Could no-abv spirits be the next gin?

Clinton Cawood

19 August 2019

From rum to agave spirits, everybody has an opinion on the next drink to ‘do a gin’. In this series, Clinton Cawood looks at the contenders striving to follow in the footsteps of the juniper spirit and hit the big time


When Seedlip changed the game in 2015, it was hard to imagine that a few years later a flock of no-and low-alcohol spirits would be vying for space on back bars. ‘Ten years ago, if you were with a group of friends in a bar and not drinking, unless you were pregnant or driving you’d have been jeered at,’ says The Breakfast Group’s Damian Williams. ‘I’m a late convert, but now I’m a big believer. It’s great to be able to offer that to people who aren’t drinking alcohol, whether it’s to do with health, religion or for any other reason.

Damian Williams
Damian Williams

‘In cocktail bars, if someone ordered a non-alcoholic drink we used to maybe make them a Mojito with apple juice instead of rum, but now I don’t think anyone would write a cocktail menu without some good non-alcoholic drinks.’

This new category can help bartenders elevate their game when it comes to zero-proof cocktails.

‘These have a lot more complexity and depth of flavour. As every junior bartender knows, and if you compare a 37.5% abv gin with a 45% or navy strength, alcohol carries flavour,’ explains Williams. ‘That’s what Seedlip, or Willow, give you. It’s about complexity of flavour without lots of additional ingredients’.

Game-changing serve:
Out Out

‘The Espresso Martini is such a cult-classic cocktail that people love, so to be able to offer that as a non-alcoholic alternative is a real positive,’ says Damian Williams of this signature Three Spirit drink. ‘People might say that a non-alcoholic Espresso Martini is just a coffee, but meeting after work for an Espresso Martini is something that people want.’

Glass: Coupe
Garnish: Coffee beans
Method: Shake ingredients with ice
and strain into a chilled glass.

50ml Three Spirit
30ml fresh espresso
15ml agave nectar

While price can be controversial when it comes to these products, and the resulting cocktails, Williams doesn’t consider this an issue. ‘If all people cared about was price, they would just go to Tesco and get a case of Stella. In cocktail bars you’re selling the experience. You’re selling the magic.’

Challenges remain when it comes to the on-trade, however. ‘People that don’t want to drink alcohol won’t necessarily go to bars,’ acknowledges Williams. But if you’re in a top-end bar, where Seedlip originally set its sights when it launched, it’s easy to see a space for this category. ‘If you’re staying at The Dorchester, you might want to experience the hotel bar, even if you’re not drinking,’ he explains.

The trend is likely to touch all sectors of the on-trade though, according to Williams. ‘If you’re the landlord of the Dog and Duck, to have something that has the complexity and depth of flavour that these products have… I think it’s huge.’

The category might be new, but it’s not going anywhere. ‘It’s just going to grow and grow, I think it’ll be stocked in every single bar. You might be able to find a bar that doesn’t have a brandy, but in 10 years you won’t go to a bar that doesn’t have a zero-percent spirit.’

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