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Never mind Bloody Mary-minus-vodka or sparkling water with lime, a revolution is taking place in soft drinks. Sales of no- and low-alcohol beers have gone up 20%. Mixologists at city wine bars are shaking up mocktails, and Seedlip, the creator of two non-alcoholic spirits, Spice 94 and Garden 108, will bring a third to market this month.
Drinks companies can’t launch no- and low-alcohol drinks fast enough; the latest data from the Office for National Statistics suggest one in five adults is teetotal. This rises to one in three 16-24 year olds.
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THIS TREND?
Dry January – started five years ago by the charity Alcohol Concern – has done an excellent job of raising awareness. On New Year’s Day 2018, over three million people – most aged 35-54 – vowed to stay booze-free for 31 days. The fact a third fell off the wagon isn’t the point.
In changing their habits, they raised demand for chic and tasty alternatives. Other influences are sports nutrition, clean eating and the wellness trend. Gym bunnies want nutritional benefits, not empty calories and a hangover.
SO WHERE ARE THESE CHIC AND TASTY ALTERNATIVES?
Bring on mocktails. At The Stafford Hotel in St James, London, there’s an alcohol-free cocktail called The Scoop, consisting of Seedlip non-alcoholic spirit, coconut water, aloe-vera, cucumber and mint.
Have you heard of herb-infused water? Launched in 2017, and sold by Waitrose, Ocado and Harvey Nichols, No 1 Rosemary Water may even improve the drinker’s memory – and not just by keeping them sober. It’s a Marmite product which customers will love or hate, so offer samplings. Birch, Maple and Bamboo waters (made by Sibberi and Tapped) will appeal to affluent fashionistas and anyone who likes coconut water.
I ENJOY SPIRITS. IS THERE ANYTHING THAT TASTES LIKE GIN OR WHISKY?
No, though there are several products on the market which give consumers the illusion they are getting a proper drink. Seedlip can’t legally call its non-alcoholic spirits gin, because they don’t contain juniper and many gin drinkers crave that juniper hit. The nearest thing is Teetotal G’n’T in bottles, as made and beautifully packaged by the Temperance Spirit Company and sold at Harvey Nichols. Their latest product is a Teetotal Cuba Libre (rum and cola mix).
Ironically, the explosion of gins onto the market has led to the appearance of countless new mixers including Fentimans Pink Grapefruit Tonic and Fever-Tree Cucumber Tonic Water. Most taste adult on their own, unlike many colas and flavoured waters.
YES, WHY ARE SO MANY SOFT DRINKS TOO SWEET?
The secret is to replace the alcohol with a kick, whether it comes from caffeine, ginger, chilli or a sharp, bitter note. ChariTea mate is a sparkling, iced tea with one Great Taste star and a “long-lasting caffeine fix”. The tonic drink, Pimento, delivers both chilli and ginger. Punch is the reason James Whites’ Zinger shots work so well; they contain ginger, chilli, caffeine or turmeric.
And if you’re looking for a tang, you‘ll enjoy kombucha, a fermented, living tea with a slight fizz and many of the benefits of live yoghurt. We especially liked Equinox Original Kombucha, which scored two Great Taste Award stars in 2016.
MY CUSTOMERS LIKE THE HERBAL TASTE OF CAMPARI AND APEROL SPRITZ.
So copy Antonio Delicatessen in Lewisham and stock the nonalcoholic aperitifs, Crodino and SanBitter. Tell customers they can make a Crodino Fizz mocktail by adding soda.
I’VE FOUND LOW- AND NO-ALCOHOL BEERS MORE DRINKABLE THAN BOOZE-FREE WINES. DO YOU AGREE?
Yes. Trendwatch knows a man who happily downed four Becks Blue beers at a barbecue before the host told him they were low-alcohol. Brewdog’s Nanny State alworks well, too. If you prefer to support artisan brands, there’s a new brewery, Nirvana, based in Leyton, East London. Its range of no- and low-alcohol bottled craft beers have hippyish names such as Tantra, Karma and Kosmic, and are on the shelves at E17, the deli in London’s Walthamstow, as well as Whole Foods Market.
CAN YOU RECOMMEND ANYTHING FOR CELEBRATIONS?
Luscombe’s Damascene Rose Bubbly. While we were quaffing full-fat champers, we served this to our designated driver, 33, in a crystal champagne flute. She loved it. It looks festive, has a delicate nose and blush colour and was voted ‘outstanding’ at the 2017 Great Taste Awards.
HOW CAN WE MAKE THE MOST OF THE TEETOTAL TREND?
Ask customers whom they are buying for: themselves, someone healthy, fashion-conscious or younger with a sweet tooth. Be generous with samplings. Even if customers find kombucha delicious, the idea of fermented, living tea will be unfamiliar. Remind them not to drink the jelly-like residue at the bottom of the bottle.
IS THIS TREND HERE TO STAY?
Absolutely, and the arrival of more imaginative soft drinks is overdue.
That said, novelty is not enough. Drinks succeed only if we build them into our drinking repertoire, so trust your taste buds and listen to feedback. Bottoms up!
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