Unpacking the ins and outs of no and low drinks

Charlotte Barker

31 July 2020

Once a growing trend, now it’s here to stay. Charlotte Barker explains the terminology, regulations and scope of no and low drinks

Alright what’s the deal?
'No & low' the umbrella term for everything without and low in alcohol. Other terms include non-alcoholics (NA) and alcohol-free (AF).

But…why?
There are a myriad of reasons to not drink. Not liking the taste, religious reasons, mental health... At this point who cares, it’s their choice.

Oh I get it, they think they’re better than me because they don’t drink?
Chill. This ain’t a holier-than-thou setup. It doesn’t mean drinking is wrong, it’s just not for everyone.

Wait. So not only has Covid spanked us, people aren’t buying drinks?
No! They’re just being mindful of what they are drinking. Guests are willing to pay more money for better quality, these days. They understand the cost of alcohol-free products.

Ah yeah, I’ve seen boozeless beer around.
And it’s not only fantastic NA beer. The options have grown immeasurably in the past few years. There’s stunning alcohol-free wines, aperitifs, and spirits.

Is it ‘beer’ if there’s no alcohol?
Yes, if it's been brewed. It’s a ‘wine-based drink’ if under 8% abv (if made in the UK), so the grape variety is often used. Think ‘sparkling Chardonnay’ and such.

And spirits?
The definition of ‘spirit’ can be skirted around and used freely. But can’t be named with the product they’re replacing. Gin, whisky, rum etc. have regulations of how they are made, including a lower limit for abv.

Errrm. How do they get the alcohol out?
MAGIC...(*Death stare*). No, by blending flavours or de-alcoholisation. Both methods are used with spirits and aperitifs. Blending is what is says on the tin: developing extracts and essences and combining them with a base liquid to achieve the desired flavour. With beer, wine, and some spirits an alcoholic product is created then has the ethanol removed. Things have massively improved with vacuum distillation (as it compromises less on taste) and reverse osmosis (which forces the alcohol out under pressure).

Sounds intense...
Both ways require care and finesse to produce a quality product. The variety means that no and low
cocktails have never had it better.

Oh, like fruit juice and grenadine?
Get out. I think we can put ‘mocktails’ and jungle juice behind us now.

But there’s no alcohol. It’s not going to taste good!
If you have that attitude then yeah, it won’t. We give our guests the best experience and make delicious drinks. Whether a filthy Espresso Martini or high-concept number. Give a little respect to no and low drinks and we can make them tasty AF.

Alright, alright. So no booze. Got it.
Well not entirely…

There’s more?!
Some people are looking to consume less booze. Think about guests driving who still want a tasty tipple.

Sure. So what’s the rules on low alcohol?
Ah. There aren’t really any rules.

Christ, it’s like the Wild West round here…
There are no official guidelines on what constitutes ‘low alcohol’ within licensing laws for bars.

And legally?
0.05% abv and less counts as ‘alcohol free’ by UK definition. Below 0.5% abv is ‘de-alcoholised’ in the UK but ‘alcohol free’ in Europe and the US. Between 0.5% abv and 1.2% abv is low-alcohol for labelled beers, wines, and RTDs.

Alrighty I’ll just chuck an Americano at them, that’s low abv.
Sorry to break it to you bud: an Americano may be low-ish at about 10% abv, but it’s still 1.8
units. In comparison, a Daiquiri is 2 units.

I’m confused. What’s the difference between abv and units?
Abv means alcohol by volume and is the percentage of ethanol in the drink. Units are how many
measures of alcohol in total are in a drink. One unit is handily 25ml of 40% spirit. Abv can be a little misleading whereas units tell you the whole story.

So I should be talking in units?
Possibly. Whichever, get clued up on what’s in the drinks you’re making and aim for low.

Should I put abv/units on my menu?
Dealer’s choice. But it will mean ease of understanding for a guest when they’re looking to drink
no and low.

What’s the best thing to do?
Be keyed up on what nolo products are out there and go make some delicious, mindful bevs.

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