Each year in October, an estimated 60,000 people give up drinking for Sober October, Macmillan Cancer Support’s fundraiser. In the UK, about a fifth of adults say they’re teetotal, and among 16-to-24-year-olds it’s almost 30% (yikes!). Although stats presented here are those of the UK, this isn’t a local trend but rather a global and cross-generational phenomena. In developed countries, alcohol consumption is in long-term decline. And people’s reasons for abstaining are various: generational, cultural, religious.
Non or low-alcoholic drinks (No-Lo) market has exploded in the past few years: it’s now possible to find non-alcoholic beers (shout out to Erdinger Alkoholfrei! you’re no Heineken 0.0) and ciders, Campari substitutes, zero-proof “gins” and even liqueurs that are alcohol-free. No-Lo wines, in particular, tend to generate heated opinion. I once presented some at a client workshop and I heard a distinctive sound of lament at the other end of Zoom connection for supposedly needless abomination. But I also know that good many people who are serious about wine making (and promotion) see it as an exciting part of wine’s future.
Yours truly can’t give up on alcohol, he won’t. So why the sudden interest in alcohol moderation? After a couple of years like 2020/21, which took a toll on mental and physical health, you can’t fault him that these concerns are at the forefront of consciousness. This temperance inclined turned an important corner in the bodily-chronology during Covid (no… he won’t spell it out, stupid). Our bodies are all time bombs that detonate in different ways but boy hine detonated abruptly as he turned that corner. Nasty hangovers – not-so-infrequent occurrence in the hard travelling and entertaining days – will not be missed. Not having to start Saturday afternoons with a half bottle of rose isn’t something to be scoffed at. Lately, this oeno-fool has been substituting daytime booze with wine alternatives with infused fruits and spices. Australian-made NON series is one to note with extra points for their #2 made from caramelised pear and kombu. Copenhagen based Muri from the alums of Noma and Empirical Spirits is another with almost comically complex ingredients but their obsession with culinary and fermentation tricks definitely come through in a result that’s unlike any other.
The enemy is mocktails – glorified soft drinks. My aim was to handcraft and mimic complex, time-tested, adult flavours of quality spirit in guilt-free format.
Why write about a monstrous vanity project during wartime, totally out of step with the dire time of betrayal when war torn people are at pains to find even a modicum of normalcy, you ask? This is a political moment, but no less revealing as a cultural one. A leader’s sartorial choices are beckoning our sympathies. The casual hooded-sweats, the grungy disheveled machismo … the pared-down look is a reminder that Volodymyr Zelensky represents his people’s day to day struggles: the olive-green tee became a symbol of value and purpose of a people. After all, Putin, who still insists that Russia is engaged in a “special military operation”, insist on donning sharp suits. Putting on your hoodie at least tells people there’s a war on.
On a serous note though, I wanted to meet my moment of bodily betrayal with a sense of positivity and redirect my focus to creating something new. Let’s face it, a glass of fine Brunello was never an alcohol delivery mechanism. I choose boutique amaro cocktails and small batch bourbons for flavour rather than ABV (alcohol by volume). Taste and flavour is the focal point of an excellent drink, the alcohol volume is secondary. So as I search for ‘function’ and ‘pleasure’ elsewhere in food, why not in drinks? Why not experiment a little while taking a more balanced approach to alcohol consumption?
First, there was Seedlip…
When Seedlip first came along in 2015, there was really nothing like it: a distilled non-alcoholic spirit meant to be mixed into alcohol-free cocktails. None of its expressions fit neatly into preexisting categories of spirits—there’s no Seedlip Gin or Seedlip Tequila or Seedlip Whiskey. But despite this genre-breaking move, its early start (and distribution firepower a la Diageo) mean that it’s probably the easiest to find in bottles shops and, even in, gourmet grocers.
Seedlip Spice 94 and Garden 108 star in my recipes below. When trying out yourselves, make sure it’s properly diluted in your drinks – vigorous stir or shake with ice will go a long way in extracting maximum flavor.
So I set out looking and found that higher and higher quality non-alcoholic drinks are coming to the market. What particularly peaked my interest are distilled, zero-proof spirits, those that mimic the mouthfeel and palate weight of gins and whiskys to use as base for cocktails and even bitter-replacements for aperitif making. I’ve been blending Seedlip Spice 94 and Seedlip Garden 108 as spiced bitter and gin replacements, respectively, into my no-lo cocktails.
