of lemon.

Amaretto Sour

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 75ml Lyre’s Amaretti, 15ml lemon juice, 5ml sugar syrup, 10ml egg white, 3 dashes aromatic bitters

Method: Rapid shake with ice. Strain into glass and fill with fresh cubed ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge and a Luxardo Maraschino cherry.

2. Old Fashioned

There are few ingredients in an Old Fashioned, making it particularly hard to nail a non-alc version. Three Spirit’s woody, aromatic Nightcap bottling makes a worthy whisky substitute in this drink.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 35ml Bulleit Bourbon, 2 bar spoons simple syrup, 3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Method: Add two bar spoons of simple syrup, three dashes of bitters and Bulleit Bourbon to a large rocks glass. Add ice. Stir gently until the level of the ice and liquid equalise. Zest an orange peel over the glass then add the peel to the drink as a garnish.

Old Fashioned

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Three Spirit The Nightcap, 5 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Method: Combine all ingredients in a whisky-style glass and fill with ice. Stir until ice-cold, garnish with an orange slice, and top with a maraschino cherry.

3. Dirty Martini

With its saline quality and cloudy appearance, the Dirty Martini is a world away from the traditional variation. Pentire’s herbaceous, fresh, coastal flavours really lend themselves to the brininess of the olives. 

THE ORIGINAL

Ingredients: 50ml Sipsmith London Dry Gin, 10-15ml Noilly Prat dry vermouth, 2 barspoons olive brine

Method: Combine Sipsmith Gin, dry vermouth and olive brine in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir for approximately 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a few olives. 

Dirty Martini

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Pentire Adrift, 3 Nocellara olives in brine, 5ml olive brine, 3 black peppercorns, 5ml maple syrup, grapefruit wedge (squeeze)

Method: Shake, strain, and serve over a block of ice. Garnish with an olive.

4. Basil Smash

This classic modern cocktail features a delightful green tinge that’s easily replicated in a non-alc version. Amplify’s lemon, bittersweet orange, earthy juniper and lemongrass notes really set the drink off.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 50ml Martin Miller’s Gin, 1 bunch of basil leaves, 25 ml fresh lemon juice, 15ml sugar syrup

Method: Place basil and lemon juice into cocktail shaker. Gentle muddle the basil and lemon juice, ‘smashing’ the ingredients. Add sugar syrup and gin and then top up with ice. Shake and double strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with basil leaves.

Basil Smash

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Amplify, 10ml lemongrass syrup, 10ml lemon juice, soda water, handful of basil leaves

Method: Shake all the ingredients together, strain into a highball glass and top with soda. Garnish with a fresh basil leaf if you’re feeling fancy.

5. Margarita

Bright and tangy, the classic Margarita is simple to make and super refreshing. The same goes for Seedlip’s variant, made with its citrus-forward Grove 42 (featuring blood orange, bitter orange and mandarin) as a substitute for the sweet orange liqueur.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 2 parts Espolòn Blanco Tequila, ¾ part Grand Marnier, 1 part fresh lime juice, ½ part agave nectar

Method: Shake over ice and strain into an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Margarita

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Seedlip Grove 42, 1 tbsp agave syrup, 20ml fresh lime juice

Method: Prepare your glass by running a lime wedge around the outside of the rim then roll the rim in salt. Add all the ingredients with ice to a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain over fresh cubes of ice into a tumbler. Garnish with a lime wheel.

6. Manhattan

Non-alcoholic bourbon? It’s a real thing, thanks to the innovative folks at Lyre’s. Rustle up a Manhattan – which is traditionally built around rye (but you can use bourbon) – using their American Malt and Apéritif Rosso for a startlingly similar booze-free serve. 

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 2 parts Knob Creek Bourbon, ½ part Gonzalez Byass La Copa sweet vermouth, 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Method: Stir and strain into a coupe cocktail glass. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry.

Manhattan

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 60ml Lyre’s American Malt, 15ml Lyre’s Apéritif Rosso, 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Method: Stir briefly with ice, strain into a small coupette. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

7. Negroni

Given that it’s made entirely from alcoholic ingredients, you’d think it would be impossible to recreate the Negroni. Not so – often dubbed the ‘Nogroni’ when presented without booze, this version combines three non-alc spirits to create the same deliciously bitter effect. 

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 30ml Campari, 30ml Bathtub Gin, 30ml Martini Rosso vermouth

Ingredients: Pour all ingredients directly into a rock glass filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of orange.

Negroni

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 25ml Seedlip Spice 94, 25ml Æcorn Bitter, 25ml Æcorn Aromatic

Method: Build over ice, garnish with a slice of citrus.

8. Bramble

Another contemporary cocktail that lends itself to experimentation, the classic Bramble’s blackberry liqueur and dry gin can easily be subbed for boozeless alternatives – such as blackberry syrup and Stryyk Not Gin (a distilled non-alcoholic alternative to London dry gin). 

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 20ml fresh lemon juice, 12.5ml sugar syrup, 45ml Portobello Road London Dry Gin, 25ml Braemble Liqueur

Method: Add lemon juice, sugar syrup and gin to an Old Fashioned glass. Fill the glass with crushed ice, garnish with a blackberry and a mint sprig and then dust with icing sugar. Finish by pouring a measure of Braemble Gin Liqueur over the ice.

The Bramble Cocktail

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 50ml Stryyk Not Gin, 20ml lemon juice, 15ml blackberry syrup

Method: Combine all the ingredients together in a shaker. Shake well before straining into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon slice and a blackberry.

9. Tom Collins

First memorialised in writing in the late 19th century by pioneering bartender Jerry Thomas, the simple, refreshing Tom Collins has stood the test of time. Make yours without booze by swapping the gin for floral Fluère Original, with botanicals including juniper, lavender, lime peel and coriander.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 50ml Langley’s Old Tom, 20ml lemon juice, 10ml sugar syrup, soda to top

Method: Fill Collins glass with ice. Add Langley’s Old Tom Gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and soda to glass and stir. Garnish with lemon wedge and cherry.

Tom Collins

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 60ml Fluère, 30ml lemon juice, 20ml simple syrup, soda to top

Method: Build in a Collins glass. Pour all the ingredients over ice cubes until the glass is 3/4 full. Top it off with crushed ice. Garnish with lemon wedge and maraschino cherry, or lemon wedge and a sprig of mint.

