Not long ago, if you weren’t drinking alcohol for whatever reason and you fancied a drink, your choice was limited to sugary concoctions, lemon lime and bitters, a “cocktail” of fruit juices or a sparkling mineral water with citrus masquerading as a G&T.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Claytons released a non-alcoholic beverage in a bottle designed to resemble whisky. It was sold in many supermarkets. Anyone old enough to remember would recall the heavy advertising campaign with renowned Australian actor Jack Thompson sitting in a bar, ordering a Claytons, with a voice-over describing it as “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”.
Claytons became part of the Australian vernacular referring to something that wasn’t real – a term still used from time to time. But today’s non-alcoholic cocktails are far removed from a Claytons cliché.
Low Alcohol Trend
The trend of low alcohol cocktails has been gaining momentum in the last few years with alcohol-free drinks no longer being an after-thought on a drinks list. Bars such as This Must Be The Place in Darlinghurst have embraced the low alcoholic trend from the start with their signature spritzers, others offer low ABV options with reverse cocktails such as riffs on the Martini and Manhattan with vermouth at the forefront.
At PS40 in Sydney, a cocktail bar and soda factory, their house-made sodas are on tap and feature in a range of cocktails and non-alcoholic options. Think wattle cola, smoked lemonade and myrtle soda – flavours that cater to the adult discerning palate.
Another bar in Sydney’s CBD embraced the non-alcoholic offering since day one. Known for their housemade shrubs, Burrow Bar has always had their “Burrow Shrub” as a non-alcoholic option, with seasonal flavours that change every two months.
In 2015, Seedlip, the word’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit revolutionised the category when Founder Ben Branson released a distilled liquid aimed at non-drinkers. The spirit is copper pot distilled, blended and is sugar free, sweetener free, and free of artificial colour and flavour. Its success was phenomenal that it is served at Michelin star restaurants and some of the World’s 50 Best Bars.
A trend was set and the market for alcohol free alternatives continues to grow. In 2017, Danish brand Herbie Gin released an alcohol-free gin they called Herbie Virgin made from botanicals that include juniper, Danish apples, lavender and orange peel with no alcohol. Another non-alcoholic gin is soon to be released in the UK. South Africa has released The Duchess Virgin Gin & Tonic, a ready-to-drink non alcoholic G&T created by a team of botanists who blended re-distilled juniper berries with tonic water that was infused with botanicals – with no alcohol, sugar or preservatives.
With the growth of non-alcoholic cocktails, ingredients such as verjus, shrubs, kombucha, vinegar, housemade sodas and cordials are playing starring roles in drinks menus in both bars and restaurants.
It is not uncommon to find “mocktails” on restaurants’ drinks list – many have been catering for non-drinkers for some time. Fine diner The Bentley Restaurant & Bar in Sydney offers a non-alcoholic pairing option with their degustation menu. Om Nom Kitchen at the Adelphi Hotel in Melbourne has recently launched a new cocktail list with four mocktail specials including a drink for two with all the elements of theatrics served from a bubbling and steaming teapot.
“Non-alcoholic drinks are a key focus at every single one of our venues,” says Kate McGraw, Group Bars Manager at Lotus Dining Group. “We scale the size of our non-alcoholic offering to the size and demographics of the venue, but the same amount of time and energy goes into those drinks as with our cocktails.” Some of the creations are significantly prep-heavy such as the Concession Fizz made with charcoaled orange juice, fermented pineapple vinegar, chrysanthemum cordial, aquafaba and soda.
PS40 bar has ad-libbed non-alcoholic cocktails in the past but they have just added them to their latest menu combining their sodas with Seedlip and modifiers such as shrubs or fruit and herbs. Think PS Bush Tonic with Seedlip Garden, cucumber shrub and snap peas.
At Charlie Parker’s in Paddington, the team has reimagined some classics such as the AmericaNO with a non-alcoholic version of Aperol. They have also created a non-alcoholic take on a Dirty Martini with Seedlip Garden, wakame infused verjus and syrup that would please the die-hard Martini fan when they’re not drinking alcohol.
From Low to No – What’s Next?
The trend from Low to No has certainly been gaining traction of late and with Diageo’s Distill Ventures launching a non-alcoholic drinks fund earlier in June, we can expect more to come in the next few years. But will the trend be everlasting or go the way of Claytons?
“There is a massive demand for non-alcoholic options at all of our venues,” Kate McGraw says. “Lotus Dining has six (soon to be seven) venues in the CBD area and so we’re constantly catering for all kinds of different people. It is a huge part of our beverage program and one that my team and I take the utmost care in.”
“There’s a growing demand for quality non-alcoholic drinks in fun environments,” Thor Bergquist, Co-Owner of PS40 says. “Great bars like Dandelyon in London and Harvard & Stone in LA are listing non-alcoholic cocktails alongside alcoholic cocktails which is a first, opposed to non-alcoholic drinks being listed at the back of a menu.”
Clearly non-alcoholic cocktails have come of age. It’s time to stop calling them “mocktails”.
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