You never know what really is just a fad or what is signaling a change in the industry. But the rise in non-alcoholic (NA) spirits available on the market and the buzz around them is taking on a whole new momentum.
The increased visibility of NA beverages is being driven by the #SoberCurious (or “Mindful Drinking”) movement, which has sparked many Facebook groups and demands for more zero-proof drinks. This trend is all about a healthier drinking lifestyle, and it’s not just focused on removing the alcohol.
There are a number of healthy “elixirs,” loaded with botanicals, that are intended to feel as celebratory as a cocktail while supplying a healthy dose of vitamins and mood enhancement, without the alcohol.
If you don’t yet include NA Spirits, mocktails or healthier drinks in your beverage program, consider it. Many non-drinkers are seeking the same kind of experience that mixologists and craft cocktail-slinging bartenders have provided for years but want to avoid the booze. These non-drinkers, not-right-now-drinkers, or mindful-drinkers have expendable income and want an inclusive experience.
The non-alcoholic movement and the “healthy-drinking” movement are related and part of this larger trend, but they are not necessarily the same group of people. In order to match your offering to your clientele, let’s look at how they differ and when/why/how to incorporate each, based on your location and outlet.
NA Spirits / Mocktails & Low ABV Movement
This audience either wants to limit their alcohol intake or chooses not to drink alcohol for a variety of reasons. It could be anything from health-related concerns to simply not liking the effects of alcohol. Millennials and Gen Z are much more aware of food and beverage choices and the long-term health effects on their body.
How to Position Mocktails & NA offerings
For so long, “non-alcoholic” drinks were regulated to the small section on the menu that listed the fountain sodas along with coffee, tea and lemonade, most of which included free re-fills. This movement should give mocktails and other non-alcoholic offerings the same kind of real estate cocktails have and perhaps should just be marked as “NA” or “Zero Proof” and with similar pricing. (In many cases, NA Spirits are just as expensive or even more expensive than its alcoholic counter-parts.)
The NA Spirits
When considering the plethora of NA spirits on the market (and more to come), incorporating these into your beverage program can be a little daunting, to say the least. Should you just carry one brand of NA spirits and call it day? Can you just use an NA Spirit in lieu of an alcoholic one? What is the best way to navigate this new world of NA Spirits? You can find them now in almost every “spirit” category, from gin to tequila to bourbon to even amaros and aperitifs.
How to Work with NA Spirits
Most NA Spirits are not meant to be consumed on the rocks, in contrast to their fully-leaded brethren. They are intended to go in a mixed drink. (If you tried just drinking some of these products on the rocks, you might be a little disappointed as it would taste like an aromatic water.) I used some simple recipes to evaluate each of them and how they worked in a cocktail. One interesting aspect I noticed in a few of them … the mouthfeel had a “heat” factor and warmth down the throat that really mimicked the mouthfeel of alcohol. They are good to use with simple mixers and in more complex craft mocktails.
Sizes and Prices
Many of them ranged in size from 350ml to 750ml to Liter. The cost per ounce was – a little shockingly! – anywhere from $1.00 – $2.00 per ounce! I highly recommend using them sparingly and costing the drinks out just like you would with your cocktail menu and cocktail pricing.
Some of these products are not yet available via Broadline vendors or alcohol distributors. For many, the only way to purchase them are online and paying for the shipping which can be an additional hefty cost. I think this will change over the next year as the distribution side and volume picks up. But, if you really like them, take advantage of the subscription services many of them provide as some include shipping.
The Future of NA
I strongly believe we will see this whole category of NA spirits continue to grow. Some will fall off and many more will come to market. And, just like some bars and restaurants may carry a wide variety of gins or bourbons on their backbar, I predict we will see a wide variety of NA spirits as well that really showcase a wide range of flavors and botanicals. It’s an exciting time to start exploring this category. I even know of some spirit companies that are testing out NA versions of their alcoholic spirits. I’m super excited to test those out when they come to market!
Recommended NA Spirits
The NA Spirit that sparked a global trend. Originating in London, this has made its way through the London Bar scene over the last four or so years. It finally made its way into the US market a couple of years ago and is now gaining a lot of steam in the US. Purchased by Diageo, I expect this product to continue to gain momentum, being able to take advantage of the distribution it already has in place with their spirit portfolio.
Seedlip is not trying to “mimic” a particular spirit category; rather, their products are more botanical focused. Bartenders that haven’t used it before may not quite know what to do with it until they start to mix with it or are given a little guidance. They have three different marques:
- Garden (herbaceous, aromatic notes of thyme, rosemary, snap pea and pine.
- Grove (orange, lemon, ginger, lemongrass)
- Spice (allspice, cardamom)
Based in California, they’ve really tried to mimic specific spirit categories by isolating some of the common flavors and botanicals in them. They have a gin, tequila and bourbon alternatives – all meant to be used as a direct substitute or even a 50/50 spilt with alcohol brand for a low ABV version. Another differentiating factor is that they’ve also added some vitamins, B3 and B6 as well as taurine for elevated energy. In general, these are great alternatives.
Started by three friends in Chicago, they created a series of spirit alternatives that they wanted to look, smell and feel like the real thing … and they’re great. They have a gin, tequila, bourbon and rum. The aromatics and mouthfeel are incredible, the heat/warming factor really mimics alcohol. These are a great substitute for the real deal.