10. Aperol Spritz

A well-balanced Spritz has become synonymous with summertime sipping – but did you know you can enjoy the serve sans-booze? Switch the Aperol for Lyre’s Italian Spritz, which combines sweet orange and tangy rhubarb to bring a bright, bittersweet kick to the drink.

THE ORIGINAL 

Ingredients: 1 part Aperol, 1 part Prosecco DOC, soda to top

Method: Fill a wine glass with ice. Add the Prosecco followed by the Aperol. Add a dash of soda and garnish with an orange slice.

Aperol Spritz

THE NON-ALC VERSION

Ingredients: 60ml Lyre’s Italian Spritz, 60ml premium alcohol free ‘Prosecco’, 30ml soda water

Method: Add all ingredients to a large wine glass. Stir, and fill with fresh cubed ice. Garnish with an orange slice.

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Cocktail of the Week: Deano’s Margarita

This week we’re honouring both Sober October and Black History Month with a zero-alcohol serve made to support diversity and inclusivity as part of the Equal Measures UK initiative. A…

This week we’re honouring both Sober October and Black History Month with a zero-alcohol serve made to support diversity and inclusivity as part of the Equal Measures UK initiative.

A lot goes on in October. There’s people trying to abstain from alcohol (I’m sure you’ve seen our Sober October coverage), there’s folks embracing their spooky side and, 2020 aside, plenty of Oktoberfest-based shenanigans. 

However, in the UK, October is also Black History Month. It was launched in London in 1987 to educate people about history that was not taught in school. Over the years it’s become a platform to celebrate people of colour within our society and to draw attention to causes that aim to address the lack of progress that’s been made in the name of equality.

This year Deano Moncrieffe, an award-winning bartender and owner of Hacha (the amazing agave spirits bar in Dalston, London) has founded the Equal Measures initiative, to “raise awareness around diversity and inclusion within the hospitality industry”. Here’s how it works: each day of October, Moncrieffe shares a cocktail that’s been inspired by a person of colour who the creator believes has had a positive impact on society on the Equal Measures Instagram page. Instead of championing historical figures, the guests are encouraged to talk about people close to them.

Deano's Margarita

Say hello to Deano Moncrieffe!

“I wanted to drive the positive agenda around diversity and the importance of our hospitality industry reflecting the society it serves in the UK,” Moncrieffe explains. “I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the world and it’s surprised me how few cocktails are inspired by people of colour. I thought this initiative was a great opportunity to shine the light on black individuals who have made a positive impact but have not been widely recognised or spoken about as much as they should be inside our industry”. 

Moncrieffe also felt there needed to be a greater level of transparency on how companies promote and support diversity programs, explaining while there are plenty of diversity programs in place in the hospitality industry, “no one really knows what it is they actually do, how they measure success and how they intend to support people from BAME  communities”.

Education was the final key driver behind Equal Measures, with Moncrieffe describing it as the “absolute key to us moving forward positively in the hospitality industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion”, adding that means education on “how racism can affect the mental health of your co-workers, how people from many different backgrounds should be represented in senior management positions but currently, the numbers do not reflect this, how we up-skill BAME individuals already in the industry to help set them up for successful careers with the same potential for progression as their coworkers and, finally, education at recruitment level so we can attract more individuals from BAME communities to join our wonderful industry”.

Deano's Margarita

Vidal made the cocktail to honour her friend and the founder of the Equal Measures initiative

This week’s cocktail is one that was made with the Equal Measures initiative in-mind and excitingly, actually honours Moncrieffe himself. It was created by the wonderful Camille Vidal, founder of the mindful cocktail website, La Maison Wellness and something of a regular on this blog. Vidal encourages her readers that while drinking this Margarita they should take a moment “to reflect on what positive impact you can make, how you can support inclusivity and diversity in your community. If you are a person of colour we want you to know that you are always welcome”. Hear, hear.

At the base of her serve, Mockingbird Spirit, a Tequila substitute that was crafted to evoke the flavours of agave-based spirits, but without the alcohol. It’s made with blue weber agave, as well as ashwagandha, and has an earthy, peppery and sweet (think vanilla) profile. There’s also fresh lime juice, naturally, and organic agave syrup, which is a neat touch that adds a pleasant sweetness. It also works great as glue to rim or strip your glass (see the image) for the salt to stick to. Organic activated charcoal, which is said to have all kinds of wellness properties (although it is to be used carefully, there’s more info here), is a first for me, but I do love how it makes the drink delightfully dark, meaning it actually works as a Halloween serve too! 

Deano’s Margarita is super simple to make and champions a really good cause, so we do hope you enjoy it and appreciate what Moncrieffe is trying to do. If you’d like to follow his progress day-by-day, you’ll be pleased to know he intends to do Equal Measures every year. “I’m keen to see it grow and develop into something much bigger,” he says. “I’m really pleased how it’s gone this year considering the obvious challenges of constantly moving goalposts due to COVID-19 restrictions and government guidelines which have placed our industry in such a perilous position”.  Good thing we can still imbibe cocktails at home. Here’s how to make Deano’s Margarita: 

Deano's Margarita

60ml of Mockingbird Spirit
30ml of fresh lime juice
15ml of organic agave syrup
1/2 tsp of organic activated charcoal (sounds complicated but actually widely available)
Spray of mezcal (optional)

First prep your glass by brushing a little bit of agave syrup around the rim of your glass, then sprinkle black & white salt on it. Add your Mockingbird Spirit, lime juice, agave syrup, organic activated charcoal and ice to a cocktail. Give it a good firm shake and then pop some ice in your glass before you strain the mixture in. If you like, you can add a spray of mezcal, which will keep your cocktail under 0.5%, so still technically non-alcoholic.

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Lyre’s: masters of the no-alcohol alternative

Another one of low-and-no-alcohol’s finest features on our blog today as our Sober October coverage continues. This time it’s the mimic masters, Lyre’s the most awarded non-alcoholic spirit brand in…

Another one of low-and-no-alcohol’s finest features on our blog today as our Sober October coverage continues. This time it’s the mimic masters, Lyre’s the most awarded non-alcoholic spirit brand in the world. 

“We saw this consumer trend around people drinking more mindfully. People who still drink but might be looking to reduce or take a break – Sober October is a great example of that – or people who are looking to leave the alcohol category entirely. And we realised people still wanted their indulgences and thought there was an opportunity in the market for something to be developed”. 

Lyre’s CEO and co-founder Mark Livings is in his element breaking down the opportunities afforded in the world of low-and-no alcohol drinks. Despite only starting four years ago, the brand already has a 13-strong zero-alcohol spirit range, released to some acclaim. If you love a bit of medal action, Lyre’s is the brand for you. It’s picked up over 50 awards from across the globe and at the recent IWSC spirits awards won the trophy for overall victory across the no and low-alcoholic spirits category.

