No alcohol doesn’t mean no fun. The n0/low drinking scene has undergone a revolution, with a boom in new products packing serious flavour punch – minus the corresponding abv. With so many of them to choose from – from dark spirit doppelgangers to booze-free bitters – there’s never been a better time for non-alcoholic cocktail making, either.
‘A non-alcoholic cocktail is not a mocktail,’ says Nicolas Medicamento of no/low shop and bar Club Soda in London. ‘A mocktail is basically fruit juices mixed together, and it’s one-dimensional. Cocktails have texture, mouthfeel, complexity, length – a journey. It’s about creating perfect balance, with or without alcohol.’
But for a home bartender new to NoLo, creating that balance can be daunting. no/low components taste different to alcoholic versions, are made in different ways and have different properties. You can’t just make a direct swap – say a non-alcoholic gin for regular gin in a Gimlet – because you’re lacking the ethanol that normally adds both flavour and body. More creativity is needed.
In the mood
Federico Pavan, director of mixology at The Donovan Bar in London – which serves excellent alcohol-free versions of many of its cocktails – suggests starting with the occasion or mood you want to evoke rather than a specific recipe. ‘If you want a feeling of escape, maybe try a tiki cocktail. You can use familiar flavour cues like pineapple, mango and coconut to get your brain making a connection to something like a Piña Colada. If you want an aperitif, think about bitter or dry drink elements that stimulate the appetite.’
Put strict rules to the side in favour of trial, error and flexibility. Be conscious to include acidity, sweetness and sourness but think outside the box in terms of combinations. ‘For example, you don’t need coffee liqueur in an Espresso Martini,’ says Medicamento. ‘You can deliver that sensation with two or three other ingredients. We use non-alcoholic stout to add a chocolate note, often found in coffee.’
Medicamento also suggests adding a little sugar or honey to your drink to help beef up that often-lacking density and mouthfeel. ‘Too many people leave it out in home cocktail-making,’ he says. ‘Don’t shy away from sugar!’
Find your flavour
There are now hundreds of no/low products out there to choose from, made in myriad different ways, from dealcoholisation to fermentation. While you shouldn’t expect the same flavours as in your alcoholic favourites, many come with similar overarching profiles. By finding a star product that echoes the qualities you enjoy in traditional spirits, you can build a portfolio of mixed drinks to suit your palate.
For example – rated both by Pavan and Medicamento – fresh Everleaf Marine might appeal if you like white spirits such as gin or tequila; while Everleaf Forest could suit if you love darker spirits such as rum. Wavelength’s smoky Amber Digestif has a bitter quality that works well in a Negroni, or in other cocktails that normally feature red vermouth. Meads or beers can add flavour or sparkle to drinks, while Nonsuch Shrub can lend acidity.
Finally, consider presentation. Serving temperature is important – normally ethanol gives drinks viscosity, but keeping NoLo products chilled creates a similar sensation. Medicamento suggests keeping bottles in the fridge and using plenty of high-quality ice when mixing. Meanwhile, Pavan insists on finding the right glassware and garnish to create a sense of occasion. ‘Visual impact is very important,’ he says. ‘If you serve Seedlip in a beautiful Martini glass, your imagination will see it as a Martini. Even if the flavour is not exactly the same, you’ve already done half the job.’
Non-alcoholic cocktail recipes to try at home
I Just Called to Say I Love Brew
A non-alcoholic version of the cult classic from no/low shop and bar Club Soda in London. You can buy a Perfect Alcohol-Free Espresso Martini Gift Box containing the ingredients from the Club Soda website, £48.
- Ingredients: 50ml Good Koffee Kakao, 50ml Big Drop Galactic Stout, 50ml Three Spirit Social Elixir
- Glass: Martini
- Garnish: Coffee beans (optional)
- Method: Put all three ingredients into a shaker with a handful of ice. Shake until the outside of the cocktail shaker feels icy cold. Strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with two or three coffee beans.
A fresh serve from Federico Pavan and Salvatore Calabrese at The Donovan Bar in London.
- Ingredients: 50ml Seedlip Garden, 30ml celery juice, 15ml Mirabelle plum purée, 15ml elderflower cordial, 1g citric acid, 5 drops Ms Better’s Miraculous Foamer Bitters
- Glass: Coupette
- Garnish: None
- Method: Begin by combining the celery juice and citric acid until mixed well. To make the cocktail, put the acidified celery juice and all the remaining ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake until your hands are cold, then strain into a coupette and serve.
A 0.5% Amaretto Sour from alcohol-free wine and bar group Tørstigbar, which has a branch in Brighton and during January 2024 is popping up in London’s Hoxton as the Official Bar of Dry January.
- Ingredients: 50ml Lyres Amaretti, juice from ½ lemon, juice from ¼ orange, All the Bitter Orange Bitters, dash of agave syrup, 2 barspoons aquafaba, orange peel
- Glass: Rocks
- Garnish: Maraschino cherry or fresh orange
- Method: Dry shake (without ice) the amaretti, lemon juice, orange juice, bitters, agave syrup and aquafaba in a shaker. Add ice and shake again until cold. Garnish with a maraschino cherry or fresh orange. Spritz the rim of the glass with orange peel and serve.
Our Farm Spritz
A simple, fruit-forward drink from Andreas Grammatikopoulos at Simon Rogan’s Henrock restaurant near Windermere in the Lake District.
- Ingredients: 100ml homemade rhubarb syrup, 150ml soda water or sparkling water
- Glass: Highball
- Garnish: Rhubarb sliver, fresh dill
Method: To make the rhubarb syrup: put 500ml water and 500g caster sugar in a pan and dissolve over a low heat. Add 1.1kg of fresh rhubarb cut into 1-2cm chunks and 120g dill. Gently simmer with the lid on the pan until the rhubarb softens. Allow to cool and then place in the fridge to chill. Once cooled, strain the syrup mix through a coffee filter, add 7.5g citric acid and stir to gently combine.
To make the cocktail: add ice to a tall glass. Pour 100ml of the rhubarb syrup and around 100ml soda water over the ice and stir to combine. Garnish with a sliver of rhubarb and a sprig of fresh dill.