The sell-out event, in partnership with the WSET, saw a panel of experts reveal what they feel we all need to know about no and low.
Defining what's no and what's low alcohol is really, really complicated…
It’s a knotty issue, the question eliciting groans from the panel. There’s no simple answer but the easiest way to define it is according to UK legislation, as Club Soda’s Laura Willoughby MBE said:
‘Only a drink containing 0.05% abv or less can be called alcohol-free. From 0.05% to 1.2% abv would be considered low alcohol – if it is produced in the UK. Drinks produced elsewhere are subject to their own country’s regulations and therefore can be marketed here accordingly.’
Brand engagement & advocacy manager, Pernod Ricard
Founder of Everleaf Drinks and owner of Hide Bar, London.
Laura Willoughby MBE
Co-founder of mindful drinking movement, Club Soda
Wine, sake and no and low specialist. Former head of wine at Hakkasan Group
That means a 0.5% abv drink produced in another country can be sold here as non-alcoholic.
To further muddy the waters, this definition does not apply to drinks that class themselves as soft drinks. So, a 1.2% abv Kombucha would be classified as alcohol-free, according to Willoughby.
The biggest purchasers of alcohol-free beer are also buyers of full strength beer
‘Most alcohol-free drinks are bought by people who also drink alcohol,' said Daniel L’Anson of Pernod Ricard.
‘For most of us it’s about having a repertoire of drinks that are alcoholic, non-alcoholic and low in alcohol and operators need to provide all of that so people can make a choice based on what they want at that particular moment.’
In brief: don’t make the mistake of creating a range just with teetotallers in mind.
It’s not easy to make a decent alcohol-alternative drink
Paul Mathews, creator of non-alcoholic aperitif Everleaf, said that one of the components alcohol brings to a drink is texture and that it has been a challenge to re-create that when he was developing his no-abv aperitif. He uses a variety of distilling methods, blending, and ingredients such as voodoo lily and gum arabic, to add ‘molecular weight’ to Everleaf.
Such complexity makes the drinks expensive to produce and results in a high-end price. It was generally felt that in time, as technology developed and the category grew, there would be a range of products available to satisfy all price points.
We should be looking beyond the West for tasty no and low drinks
In her years of research into the category, Christine Parkinson, no and low expert and former head of wine at Hakkasan Group, stumbled across many non-alcoholic tipples from across the globe that, while well known in their home countries, were unheard of elsewhere.
She pointed to Malaysia in particular, where drinks made from teas, jellies, fruits, flowers and even boiled beans are popular.
‘There is more to non-alcoholic drinks than we are aware of here at the moment,’ she said. ‘We need to look further afield for inspiration.’
Never put no and low at the back of the drinks list
‘I’m so sick of seeing the low and no selection on the page of shame at the back of the menu where you have to go looking for it,’ admitted Pernod’s L’Anson.
Advice for operators from across the panel was to put the drinks in pride of place on the list; to train staff; think about the glass and garnish, and treat the drinks with respect.
In short, treat no and low the same way you would treat full-strength alcoholic drinks.
The industry needs a new name for the no and low category
The very moniker ‘no and low’ denotes a lack of something, the panel agreed, and so we should be searching for another term, which instead denotes drinks that are good in and of their own right.
There was less agreement in the room on what that might be however, with all current favourites rejected. Answers on a postcard please…