Despite its meteoric growth in recent years, the premise behind Lyre’s is deceptively simple: you don’t want to consume alcohol, but still want something that looks, smells and tastes like the original. This is where Lyre’s comes in. “Our hypothesis was that people wanted a facsimile of an already-known flavour or spirit. Something that allows you to retain the same measurements and serving size. We wanted it to have a better sort of proximity to the original than Diet Coke does to Coke,” Livings explains. “We decided to not release any products unless they could tick all of those boxes. We’ve managed to replicate 13 of the 15 that we set out to make facsimiles of and with those 13 we can create 42 of the world’s 50 best selling cocktails and mixed beverages. That was our goal”. 

Lyre’s

Say hello to Mark Livings!

It’s a remarkably extensive collection that covers all the bases. Need a bourbon alternative? They’ve got it. A gin substitute? No problem. A rum replacement? I think you know where this is heading. Amazingly, there’s more in the pipeline. “Our range is so large because we wanted to replace the back bar. To give the trade the ability to make the entirety of their cocktail menu in a non-alcoholic format. To do that you need a very, very broad selection of spirits,” Livings says. “We were also thinking global from day one. The world drinks really differently. In the UK, 30% of spirit sales in Britain is gin, but if you go to the US it’s less than 5% of total sales, it’s a dark spirits market for the most part. We needed a compelling range of products that appeal to a global audience”

Creating such effective, non-alcoholic impersonators wasn’t easy. Talking to a producer of zero-alcohol drinks, it does make you appreciate the amount of legwork good ol’ ethanol does. “First of all it’s a solvent, so it’s very good at carrying both perfume and flavour. It can pull them out of other sources, it can preserve them. This is why perfumes are primarily alcohol-based”, Livings explains. “It strips moisture from the mouth, amplifying the flavours that you are experiencing on the palate on the way through. It’s also an agitant, a harsh chemical which causes blood to flow to the tongue, to the palate and to the cheeks which also amplifies the experience of flavour. Plus, it’s a tremendous preservative”. 

Arguably, this is the biggest challenge the lack of ethanol poses for zero-alcohol drink producers. Livings believes there is still a fair amount of innovation to do in this regard. “The one part of the industry that no one has got a solution for yet is how do we deliver a non-alcoholic spirit without a preservative like potassium sorbate, which is what we use across our range. So development continues for the entire category. Consumers are demanding preservative-free beverages and so we continue to watch and look for natural preservative alternatives across the range as well,” Livings explains. “We keep driving our brand so if we can improve anything, we will change our recipes if new ingredients or technology becomes available that allows us to deliver a closer homage to the original. We’re not beholden to a hundred-year-old recipe or to one particular technique of making our product such as distillation”.

Lyre’s

Creating such a diverse and distinctive range isn’t easy

You might be surprised to learn how often distillation is used in the low-and-no-alcohol category, but there are a fair few brands who employ this method. Lyre’s, by contrast, avoided going down the route of a singular production method “The first movers in this field were distilling and then de-alcoholising. The problem with that method was that you are also pulling out an enormous amount of the flavour and some of the parts that make a spirit have that incredible mouthfeel. It’s romantic but not effective,” Livings explains. “We landed on something – there’s no real word for this –  but we call it ‘molecular reconstruction’. We identified and isolated the compounds and the molecules that give alcohol its taste, like fruity esters or the phenolics in whisky”. 

The process begins fairly simply, by tasting and nosing and spirit to break it down note by note, adding increasingly greater amounts of water and dilution to open it up along the way. “Once we’ve got our library of all of the things that we can identify using our senses, we then go and look for those ingredients from natural sources,” Livings explains. “But it requires a tremendous amount of research and experimentation. Take vanilla. There’s something like 230 different vanilla essences available. So we need to understand what sort of vanilla we want. Is it a smoky vanilla, or more spicy-peppery vanilla? Was it a smooth vanilla? Was it a custard-y or banana-y vanilla?” 

It took over three years of innovation and testing, but Livings and his colleagues, with the help of a team of sommeliers, were able to create a library of over 12,500 extracts, essences and distillates sourced from 39 different countries of origin to draw from. Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Italian Orange, for example, was created using natural extracts from ruby grapefruit, blood orange and pomegranate. But that’s not the hard part, Livings explains. It’s all about balance. “You’re fighting solubility. If you crank the volume on the ingredients too high you can get them precipitating into solids in a water base or turning into a layer of oil that can float on the top of the beverage on the way through. Your drink needs to have the right profile while being shelf-stable and having colour”. 

Lyre’s

For those who desire zero-alcohol cocktails, Lyre’s can provide

This ambition was not only to recreate the aroma and palate of the alcoholic equivalent but also replicates the familiar mouthfeel and viscosity of alcohol. “For this, we turned to natural ingredients again. Things like black pepper, white pepper, ginger, capsicum, Schezuan pepper and menthol can give us the closest approximation to that burn of alcohol. Then to deliver that viscosity of alcohol we use a number of natural sources, things like pectin, gum Arabic or cellulose, even some cool new seaweed extracts coming onto the market that increases the viscosity of a non-alcohol based beverage,” Living explains. “They were the last parts of the puzzle that we looked at in order to create a convincing non-alcoholic spirit without leaning on sugar to do the heavy lifting for you, as has been done in the past, which ruins the flavour-profile but it does deliver that viscosity that you’re looking for”. 

Bringing consumers into the world of zero-alcohol alternatives doesn’t just require the liquid inside the bottle to be of sufficient quality, but your branding has to be on point too. Thankfully for Lyre’s, it understands how to market itself. The bottles are big, bold and colourful and the playful name comes from the Australian lyrebird, which is basically the world’s greatest impersonator and the brand’s logo. Birdsong, chainsaw, Mozart concertos – they can do it all. “It’s a bit of a tip-of-the-hat to where the spirits have come from. As a brand that was based on paying homage to well known and loved flavours, we felt that the lyrebird was perfect,” says Livings. There’s also something neat about asking a bartender for a Lyre’s Martini because it sounds like you’re asking for a Liar’s Martini, which, in a sense, you are. “It’s a beautiful little phonetic joke,” Livings adds. “Each label also features an anthropomorphic illustration, inspired by an animal which is native to each spirit’s country of origin, like the North American black bear on the American Malt”.

