Matt Hastings on Worship Street Whistling Shop’s no-abv cocktails

Location: UK
Other: People, Venues

When it comes to cocktail menus, many bars have been pushing non-alcoholic iterations higher up the agenda for some time now. Grown-up virgin cocktails in proper glassware with gorgeous garnishes are pushing into the mainstream.

The team at Worship Street Whistling Shop (WSWS) in Shoreditch have taken this trend to a whole other level, however, by offering every single alcoholic drink on their current 12-strong menu in a non-alcoholic format as well.

‘I was going for a meeting with bar manager Jay [Sebode] to discuss the new menu when Tom [Aske, co-owner of WSWS] texted to say “wouldn’t it be fun to have a non-alcoholic version of every drink on the menu?”,’ recalls Matt Hastings, head consultant for Fluid Movement.

They carried out multiple development sessions, with the first challenge being to create non-alcoholic spirits, including vodka, gin, rum, whisky and cognac.

‘The gin was easiest,’ says Hastings, ‘but there were unforeseen circumstances – juniper doesn’t carry well in water. We ended up creating a botanical hydrosol that we alter at the other end using sugar, acid, salts and finally pine essence to give the impression of juniper.

‘The vodka was outstanding. It’s a shame that it didn’t get used on the menu! In terms of flavour, viscosity and mouthfeel it was spot on. The team used rice water, with the acid, sugar and salt to give it sensation.’

They used all sorts of acids to ‘season’ the non-alcoholic spirits and give intensity, such as powder acids and apple cider vinegar. The coconut vinegar, Hastings claims was particularly effective,
being very light and clean.

‘Subsequent sessions were working on individual drinks using these “spirits”, making sure that they were similar, if not identical [to their alcoholic counterparts], and that you’d be happy drinking either option,’ Hastlings says. ‘One of the things was matching sweetness, because initially the non-alcoholic versions tended to come across as sweeter.’

The booze-free options look identical, with the same glassware and garnish. ‘We get quite a few guests in who, for a whole number of reasons, don’t drink alcohol. It can feel uncomfortable when you can’t join in and we wanted to give everyone the same experience,’ explains Hastings.

Price-wise, the non-alcoholic versions are roughly half the price of their boozy alternatives and have been priced in order to ‘make GP’.

He shares the Mr Merdle, a mix of cognac, calvados, quince, lemon, cinnamon and sage, served in a Nick & Nora glass dusted in sugar. The cognac version has a slightly more bitter, burnt-caramel flavour with a warming alcohol glow on the finish, while the non-alcoholic iteration is sharp, refreshing, with pure quince flavour and a cinnamon finish. Interestingly, the latter is superior.

‘We’ve got pretty close with the flavours between the drinks, but recreating alcohol burn is impossible,’ Hastings says of the warmth in the cognac version.

The initiative has been a success. ‘We’ve seen a significant increase in non-alcoholic cocktail sales as a category, and a general increase in non-alcoholic drinks in total,’ says Hastings.

‘We initially thought we’d have lots of people come in and order both versions to see what the difference is, but people just generally want a good drink, and if they’re drinking or not drinking, that’s what decides their order.’

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Laura Foster

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