The enemy in this creative endeavour is mocktails – glorified soft drinks. Mocktails use supermarket-shelf juices, syrups, cordials and mix them with soda, then laden them with sugar. I wanted to experiment with drinks that are meant to be sipped like cocktails, not gulped like Gatorade. My aim was to handcraft and mimic complex, time-tested, adult flavours of quality spirit in guilt-free format by creating drinks with lots of hand crushed ice, freshly harvested herbs and spices and meticulously prepared infusions which are batched and bottled.
Mimicking the original… Lyre’s
UK born Lyre’s spirits declares that its mission is to ‘replicate the world’s most popular spirits in a non-alcoholic format, each as close to the original premium volume spirit as possible’. So unlike Seedlip which is meant to break genres, Lyre’s look, taste and smell are meant to mimic the original. They have an ambitious range too, a whopping 15 at time of writing, anywhere from Dry London Spirit (gin-replacement) to Aperitif Rosso (their take on sweet vermouth with lots of vanilla and citrus).
With practically all the classic spirits represented, you can have a go at faithfully recreating any cocktail known to you in a non or low alcohol fashion.
Today’s cocktail culture is based on hundreds of years of tried and tested recipes and ingredients. However, proper non-alcoholic cocktails are new. There aren’t lots of products, recipes and information. I took this not as a limitation but an opportunity to experiment – creativity and alchemy as the first and foremost tenent of non-alcoholic cocktails. In fact, being a passionate ambassador for something new seems to rub off… particularly when the new idea is a potent point of differentiation when we’re all seeking genuine ingredients of sustainability and wellbeing in our products. As I speak passionately about bringing high quality ingredients together and putting them through artisanal and sustainable endeavor to create and perfect drinks, co-conspirators rally. Soon, I hope to share more about a new wellness bar concept being developed.
All this is not to say that I am giving up on alcohol just yet. But having experimented with more and more high quality zero-proof alternatives coming to the market, choosing the soft option is now less hard. I am presenting some of the concoctions I’ve been playing with here, two long and short drinks, each.
*Normal G&Tea Cordial – 50ml
Orange puree – 30ml
**Seedlip Garden 108 – 50ml
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and stir
Strain into tumbler (or tea cup) over an ice block
*See instruction on how to batch and bottle Normal G&Tea at the end of this blog
**See info on Seedlip and its range of products in the sidebar of this blog
Erdinger Alkoholfrei – 120ml
Fresh grapefruit juice – 30ml
Fill a tall glass with crushed ice
Pour Erdinger Alkoholfrei (non-alcoholic wheat beer)
Garnish with extra-long cucumber and grapefruit peels, plus thyme
Grate and sprinkle nutmeg
Spice and something nice
Fresh pink grapefruit juice – 30ml
Fresh lemon juice – 20ml
*Seedlip Spice 94 – 50ml
Sugar syrup – 1 tsp (15ml)
Add grapefruit and lemon juices, *Seedlip Spice 94, and sugar syrup to shaker
Add ice and shake for 30 seconds
Strain into a coupe glass
Garnish with star anaise
*Normal Citrus Batch02 – 100ml
Tonic – 50ml
Fill tall glass with crushed ice
Pour Normal Citrus Batch02 and tonic into tall glass
Garnish with extra-long cucumber and grapefruit peels, plus thyme
*See instruction on how to batch and bottle Normal Citrus Batch02 at the end of this blog
Normal Citrus Batch02
- Filtered water 1000ml
- Grapefruit peel, extra long
- Orange wheel, 2
- Lemon wheel, 1 and ½
- Lime wheel, 1 and ½
- Cucumber peel, extra long
- Thyme, one sprig
- Rosemary, 2 sprigs
- Ginger, two slices
- Lemon seeds
- Clove, 2
To make Normal Citrus batch02
- Add above ingredients and filtered water to a 1000ml jar (Kilner Jar or similar), make sure it is sealed by tight fitting lid and refrigerate for 48 hours.
- Strain into 1l bottle to remove any bits from thyme, rosemary or seeds.
- Store in fridge for maximum of 7 days.
Normal G&Tea Cordial
- Green tea bags x 4
- Fennel, half
- Lime, half
- Coriander, bunch
- Lemon balm, bunch
To make Normal G&Tea cordial
- Heat up 1,000ml of water in a kettle until you start to see the first bubbles forming, indicating it is starting to boil, then take it off the heat (boiling the water too long removes oxygen in the water and tea won’t taste as vibrant and complex). Seep 4 green tea bags and let it infuse for 10 minutes.
- Strain off any sediments and pour into a bottle and let it cool off.
- Add above ingredients and tea water to a 1,000ml jar, make sure it is sealed by tight fitting lid and refrigerate for 2- 3 days.
- After 2-3 days, warm up G&Tea.
- Add 1,000g caster sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
- Bottle and store in fridge up to one month.