Through its award-winning range and effective marketing, Lyre’s has become one of the leading brands in this fledgling category. This year it raised £9m, the largest investment to date for the non-alcoholic ‘spirits’ category, to boost its range and efforts. This includes the launch of a number of new products across the next six months, including in the burgeoning ready-to-drink range. “It’s a natural progression. The same consumer driver that powers RTDs for the traditional spirits market is equally as prevalent in the non-alcoholic spirits market,” Livings says. “We’ll be launching with three variants but we certainly see some big potential to expand the range in the near future. So watch this space!” 

We’ll certainly be keeping an eye out. We’re concluding with my favourite Lyre’s zero-alcohol cocktails. I particularly recommend The Americano, which is light, refreshing but still bold and full-bodied enough that you wouldn’t notice there’s no alcohol involved. The same goes for the Jungle Bird, which also looks fantastic when properly garnished. The Amaretti Sour, which is probably the most popular creation of three I’ve listed, is also smashing. It’s a little sweet, a little sour, a little bitter and all-round delicious. 

Lyre’s Cocktails

Lyre’s

Lyre’s Americano

45ml Lyre’s Apéritif Rosso 
45ml Lyre’s Italian Orange 
90ml tonic water

Build over ice and stir in a highball, then garnish with a slice of orange.

Lyre’s

Lyre’s Amaretti Sour

75ml Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Amaretti 
15ml lemon juice
5ml sugar syrup
10ml egg white/chickpea juice
3 dashes aromatic bitters

Pop all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and give it a firm shake. Strain the mixture into an Old Fashioned glass with a fresh cube of ice and garnish with a lemon wedge and a Maraschino Cherry. This is nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and wheat-free, so you might as well go the full California and make it vegan by replacing the egg white with chickpea juice, which is apparently a thing.

Lyre’s

Lyre’s Jungle Bird

30ml Lyre’s Dark Cane Spirit
45ml Lyre’s Italian Orange
15ml lime juice
7.5ml white sugar syrup (1:1)
45ml pineapple juice

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and give it a good hard shake. Fill an Old Fashioned glass with fresh cubed ice and strain the mixture into it and then garnish with a lemon wedge, cherry and sprig of mint.

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Three Spirit: category-defying no-alcohol drinks

Co-founder of Three Spirit, Dash Lilley, joins us to talk about innovating rather than imitating, prioritising environmentally-friendly methods and why low-to-no alcohol brands are here to stay. Low-and-no alcohol has made…

Co-founder of Three Spirit, Dash Lilley, joins us to talk about innovating rather than imitating, prioritising environmentally-friendly methods and why low-to-no alcohol brands are here to stay.

Low-and-no alcohol has made quite a mark in the last couple of years.  Sales are up year on year, it was the star of Imbibe 2019 and there is no shortage of companies ready to take advantage of consumer’s increasingly mindful approach to how and when we consume alcohol. Three Spirit knows that as well as anyone. With three expressions, The Livener, Social Elixir and The Nightcap, it has established itself as one of the most intriguing new forces in this category, creating plant-based drinks that can’t easily be compared to any alcoholic equivalent and, fundamentally, taste really good. 

The brand was founded in 2018 by Tatiana Mercer, Dash Lilley and Meeta GournayLilley, who spoke to me as part of our Sober October coverage, says that they were intrigued by the new category and felt there was room to do something different. “So often no-alcohol options are presented from a negative point of view and are about the removal of alcohol. We’re not against alcohol. We love it and celebrate its history, characteristics, complexity and how it can make you feel. Capturing those moments which are associated with alcohol and creating drinks with interesting ingredients that stood on their own two feet was our aim. And to innovate, rather than imitate”.

During the development process, the trio put together a team of plant scientists, phytochemists, herbalists and some of the best bartenders in London, namely Tristan Stephenson and Thomas Aske of Black Rock fame. “What we do really well is bring together different areas of expertise and put great people in the same room. We found people that could help us build flavour through a combination of natural ingredients and compounds,” says Lilley. 

Three Spirit

Look, it’s Dash Lilley, Meeta Gournay and Tatiana Mercer!

Three Spirit Drinks: how it’s made

For months the founders experimented with hundreds of different ingredients, many of which have been used historically as health tonics and remedies. Inspiration is as diverse as the ingredients themselves, from alternative medicine to ayurvedic traditions from China and South America. The variety creates a sense of intrigue, mostly because I guarantee you won’t have heard of at least one of the 60-or-so key ingredients, but also because they provide the drinks with a sense of history and place. “In my view, non-alc doesn’t have a heritage to draw from. Most spirit brands rely on tradition and history, but our category is brand new. That’s a wonderful opportunity to tell a story. We like talking a lot about the heritage of the ingredients and how some of these ingredients have been used traditionally where they originate from,” Lilley says.

There is no singular production process for converting this staggering range of ingredients into Three Spirit drinks. Lilley says the brand avoided going solely down the distillation route as that would limit their ability to produce interesting liquids. “There’s only so much that you can do with any one process, so we utilise multiple processes. Some of our ingredients are distilled. Some are infused. Others are dehydrated and extracted into a dried powder form. Some are tapped straight out of a tree. Extraction is where a lot of the magic takes place. The end process is a careful process of blending these individual components,” he explains. 

The major appeal of Three Spirit drinks when I first tasted them was how they replicate the mouthfeel booze has better than any non-alcoholic bottling I’ve tried. “People underestimated its importance. You need to be creative with how you create your own viscosity,” Lilley explains. “We play with different heat drivers, like green chilli and cayenne pepper, so the heat and spice add texture. Ingredients like Szechuan pepper also coat the mouth, while others like maple create a luxurious long mouthfeel”.

Three Spirit

Three of the most distinctive drinks you’ll ever taste and not one drop of alcohol between them

Three Spirit Drinks: the range

The range kicks off with The Livener. It’s made with ingredients like guava leaf, Siberian Ginseng, Panax Ginseng, apple cider vinegar, green tea, cayenne chilli, Schisandra berries and The Guayusa, an Ecuadorian tribal stimulant. “It’s bold, vibrant and best served at the beginning of the night in a spritz style,” says Lilley. Next is the brand’s first expression, the delightful Social Elixir, a drink made with ingredients such as cacao, lion’s mane mushroom, damiana, tulsi herb and molasses. “This our session drink. We wanted to create something versatile with a slightly sweet, sour, bitter and savoury profile,” Lilley explains.

