A good cocktail isn’t about how much booze is in the drink, but about how well the drink is balanced, what interesting flavours can come through, the creativity of the serve and, often, a sense of playfulness. Cocktail bars, after all, aren’t awarded accolades for how alcoholic their drinks are.
The last few years has seen an explosion of low or non-alcoholic spirits, with the category growing over 166 percent from 2017 - 2019 and expected to further develop by 34 percent by 2024. New low or non-alcoholic beers and wines are also on the rise: Lucky Saint, an unfiltered lager with 0.5 percent ABV has become a popular choice in many good bars and pubs. Kombuchas — particularly those made by fermenting high-quality loose leaf teas, like Real’s Royal Flush kombucha, which has become a worthy sparkling wine substitute around the city— can be a great pet-nat alternative. Muri, the Copenhagen drinks company that uses teas and fruits with gentle fermentation to create drinks akin to a wine (but all under 0.5 percent ABV) is served in restaurants throughout London that are synonymous with vinous excellence, such as Sager and Wilde in Hackney, Salon in Brixton and The Drunken Butler in Clerkenwell.
Legally in the UK a drink is considered “alcohol free” if it is below 0.5 percent ABV, and low alcohol if it is between 0.5 percent ABV and 1.2 percent. These definitions are complex for a lot of reasons; some argue that foods have a natural occurrence of alcohol (a ripe banana can be constituted by up to 0.4 percent of alcohol) but the U.K. Food Labelling Regulations say drinks over 0.05% of alcohol cannot be labelled as ‘alcohol free’.
There are an incredibly wide range of reasons why someone might not be drinking — cultural, being in recovery, pregnancy, marathon training, a big work project the next day — and it feels like that finally the drinks world is waking up to the idea that getting together for a drink is all just that, and not about the alcohol content (or asking why someone isn’t drinking.)
Overall, perusing a drinks menu should be as much fun as reading the food menu, and should have something to grab anyone’s attention and desire. There are not enough restaurants and bars that put their non-alcoholic list online or in print alongside their food menus, which is a shame, because many are very good at creating interesting drinks when asked to do so in the moment. Hopefully this will change. In the meantime, here are some great cocktail bars where the alcohol-free menu is not an afterthought.Read More