Created in Southern California, they make both a gin and a whiskey alternative. Packaging is beautiful and would look right at home sitting on a back bar. Their gin is created after the London Dry-styled gin with strong aromatics of juniper, black pepper, pine and lemon peel. There is a nice bitterness that is indicative of a gin, but is a little too bitter when mixed with a tonic. These are great with club soda, ginger ale and mixed in mocktails.
Created in Australia, they offer one of the largest lines of non-alcoholic products, from vermouths to malt “whiskey” to a cane spirit (rum) to aperitifs. They also have a line of NA RTD Spritzers including a “Gin & Tonic.” I thought their Italian Orange (modeled after Campari) was good, but not quite as bitter as I expected it to be. Some distributors carry some of their products, but not the entire line. The packaging is high-end with a tongue-in-cheek vibe.
Make Your Own
One other alternative is to make your own NA spirit in-house. Apiary put out a book last year called “Zero Proof”. In it are some fantastic recipes to make your own NA spirits, but it takes a tremendous amount of time, energy and investment into sourcing all the botanicals and spices needed and making them. If you have the time and staff, go for it. (I made almost all of them and was particularly partial to their NA Spanish-style rum, Campari alternative, red and white vermouths, orange liqueur and amaros.)
Healthier Drinking Trend
There are a number of Botanical Elixirs on the market that are made to “feel” like you’re drinking a cocktail with added mood-elevating botanicals, vitamins and minerals such as taurine, caffeine, blue algae and even melatonin. Most are ready to drink right out of the bottle or mixed with a simple addition of club soda or tonic water. While all are non-alcoholic, you can add alcohol to them if desired.
This demographic is probably more in line with vodka soda drinkers who want alcohol without the calories, carbs or sugars. They are not so concerned about the taste (or lack thereof); rather, they want a healthier drink to meet their dietary needs and lifestyle.
How to use Botanical Elixirs
While NA spirits are meant to mimic spirits, I liken the botanical elixirs to be more like the mixer itself that has all the flavor, botanicals and added health benefits. They can be poured right out of the bottle on the rocks or topped with a simple mixer like club soda or tonic water. These could be great in-room amenities as most are fairly simple serves.
Pricing & Sizing
They range in size from a 12 oz bottle to 750ml and can be a bit pricey, ranging from $4 – $6 for a 3-5 oz serving. (That doesn’t include the shipping costs.)
The Future of Botanical Elixirs
This is too early to tell. I think many will drop off, and many more will come on the market. This hasn’t quite exploded like the NA spirit market. Whereas I believe there will always a place for NA beverages at almost every location and outlet, botanical elixirs appeal to a more specific demographic. Possibly spas, pool bars, health clubs – or outlets and locations where there is a more health-conscious demographic that is more attracted to health benefits rather than the flavor and appreciation of a well-crafted cocktail.
Recommended Botanical Elixirs
These are elixirs that come in 12oz glass bottles (two drinks per bottle) and are inspired by specific cocktails with added vitamins and no sugar. They recommend just serving them on the rocks or with a simple mixer, like a soda or juice. I found most of them to be quite sour, resulting in a rather tart, dry, herbal concoction. They have a total of five different botanical elixirs, each inspired by a different cocktail: No. 1/ Negroni, No. 2 / Pineapple Margarita / Dark & Stormy, No. 3 / Chartreuse / Cucumber Collins, No. 4 / Aperol Spritz and No. 5 / Cherry Old-Fashioned. The packaging is cute and could work well in a glass refrigerator at a spa or hotel marketplace. Note: it needs to be refrigerated.
Overall, these were very well balanced and delicious. They all reminded me of red vermouths – the right amount of sweetness, tang and bitterness with a long finish. But each of them has its own unique characteristics. The “Livener” has a tropical guava flavor with berry a touch of heat, great as mocktail margarita. The “Social Elixir” – bittersweet, touch of tang – is tasty with mocktails like the Manhattan or Spritzer. Their “Nightcap” with notes of orange peel, oak and cocoa is great in an espresso martini-styled mocktail or with coffee. These have great packaging and could be an in-room amenity or in simple serves. They need to be refrigerated when opened.
Based out of Brooklyn. They have a line of NA RTDs and 750ml bottles. The two products they offer are completely different – one is to enhance and liven your mood (hibiscus, ginger, bittersweet) while the other is for slowing down and getting ready for bed (with ingredients like cinnamon, ginger and melatonin.) Just like the others, some really enjoy them; others find them to be pretty bitter.
Inspired by the Mediterranean aperitivo culture, in which many people drink vermouth on the rocks or spritzes for lunch. This is a semi-cloudy juice made from a Riesling grape juice and infused with a slew of botanicals including elderflower, bitter orange peel and lemon balm. It comes pretty close to the classic Aperol Spritz when mixed with a bitter mixer like tonic.
These beverages are crafted by John DeBarry, the acclaimed Bar Director from Momofuku in NYC and contributor for Food & Wine magazine. There are two unique NA aperitifs that are unlike anything else on the market. They have beautiful packaging and are akin to a fine Bordeaux and unique in its complex combination of botanicals. The Ludlow Red is a rich combination of blackberry, black pepper, fig and chrysanthemum. It’s best when allowed to open up and served on the rocks. The Rivington Spritz is a little brighter, with refreshing bitter flavors of gentian, strawberries, rhubarb and hibiscus, best when served spritzer-style and on the rocks.
This article was originally published by HotelExecutive.com on August 1, 2021