The final bottling is The Nightcap. The ingredients in this one include valerian root, melon hüll hops, lemon balm, turmeric, ashwagandha (an evergreen shrub grown in India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa), birch water, Sichuan pepper and black pepper. “You can imagine having this one sitting in a hotel bar at the end of the night. The ingredients have these amazing relaxing properties that are meant to calm the mind but also soothe the body. It makes an amazing Old Fashioned and as a drink to pair with dessert when you’re out for dinner,” Lilley says.

However you decide to enjoy your bottles of Three Spirit, it’s worth pointing out they come with a disclaimer: you don’t get profiles as individual and intriguing as this brand creates without making something divisive. Which is exactly how Lilley likes it. “I feel quite strongly that non-alc spirits should be challenging and polarising. You shouldn’t really know if you like it or not. Because that’s how alcohol makes you feel the first time you try it! I’d be surprised if the first time you tried whisky or beer you thought it was delicious,” he explains. “Like with coffee, you have to develop a taste for functional liquids. I don’t want everyone to love them; if everyone loved them then they’d be a soft drink”.

Three Spirit

The drinks work well in a number of serves and there are plenty of recipes here

Three Spirit Drinks: here to stay

Three Spirit may be unconventional in much of what it does, but one thing it has in common with many new brands is that it prioritises environmentally-friendly methods, from zero-plastic recyclable packaging to ensuring its drinks are vegan. The brand will need as many points of difference as it can get. With rising demand comes the aforementioned influx of new companies all vying for a share of an inflated market. Lilley understands the difficulties this poses, particularly in this economy, but is optimistic for the category. “There’s a really good selection of people out there, with lots of variation. People are reframing old, existing and wonderful traditions to fit a new consumer and a new demand. I can’t imagine going to many bars that now wouldn’t offer a non-alc beer, for example. This category is here to stay”. 

The brand is developing a couple of extensions for The Livener and The Nightcap as well as several new products at the moment, which are in the prototype stage. Lilley teases that a fourth expression in the very early stages of development by saying he’s been doing “a lot of research in Japanese heritage, history, ingredients and storytelling”.

As a drinks writer, low-to-no alcohol options don’t tend to be my regular order. But Three Spirit is of the few I’d happily indulge in. I’ll always have time for something with a unique and interesting profile. There’s room for personality and innovation in this new category, as Three Spirit demonstrates. You don’t have to buy-in to the functionality of the ingredients, but you should embrace the flavours. The tasting notes (below) were probably the most challenging I’ve done since I’ve been at MoM because so many ingredients are new to me and there are no easy comparisons to make. Some further sampling may well be required (I’ll soldier on…). But I suggest you have a taste and draw your own conclusions. You can pick up the expressions on this neat little page.

Three Spirit review:

Three Spirit

Three Spirit The Livener

Nose: The nose is full and rich with a fiery backdrop. Vibrant citrus competes with an earthy, aromatic blend of spice and heat which rushes to the forefront of the nose. Juicy watermelon adds a beautiful contrast, as does the tart apple cider vinegar and a salty, umami quality that reminds me of miso paste.

Palate: Like biting into a fleshy red fruit that’s a hybrid of berries, chillies and more watermelon. There’s a honeyed sweetness here too and a slight grassiness in the backdrop along with a woody, earthy and warming element.

Finish: The cayenne chilli heat and flavour lingers with plenty of fruity sweetness,

Overall: A cold shower but in drink form, this is an expression that lives up its name. Its individual profile is really enjoyable and surprisingly mixable.

Suggested serve: The Pla[n]tonic.

Three Spirit

Three Spirit Social Elixir

Nose: Chocolate, espresso and a rich, sweet hit of molasses leads in a dark, thick and creamy nose. There’s a hint of green tea, black pepper, damp earth and toffee.

Palate: Much more savoury and herbaceous than the nose, the palate also has a sweet floral element. The combination of coffee and dark chocolate returns but is more bitter this time, which is lifted by some of the brightness the vinegar brings, a salty, umami quality, caramel and more damp earthiness.

Finish: Slightly sweet and savoury and a tad salty and then a little bitter, this is a finish that lasts and laps around all the qualities of the palate and nose.

Overall: Intriguing with every sip, I found it really hard to stop myself pouring another glass and having one more exploration. I think this is the most divisive drink, which is strange or perhaps fitting given this was Three Spirit’s first foot forward. It’s almost got an IPA quality to it, although I’m not sure that’s enough to make it a session drink, to be honest. For that, it will need to be mixed. I really enjoyed this but it will be too bizarre for some.

Suggested serve: Herbal Stimulant.

Three Spirit

Three Spirit The Nightcap

Nose: Overall the nose is thick, nutty and sweet with maple, vanilla and a touch of ginger at its core. There’s also a grassy note that you’d recognise from hops. Then the unmistakable numbing quality of Sichuan pepper, as well as a warm citrus glow. Also, there’s a metallic element and some sweet floral hints. 

Palate: Much more sweet than the nose at first with cantaloupe, red grapes, baking spice and more vanilla. The birch water and a hint of citrus act as a lengthener and lifts some of the more indulgent flavours. Some woodiness brings a different level of depth. It’s a very mellow, smooth palate.

Finish: Very much like the palate, the flavours layer over each other before fading slowly. There’s more of that nutty sweetness and some aromatic nutmeg.

Overall: Probably my favourite of the three, The Nightcap works perfectly in its role and seems tailor-made for an Old Fashioned. I really love how each flavour makes its own mark while still complementing the other elements.

Suggested serve: Nightcap Old Fashioned.

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Seven no/ low cocktails – with expert tips on how to make them

There’s never been a better time to order (or indeed make) a cocktail sans booze. With some careful tinkering and a little insider know-how, you can rehash your favourite classics…

There’s never been a better time to order (or indeed make) a cocktail sans booze. With some careful tinkering and a little insider know-how, you can rehash your favourite classics into satisfying low-no tipples – or try something totally new. Continuing our Sober October coverage, we share the recipes for 10 no/ low cocktails, with expert-backed tips on how to make them shine…

The quality of no-low cocktails has improved vastly over the last few years. And you’ll never guess who’s driving it – yep, us drinkers. “In our Non-Alcoholic Drinks: A Growth Story whitepaper, we reported that this growth is driven largely by clear consumer demand – 61% of consumers reported they want better choice when it comes to non-alcoholic drinks,” says Gareth Bath, managing director at Diageo’s independent drinks accelerator Distill Ventures.

