According to the latest drinking trends, more and more of us are choosing to go without alcohol or at least cutting down our intake. The third annual YouGov survey looking at low- and no-alcohol alternatives, commissioned by the Portman Group, found that two-thirds (62.5%) of all UK adults had at least tried a no- or low-alcohol product.
Meanwhile figures from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis indicate that sales in the so-called NoLo category are expected to grow by 17% in the UK this year, with a value of £558m. Last year the NoLo category gained a 3% share of the total beverage alcohol market, and total volume is forecast to grow by +31% by 2024, according to IWSR’s No- and Low-Alcohol Strategic Study 2021.
This increase was no doubt fuelled by the launch of some big-brand no-alcohol alternatives this year, including Tanqueray Alcohol Free. However smaller brands are also seeing exponential growth. Pentire, which produces a range of two alcohol-free botanical spirits – Adrift and Seaward – reported a 200% increase in year-on-year sales to 13 December, with consistent growth month-on-month.
For drinks lovers, these figures translate into an exciting array of new products to try. Arguably low- and no-alcohol is the most exciting category at the moment, and it’s certainly the one where most innovation is happening.
If you’re keen to explore further, Pourwell is an alcohol-free subscription cocktail club. Subscribe to receive a box that contains: a full-size bottle of alcohol-free spirit, mixers, garnishes, sweet and savoury snacks, a NoLo taster and a recipe card – enough to let you make six cocktails. Boxes cost £34.99 and can be ordered monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly.
Meanwhile to get you started, here are a few of my favourite bottles from recent tastings, with flavours that I think will work best over the festive season – from oranges and Christmas spices to fresh pine and smoky, woody notes. Enjoy!
Best alcohol-free spirits for Christmas
Æcorn is a range of herbal aperitifs based on grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier – infused with botanicals including oak, hence the name. Aromatic is a good choice for cold winter nights, thanks to its spicy berry aromas – like mulled wine. Try it over ice with soda, to open up smoky bitter woodland notes, like a winter bonfire, with dark spices and a burnt caramel edge, plus vanilla and orange citrus. Or make a warm Mulled Cup: mix 300ml Æcorn Aromatic, 210ml apple juice and 90 ml cinnamon syrup in a pan and heat gently. Alcohol 0%
Bax Botanics Sea Buckthorn
Distilled in Yorkshire by Chris and Rose Bax, who use organic, ethically sourced herbs and fruit to create their drinks. Packed with vibrant flavour, the no-sugar Bax range includes uplifting Verbena, laced with fresh, sappy, herbaceous notes. But my favourite is Sea Buckthorn: earthy, fruity, spicy, herbal and tangy, with a lip-smacking bitter finish. Pair with low-cal Lixir Ginger Ale for a refreshing, spicy alternative to a whisky highball this Christmas. Alc 0%
The excellent Everleaf range was created by Paul Mathew, a conservation biologist and bartender. Sustainable botanicals include plants such as acacia and seaweed, used to mimick the viscosity of alcohol. The range includes seaside-inspired Marine and cherry-laced Mountain. But I love the rich earthiness and spice of Forest, with aromas like tramping through a wood after the rain. There’s also a touch of smokiness that continues on the complex, mellow and textured palate. Vanilla, woodsmoke, earthy spice, orange citrus, candied peel and a hint of saffron. Mix one part Everleaf with three parts tonic or ginger ale over ice for a mellow festive sipper. Alc 0%
New London Light Midnight Sun
From Devon’s Salcombe Distilling Co, the low-calorie NLL range has recently been expanded to include new flavours Aegean Sky and Midnight Sun, the latter inspired by flavours from the Nordic coast. Botanicals include kelp, samphire, sea buckthorn, lingonberries and pine, conjuring up evocative flavours and aromas that make me think of foraging on a fresh coastal walk. There’s berry sweetness, with a hint of tartness, plus pine resin and a some breezy salinity. Pair one part Midnight Sun with three parts tonic over ice in a highball glass and garnish with raspberries and cranberries for an eye-catching Christmas serve. Alc 0%
With its bright orange colour, reminiscent of Aperol, Tuscan Tree falls neatly into the Italian aperitivo category. Created by the team behind Kvîst alcohol-free spirit, this good value option is made with botanicals including cardamon, cinnamon bark, orange peel and pimento, then infused with Tuscan blood oranges, creating a bittersweet character. Ripe orange fruit is balanced by notes of dry Middle Eastern spices and black tea. Serve it spritz-style in a balloon glass, with Fentiman’s tonic, plenty of ice and slices of fresh orange. Alc 0%
Wilfred’s Non-Alcoholic Aperitif
Chris Wilfred Hughes took inspiration from familiar ingredients – fresh rosemary from his mother’s garden and bitter oranges in his father’s homemade marmalade – to create this zero abv aperitif. You’ll also find notes of tangy rhubarb and plenty of Christmassy clove spice. Pair it with The Artisan Drinks Co’s Pink Citrus Tonic (one part Wilfred’s, two parts tonic) over ice for a refreshing festive spritz. Alc 0%