High and dry: Non-alcoholic cocktails

17 January 2017

Demand for booze-free cocktails is growing – and not just in January. Isabella Sullivan takes a look at what the health trend means and how you can make the most out of it

In the post-Christmas haze, many bars are pre-empting a month of slower sales. But not Redemption, a company with bars in London's Notting Hill and Shoreditch that takes four times as much in January as it does in December. Its extensive list of cocktails is, without exception, non-alcoholic.

Moreover, this isn't quite as eyebrow-raising a phenomenon as you might think. More than ever before, we are seeing a big trend for ‘low and no’ as people choose, on occasion, to forgo alcohol in favour of a healthier lifestyle, and to drink less but better when they do.

Dandelyan's The Bradsell
Dandelyan's The Bradsell

No surprise, then, that many bars are now adapting to this trend, adding some well thought out and unique non-alcoholic cocktails to their lists.

Once a combination of sickly-sweet juices and unimaginative 'virgin' takes on classics, these mocktails are now dry and intricate, often replicating the complex flavours that come with alcohol.

The ultimate expression of this is perhaps seen at London’s Peg + Patriot, which serves a non-alcoholic Campari and soda, using dehydrated Campari sugar. As Rich Woods, head of cocktail development at London's Duck and Waffle wrote in an article for Great British Chefs: 'Non-alcoholism is the new vegetarianism.’ With dry January in full swing, this could be the stimulus you need to pimp your non-alcoholic offering – if you haven’t already.

Because although the booze-free January is well established, the trend for non-alcoholic cocktails isn’t going anywhere come February. Whether for health, money or religious reasons, many of your customers will regularly be choosing not to drink alcohol.

In award-winning London bar Dandelyan, the demand for non-alcoholic cocktails is strong throughout the year. 'Many people drinking non-alcoholic serves are not abstainers per se, but are factoring them in as part of a healthy lifestyle,’ reveals Mr Lyan’s Ryan Chetiyawardana. ‘And that means having a few days off,' he adds.

Redemption restaurant and bar first opened in Notting Hill in August 2015 and opened its second site in Shoreditch five months later – proof positive that people's drinking habits are indeed changing.

'It's much more acceptable to say you’re not drinking now, and along with that comes a demand for much better non-alcoholic cocktails,' explains owner Catherine Salway. 'We are on the cusp of a change in society.’

The Ins and Outs
So how do you go about creating crowd-pleasing, booze-less cocktails? Well, with health a growing driver, and anti-sugar sentiment very much part of that, non-alcoholic cocktails need to deliver more than their fruity, sugary predecessors. At the Savoy’s Beaufort Bar, Kyle Wilkinson favours the use of homemade shrubs over other syrups and juices, but also cites the importance of the overall look.

'I think one of the keys to a non-alcoholic cocktail is that the garnish needs to be just as good as the ones you would use in alcoholic drinks,' he says. 'Even though the person drinking the cocktail is missing out on the booze, they are still in the bar for a reason, and the experience and the look of a drink is just as important as its taste.'

Do it yourself
Two great cocktails – and no booze in sight

Ryan Chetiyawardana, Dandelyan, London

Glass: Rocks or half-pint dimple mug
Garnish: Ginger tuile
Method: Shake with ice, double-strain
over ice into the glass and garnish.

35ml cold-brewed Square Mile coffee
20ml homemade chai tea (cold)
20ml spiced grain tea
10ml ginger syrup
10ml barley syrup

Elon Soddu, Beaufort Bar at the Savoy, London

Glass: Goblet
Garnish: Coconut flake rim and mint sprig
Method: Build in goblet and top with soda.

50ml celery, pineapple and
coconut shrub*
10ml lime juice
soda to top
*Chop up to 500g of pineapple and celery. Add 1kg sugar and keep in fridge for three days. Strain and add 50ml coconut syrup and 150ml apple cider vinegar.