The demand for no-and-low alcohol alternatives is booming, agrees Tom Warner, co-founder of Warner’s Distillery in Northamptonshire. The team recently launched their 0% Botanic Garden Spirits range with two bottlings – Pink Berry and Juniper Double Dry – sourcing 90% of the ingredients from their farm distillery. “Nearly half of all adults are looking to cut back on their alcohol intake and one in ten of 18 to 24 year olds claiming to be teetotaling,” he says. “Consumers don’t want to compromise on flavour – and they shouldn’t have to.”

Indeed, we’re making more considered choices than ever when it comes to the contents of our glasses, and want the same cocktail fanfare regardless of whether our liquid contains alcohol. And bartenders have responded. “It’s about better hospitality,” says James Morgan, co-founder of Nine Elms – an alcohol-free tipple designed to complement food. “Good mixologists are wanting to provide better experiences for all of their guests. In the past, choosing a booze-free option relegated you to the bottom of the priority list. Thankfully those days are now behind us.”

Aquavit in London, swanky

As a society, there’s a clear trend towards mindfulness, self-care and sustainability – of the self, and the environment – that has contributed to our increasing proclivity towards alcohol-free spirits. “People are more conscious about their own well-being as well as that of the planet,” says Ennio Pucciarelli, head sommelier at Aquavit London. “They’re increasingly looking for natural, organic, non-chemical products that are good for the environment and for their own health – and the industry has responded.”

With that being said, we still want to have a good time. “People still want to go out with their friends or for dinner and socialise and be ‘part of the fun’, and why shouldn’t they be able to do this with a delicious, non-alcoholic drink in hand?,” asks  Filippo Carnevale, head sommelier at Xier | XR in London. “Tastes have evolved beyond simple sodas and sweet juices, and customers expect options now when it comes to no-low alcohol drinks and cocktails.”

No longer relegated to the back end of menus, “just as much time and effort goes into the creation of no-and-low cocktails as it does to other stronger creations,” Bath says. “This has opened up enormous opportunities for drinks founders and venues to develop sophisticated, complex, high quality liquids that sit perfectly naturally alongside their alcoholic equivalents.”

Which is precisely why we asked brand owners, bartenders and industry experts for their tips on crafting a first class no-low serve. Here’s what they suggested:

Angus Lugsdin and Howard Davies, founders of Salcombe

1) Focus on flavour

Focus on flavour, says Howard Davies, co-founder of Salcombe Distilling Company, which recently launched its first non-alcoholic spirit, New London Light – a blend of 18 botanicals. “Consider the two or three flavours you want coming through the cocktail and make sure it really does deliver on these,” he says. “In the absence of the ‘crutch’ of alcohol it is doubly important that tangible, stunning flavour comes through.”

Aim for a balance of complexity and harmony, suggests James Morgan, co-founder of Nine Elms – an alcohol-free tipple designed to complement food. “Start with one or two core base notes and layer interest with complementary and contrasting flavours and textures.”

2) Don’t just replace booze

“The main point of difference is to not fall into the mindset of just ‘replacing’ booze,” says Nik Hannigan, global ambassador for Fluère Drinks, which makes a range of distilled non-alcoholic spirits including Smoked Agave, a mezcal alternative, and Spiced Cane Dark Roast, made from pure sugar cane molasses. “Appreciate the non-alcoholic spirit as its own flavour, and create a delicious drink based on the merits of the non alcoholic spirit.”

It’s a sentiment with which Rudi Carraro, global ambassador for Amaro Montenegro – an Italian bitter liqueur flavoured with 40 botanicals – agrees. “It’s becoming ever-evident that stronger cocktails are not as popular as they were a few years ago,” he says. “Don’t try to exactly replicate the style and the flavour profile of a ‘full abv drink’. Focus on creating a new combination of flavours and styles that have a ‘wow’ effect.”

3) Use quality ingredients

Use high quality, fresh ingredients – just like you would with any other cocktail, says Clare Gibson, marketing director at Intercontinental Brands, which owns distilled non-alcoholic spirit Amplify. “There are a number of great-tasting non-alcoholic spirits on the market, so start by picking your ‘base spirit’ and go from there,” she says. “Find out the botanical mix or flavour profile of your chosen non-alcoholic spirit to work out what additional flavours would work well.”

4) Think about mouthfeel

“It’s important to think about texture when choosing ingredients, as less alcohol means thinner liquid and mouthfeel,” says Eric Sampers, co-founder of Illogical Drinks (and former Beefeater Gin brand director). He’s just launched Mary, a low-abv (6%) botanical spirit made with sustainably-sourced plants. “There are many amazing liquids that can be mixed with no-low spirits, for example kombucha or other fermented liquids, which will add spiciness.”

Always use good quality ice

5) Use quality glassware and ice

Never underestimate the power of good glassware, says Carnevale. “It can really help elevate any drink, as can straws – metal or bamboo are best as the most sustainable – and good ice cubes,” he says. “It sounds a simple thing, but having good, solid, large ice cubes will create a better finish for your drink than small, chipped pieces of ice.”

And Gibson agrees. “It’s important that the experience is the same as that of the ritual of having a cocktail,” she says. “Make sure you are serving in the right glassware – whether that is a Martini, a Highball, or an Old Fashioned glass, for example. Then add a bit of theatre with garnishes and drinks accessories like straws.”

6) Keep things simple

You don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel, says Davies. “Cocktails have been developed over hundreds of years, culminating in a broad selection of amazing classics that we are lucky enough to benefit from,” he explains. “Just because we want to create a great no-low cocktail doesn’t mean we should throw away the hard work and expertise that has been built up over time.” It might be as simple as switching the ratios of the drink – for example, pairing one part non-alc spirit with just two parts tonic in a G&T (rather than the usual three).

The right equipment helps

7) Don’t shake sparkling…

…Unless you want your kitchen to be coated in cocktail fizz. “Do not shake anything sparkling,” warns Carnevale. “The bubbles will release lots of pressure which may cause an ‘explosive’ cocktail,” he says. “I’d also say don’t go over the top with sugary juices and syrups – they can be overpowering and give an unpleasant texture to the drink. Acidity is the key to find balance.”

8) Experiment with fresh produce

Fresh fruit and herbs are key to giving your drinks a handcrafted feel, says Carnevale. “Citrus like lemons, lime and grapefruit are cocktail staples because they give an otherwise bland beverage the zing it needs,” he says. “Punch up the flavour of a sparkling drink with a squeeze of juice or zest of the fruit. Berries are ideal for muddling and can give a sweet note to your serves. If you’re feeling adventurous, add in fresh herbs like mint, basil or rosemary to add complexity that will take your alcohol-free drinks to the next level.”

