Despite a global pandemic, national lockdown and social distancing rules, we managed to run the inaugural Imbibe No & Low Taste Awards and here are the drinks that went home with a gong...
These awards were launched to refl ect the quality and range of products in what has become a significant sector of the drinks industry in recent times – one that has grown during lockdown and is predicted to continue to grow in the years to come.
How we ran the No & Low Taste Awards judging process, despite lockdown
Samples of all the drinks were called in and a team (armed with the appropriate PPE and maintaining two metres distance) gathered to ensure all branding on each product was covered up. Then the drinks were put into bags to make absolutely sure the judges would taste blind. All the products were then flight coded, so judges knew which to taste against which, and sent out to the panel. All were tasted neat and, where appropriate, with a mixer kindly provided by Double Dutch. The judges all took tasting notes and scored each drink before getting together (virtually, naturally) to discuss their favourites and decide on a winner for each category.
First up, a massive thank you to our sponsor Bruni Erben, the glass and packaging specialist, which supported the awards and has designed and made the trophies for our winners. Over 150 products were entered into five different headline categories, some of which had subcategories within them (for example, there’s an overall Best No & Low Beer award but also awards for each category such as Lager, IPA, Pale Ale etc). All were tasted blind by our panel of expert judges, where appropriate both neat and with a Double Dutch mixer. Each product was then scored before the judges met (via online video call) to discuss their individual favourites and reach a consensus on subcategory winners and overall category winners.
‘You think you know all about no- and low-alcohol drinks – and then you are presented with more than 150 brands in one go and you realise that this space is a big melting pot of innovation,’ said head judge Laura Willoughby, following the judging.
The plan was to reveal all the winners on centre stage at Imbibe Live 2020, but sadly a global pandemic put paid to that (the show has been postponed until 5-6 July 2021). We are, however, delighted to be able to reveal the winners here and in our special community edition of Imbibe.
BEST NO & LOW BEER: Big Drop Brewing Co Woodcutter Brown Ale
Described as ‘rich and complex but also refreshing’. The judges loved that this brew was good enough to win over traditional beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers alike to the category.
Best No & Low Beers Shortlist
BEST NO & LOW LAGER: Lucky Saint Unfiltered lager, Lucky Saint
Highly commended No & Low Lager: Stella Artois Alcohol Free, Budweiser Brewing Group
BEST NO & LOW PALE ALE: Big Drop Brewing Co Pine Trail Pale Ale, Big Drop Brewing Co
Highly commended No & Low pale ale: Coast Beer Co Hoppy Pale Ale 0.0%, Coast Beer Co
BEST NO & LOW IPA: Drop Bear Beer Co Tropical IPA, Drop Bear Beer
Highly commended: Lowlander 0.3% IPA, Lowlander Beer
BEST NO & LOW OTHER BEER STYLE: Big Drop Brewing Co Woodcutter Brown Ale, Big Drop Brewing Co
Highly commended: Big Drop Brewing Co Galactic Milk Stout, Big Drop Brewing Co
BEST LOW ALCOHOL BEER: Small Beer Lager, Small Beer
BEST NO & LOW CIDER: Thatchers Zero, Thatchers Cider
‘Drinkable and refreshing,’ said the judges of this alcohol-free cider from family cider company Thatchers, which launched this no-abv tipple at the beginning of the year.
BEST NO & LOW KOMBUCHA, SHRUB OR FERMENTED DRINK: Mother Root Ginger Switchel, Mother Root
In a crowded category a clear winner emerged – this ‘absolutely amazing’ switchel that would work for any occasion and in any venue. ‘It would make a great cocktail ingredient as well,’ said judge Camille Vidal.
Highly commended: Agua De Madre Original, Agua De Madre
BEST NO & LOW WINE OR WINE ALTERNATIVE: Royal Flush, Real Kombucha; Nine Elms No.18, Nine Elms Drinks
De-alcoholised wines lost out in this category to wine alternatives, which were declared by the judges generally to be ‘where the excitement is’. This part of the category was deemed so good that two winners were declared.
One, Royal Flush, was given the Sommelier’s Choice No & Low Award for being a drink with integrity and substance. ‘You can see the makers didn’t take any shortcuts and had a clear sense of wanting to make a drink that was an alternative to wine,’ the panel said.
The other winner, Nine Elms No.18, was handed the Best No & Low Food Match Award, with a depth and complexity of flavour that made it a great partner for a wide range of food.
BEST NO & LOW DISTILLED DRINK: Everleaf, Everleaf Drinks
In this category, aperitif drink Everleaf won out with a drink described by the panel as a ‘classic Italian aperitif with a nice level of bitterness’, which could be made into a nice grown-up spritz or used to make lower-abv cocktails. The aperitif category, it should be noted, won the most praise from the judges for the inventiveness of producers and the quality of the drinks.
Highly commended: Lyre’s Italian Orange, Lyre’s Spirit Co
Highly commended: Martini Nonalcoholic Vibrante, Martini
Best No & Low Distilled Drinks Shortlist:
BEST NO & LOW APERITIF: Everleaf, Everleaf Drinks
BEST NO & LOW DARK SPIRIT: Lyre’s American Malt, Lyre’s Spirit Co
BACK BAR ESSENTIAL NO & LOW SPECIAL AWARD: Lyre’s Coffee Originale, Lyre’s Spirit Co
BEST NO & LOW WHITE SPIRIT: Ginish, Ish Spirits
Highly commended: Sea Arch Coastal Juniper, Sea Arch Drinks
BEST NO & LOW NEW WAVE SPIRIT: Three Spirit Livener, Three Spirit Drinks
BEST NO & LOW SPRITZ SPECIAL AWARD: Spritzish, Ish Spirits
Head judge – Laura Willoughby MBE, co-founder of Club Soda, the Mindful Drinking Movement
Shilen Patel, co-founder and non-alc lead at Distill Ventures
Camille Vidal, founder of La Maison Wellness
Christine Parkinson, drinks consultant and co-founder of Brimful Drinks