Time and consideration is apparent, too, in the non-alcoholic offering of The Lucky Liquor Co in Edinburgh. Investing in a rigorous and creative syrup programme, ideal for the creation of non-alcoholic serves, the bar’s Ericka Duffy believes that these drinks should not be an afterthought or add on. She suggests simple moves such as adding brown rice orgeat syrup to ginger ale, or honey cinnamon syrup to Coca Cola.

The demand for a different approach is also apparent in Mr Lyan bars. 'People are alienated by "traditional" fruity, juice-led serves. On the whole people want something adult and drier… not sugary messes,' observes Chetiyawardana. 'You should be able to offer people excitement and value at every level, and non-alcoholics definitely fall into this.'

As a result, the cocktail offering at Mr Lyan bars includes the Apple Sourz-less with 'apple, Dandelyan capillaire, rye and acid'; Chetiyawardana's favourite, The Bradsell, with cold-brew Square Mile coffee, malt syrup and chai spices; and Wild Thing with Seedlip, ylang ylang and house-made herbal tonic.

Sweet nothings
This move away from sugar is key when it comes to attracting audiences into the no alcohol market, and it's a big reason why Ben Branson launched the non-alcoholic distilled spirit Seedlip. Now a staple non-alcoholic serve in many bars, Seedlip offers the flavours of a spirit with a 0% abv, and allows bartenders to create more adult non-abv cocktails.'We saw that fizzy, sugary drinks were in decline, and that people were more willing to spend more money on high quality,' explains Branson.

But taste and presentation aren't the only things going into bars' non-alcoholic offerings. Alcohol forms just a part of the ritual of being in a bar and going out itself: glassware, temperature and service style all add to the illusion of drinking, and creating a sense of occasion is important. 'Popping bottles and ice-cold liquid are all reminiscent of alcohol,' says Salway. ‘It is important to recreate everything about drinking but the drink.'

Making margins
The inability to charge super-premium prices is a commonly-cited negative when it comes to abv-free cocktails. However, by spending more time and effort on their offerings, bars across the country are finding that they are able to charge more and make the same margins as for alcoholic drinks.

'We charge around 50% of the price of our alcoholic cocktails,' reveals Felix Crosse, head of bar operations at bar chain The Alchemist. While he admits that the cash profit might be lower than for alcoholic options, the GP is comparable – and of course it’s important to be able to fulfil the customer's needs.

Crosse's tip for maximising margins? Draw on the same themes and techniques as the main cocktail list. Using the same ingredients will limit wastage, plus bartenders will feel more in their comfort zone, working in a familiar way.

In London, Dandelyan charges according to the creative process as much as the ingredients used, so the content (or not) of alcohol isn’t even a factor, according to Chetiyawardana. 'We see the value we provide in what we produce,' he says. ‘We put a lot of production into bespoke ingredients and carefully sourced products for our booze-less serves.'

Well devised and appealing non-alcoholic cocktails, in other words, offer you the opportunity to charge a lot more than for your average juice or soft drink, encouraging non-drinkers to spend more. And with a growing number of people paying more attention to health and wellbeing, that’s an equation that everyone needs to be familiar with.

'Alcoholic drinks and drinking culture are great for the hospitality industry, but it must be sustainable,' concludes Salway. 'The world is changing and drinking habits are changing. It's time for bars to step up their game and embrace change.'

The golden rules
'Never go too sweet ‘Don’t just make them sugary messes, but don't make them boring.’ Ryan Chetiyawardana, Mr Lyan



'Include other vices ‘Taking away booze makes room for other vices, such as coffee. This gives your drinks an adult twist.' Catherine Salway, Redemption


'Put in the same care and attention as with alcoholic cocktails. 'Your skills shouldn’t hinge on alcohol alone, but on principles of balance, temperature, vessel.' Ericka Duffy, The Lucky Liquor Co


'Keep things efficient ‘Draw on the same themes and techniques as the main cocktail list. Use the same ingredients to limit wastage and make things efficient.' Felix Crosse, The Alchemist


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