9) Don’t be shy about experimenting

“In my opinion there are no rules,” says Pucciarelli. “You can be really creative with no-low cocktails, and it can be quite surprising the flavours that work together. Follow your tastes, recognise what you’re in the mood for, and have fun experimenting. Don’t be afraid to try adding savoury ingredients, such as spices and herbs – they can really elevate your finished beverage.”

10) And finally…

Whatever you do, don’t use the m-word. “Don’t call them mocktails,” says Morgan. “Real people want real drinks.”

Ready to flex your new skills? We’ve picked out a selection of delectable no-and-low serves to try out at home. Drop us a comment and let you know how you get on. Shakers at the ready…

Shore Elevation  

50ml New London Light
25ml chilled strong green tea
25ml sage syrup*
25ml lemon juice
1
5ml aquafaba (chickpea juice)

Fill a Nick and Nora glass with ice to chill and set to one side.  Add the New London Light, green tea, sage syrup, lemon juice and aquafaba to a Boston shaker with plenty of ice and shake for 15 seconds. Remove the ice from the Nick and Nora glass. Double strain the mixture into the glass. Garnish with sage 

*To make the sage syrup, mix together 1 cup of hot water, one cup of sugar and 3 sage leaves 

Think Pink 

45ml Fluère Raspberry
90ml Fentimans Rose Lemonade

Put a lot of ice in the glass. Pour Fentimans Rose Lemonade into the glass. Pour Fluère Raspberry into the glass. Stir gently. Garnish with an orange zest

Espresso Up

50ml Amplify distilled non-alcoholic spirit
15ml honey syrup*
60ml cold brew coffee
Pinch of salt

Shake all ingredients hard with ice, double strain into coupe glass and garnish with grated orange zest. 

*To make the honey syrup, dissolve equal amounts by weight of acacia honey with hot water and stir until dissolved. Allow to cool and refrigerate before use.

The Olson 

75ml Nine Elms No.18
10ml cold brewed coffee
75ml Fever Tree Light Tonic

Measure the Nine Elms No.18 and cold brewed coffee into an ice filled highball or rocks glass. Give it a gentle stir then add the rosemary sprig and grapefruit twist. Top with the tonic.

Elderflower Presse (by Shaman Coffee at the Leman Locke, London)

50ml Everleaf
30ml elderflower cordial
20ml fresh lemon soda

Add ingredients to highball. Add ice cubes and stir. Top up with soda. Garnish with lemon zest and long thyme sprig.

Spiced Fizzero

40ml Warner’s 0% Juniper Double Dry
15ml lime juice
10ml sugar syrup
Ginger ale to top

Pour all ingredients over ice in the glass, top with ginger ale and stir slowly. Serve with a lime wedge and cinnamon stick.

Turmeric Rocks

70ml Amplify
1ml freshly pressed turmeric juice*
3ml cucumber juice
15ml sugar syrup
Half a passion fruit, mint sprig garnish

Shake all ingredients hard with ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with cubed ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

*To make your turmeric and cucumber juice, place the turmeric root and cucumber through a juicer and refrigerate.

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Our favourite no/low ABV drinks for Sober October

Sober October is here, and with it the run of themed months that continues with Movember, Veganuary and right into the lesser-known Slebruary, raising awareness about former celebrities who have…

Sober October is here, and with it the run of themed months that continues with Movember, Veganuary and right into the lesser-known Slebruary, raising awareness about former celebrities who have fallen on hard times. Anyway! Whether you are giving up booze for October or just fancy cutting back a bit, here are seven delicious low and no alcohol drinks so you won’t be short of flavour.

If, as with Biff in Back to the Future II, I could go back in time to advise my younger self, I would say, ‘don’t bleach your hair. It doesn’t make you look like a cool surfer type.’ Then I would say, ‘invest in non-alcoholic drinks.’ And my younger self, would look at me like I was completely barking because even five years ago who could have predicted that people would pay £10 for a cocktail without any booze in it? How things have changed. The pioneer was Seedlip and its imitators making gin-style botanical drinks but now the market has exploded with non-alcoholic drinks inspired by wine, vermouth, bitters and all kinds of liquors. We even spotted a non-alcoholic ‘whisky’ last year. There’s a lot to choose from so to make things simpler for you, we’ve rounded up our favourites. These are all worth trying at any time of the year. 

Aecorn Dry 

From the people who brought you Seedlip, Aecorn comes in three varieties, Dry, Aromatic and Bitter. The latter two varieties work something like amaro or vermouth, Dry, however, is particularly good drunk neat. It’s made with a selection of English grape juices blended with botanicals and really works at the meal table. 

How to drink it? 

Neat or on the rocks. This is an excellent white wine substitute. 

Atopia Wild Blossom 

This is not a me-too product, William Grant & Sons did things properly when it came to launching a low-alcohol botanical drink, they called in Lesley Gracie master distiller at Hendrick’s Gin. The result was Atopia which has a very similar profile to gin but with only 0.5% ABV. Also comes in Spiced Citrus flavour.  

How to drink it? 

With tonic water and a slice of lemon, we’ve managed to fool quite a few people that they are drinking real gin with this one.

Feragaia 

If you find the alcohol-free category a bit low on flavour then this is the spirit for you. It’s made in Scotland and packed full of taste from 14 botanicals including seaweed, bay leaf and chamomile. Feragaia means ‘wild earth’, taken from Fera in Latin meaning ‘wild’, and ‘Gaia’ in Greek mythology translating to ‘earth’. So now you know.

How to drink it? 

With ginger ale and a sprig of mint to make what Feragaia calls a Winter Wanderer. 

Lyre’s Amaretto 

Australian brand Lyre’s makes an amazing range of non-alcoholic spirits, but this one is our buyer’s pick. It’s got the all the sweet, nutty, bitter and tangy profile of the classic liqueur with none of the alcoholic content.

How to drink it? 

Shaken with ice and lemon juice, this makes a tasty sour.

Nine Elms 

A clever concoction made from berries, spices and all kinds of things that’s designed to mimic some of the taste and texture of wine complete with tannins. The idea was that it would be as complex as a good with food. And we reckon they’ve succeeded.

How to drink it?

Neat or in a long drink with soda water and an orange slice.

Salcombe New London Light

From one of our favourite gin producers, Devon’s own Salcombe. The team here has put everything it knows about gin, into a drink with no alcohol but tonnes of flavour. Botanicals include juniper, ginger and habanero, orange, sage, cardamom and lemongrass. 

How to drink it?

It makes a mean Tom Collins with lemon juice, sugar syrup and soda water

Three Spirit the Nightcap

Three Spirit offered something unique when it launched its first product back in 2018, a distinctive heady creation that was anything but bland. The latest release is even better with a flavour profile somewhere between a spiced rum and an amaro. It’s full of warm flavours to while away the winter months. 

How to drink it? 

It works very well in a booze-less Old Fashioned, with a dash of orange bitters and orange peel to garnish.

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Five minutes with… Simon Rucker, co-founder of Nine Elms

Tannic and full-bodied like red wine, aromatised like vermouth, Nine Elms No.18 is the first in a range of alcohol-free drinks specifically designed to complement good food. Here, we speak…

Tannic and full-bodied like red wine, aromatised like vermouth, Nine Elms No.18 is the first in a range of alcohol-free drinks specifically designed to complement good food. Here, we speak to co-founder Simon Rucker to find out the story behind his game-changing creation…

Nine Elms No.18 is unlike any other low-and-no alcohol option on the market, having been developed specifically to complement gastronomy. Initially modelled on the characteristics of wine – “acidity, tannins, fruit, flavour, body, length; the retronasal smell,” says co-founder Simon Rucker – it has evolved into a wine-vermouth hybrid that’s delightful served as a straight pour, stirred into a cocktail, or simply enjoyed with a splash of tonic, ice and a slice of citrus.

You might not know Rucker’s name, but you’ll likely recognise his work. A product designer by training, he’s designed shoes for Paul Smith and Caterpillar, worked on the Ford Fiesta, shaped Diageo’s provenance-led approach to Guinness, and helped transform Samsung into the premium consumer electronics brand it is today. “I had some ability to spot trends and understand what they meant in terms of changing consumer needs,” Rucker says. “And because I was a product designer, I was also able to conceive what the new products that would fit into that demand space would be.”

His biggest and lengthiest project came about when the company Rucker worked for was asked to “solve the smoking problem”. He spent almost 15 years working on e-cigarettes – and e-cigarette-type products – and became fascinated by the “supertanker of death” tobacco industry. It was there he met future business partner Zoltan Szucs-Farkas, who was head of strategy and insights at British American Tobacco. “We bonded on this interest in, ‘How do you turn around a massive supertanker of death like the cigarette industry and deviate it to something more sustainable?’,” he says. 

It was in a corporate dining room on the eighth floor of British American Tobacco’s vast London office building where the duo first identified the need for a non-alcoholic drink designed for upscale dining. The tobacco company was among the first to frown upon boozy business meetings and banned alcohol outright early on, so lunch and dinner guests were offered cans of Diet Coke and bottles of J2O instead. “It was incongruous,” says Rucker. “It’s a bit like going to a fine dining restaurant and eating with a plastic fork. The conversation came up between us, ‘Why isn’t there anything that fits in this space?’, but it was always just out of intellectual interest. There was no, ‘What if…?’.”

Nine Elms works as a cocktail ingredient as well as a standalone drink

The ‘what if?’ would come five years later, when Rucker and Szucs-Farkas – working for different companies and ready for a career change – met for lunch in Shoreditch one afternoon. “We were both at a stage of our lives, middle-aged white men – the classic ‘male, pale and stale’ – slightly jaundiced by 20 to 30 years of suckling from the corporate teat, but with a bit of money in the bank,” he says.Normally I’d have a glass of wine or two if we had lunch, but Zoltan couldn’t because he had a client call, and the conversation popped up again. We decided to go for it.”

Motivated by the concept of “a non-wine product that behaved like wine”, they spent 18 months talking with universities about the intricacies of hydrocolloids (gums that stop drinks from separating) and liaising with drinks innovation specialists who were hell-bent on creating a slightly fancier version of Shloer (a sparkling grape juice drink). Not only does alcohol trigger your brain’s reward system to release dopamine, the ‘feel good’ hormone, but it’s also an excellent flavour carrier with a mouthfeel that’s nigh-on impossible to recreate. Unless you add heapings of sugar, of course, which didn’t fit with their vision.

Eventually the duo met a former technical developer from Diageo, who found the solution in plant form. “When you break wine down into its components, you want something fruity, spicy, and a bit bitter – and that basically means botanicals and fruit juices,” says Rucker. “Grape juice is pretty boring until you ferment it, and then the yeast creates all these crazy natural chemicals, which is why wine tastes so good. And typically what yeast is producing is often replicated by a plant somewhere else in a different form.”

After much experimenting they settled on the 18th recipe (hence the name), which married the juice of four types of berry with distillates and extracts of 20 different flowers, herbs and spices. A gastronomy journalist and Master of Wine were among the first to sample Nine Elms No.18, paired with a medium-rare steak (plus a glass of house Pinot Noir and house Merlot for comparison’s sake) at private members’ club Soho House. It went down a treat. In fact, both experts preferred Nine Elms to the wine options they were served. 

Nine Elms answers this question of what to drink when you’re not drinking

After years of research and development, Rucker and Szucs-Farkas had realised their goal: to create a viable non-alcohol alternative for high-end eating occasions. “Rather than trying to regulate away – or prohibit – problematic behaviour, my approach has always been to come up with a product that encourages people to make better choices,” Rucker explains. “It’s a truism in life, the carrot and the stick. You need to persuade people, and the best way of persuading people is by providing a better alternative.”

They finally had the liquid. But what about the name? “We realised that the past is a good starting point,” Rucker says. “Most creativity is looking back on what’s been done before and imagining it differently, so we started looking at the history around Vauxhall and the Pleasure Gardens.” Set against the backdrop of the gin craze, Jonathan Tyers’ gardens, adjacent to the Nine Elms area south of the river, defined the city’s nightlife in the 18th and 19th centuries. “He created a walled garden of delights where entertainment was the alternative stimulation versus alcohol,” Rucker says. “Tyers was one of the first people to publicly display art and sculpture, one of the first to put an orchestra in public on a dais. There was food and music. He basically invented mass entertainment, and it was all because he was trying to get Londoners off the booze.”

We’ve come a long way since the rampant alcoholism of the early 18th century. But even in 2020 – whether we’re in a high-end restaurant or enjoying dinner at home – a rich and indulgent meal can feel incomplete without a glass of something-or-other in-hand. And it’s this mealtime occasion where Nine Elms really shines.

Nine Elms no. 18 is available from Master of Malt.

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