During the first lockdown, like a lot of people, I started drinking a bit more. Understandably, I was home more, with a lot more free time on my hands, and I had decided to challenge myself and make a new cocktail a day for one hundred days. These cocktails had to go somewhere and I did not relish the idea of throwing them down the sink. However, pretty early on, around day 15 I realised that this was a slippery slope. So I turned my eye to “low and no”.
An odd topic for someone who has made a career around selling alcohol and then working for alcohol brands, however it made sense after a bit of thinking; cheese makers don’t just eat cheese and trying other things broadens the mind. This was quickly something that became readily obvious to me. Bartenders use alcohol as a crutch when making drinks, and it actually becomes more of a challenge to make a complex, tasty drink without the spice of rye or body of a potato vodka to back it up.
Ask a bartender anywhere to make you a cocktail with a new base spirit, and they will get visibly excited. But ask them to make you a drink they are proud of, without alcohol, and there will be a definite pause as they try to work that one out. An ex-colleague who worked in the kitchen summed it up well when he said, “it’s like chefs making a vegan dish. The ones who never try are the ones who can’t.” The drinks considered the best are almost always the alcoholic ones and even when we think of classic cocktails they are all boozy drinks. Not even a low alcoholic cocktail tends to be given the praise a regular cocktail would.
I’m not suggesting we do away with alcohol, just that instead of looking at non-alcoholic spirits/drinks with derision, as so often happens among cocktail geeks, we think of it as an accompaniment, or partner even. More and more people are foregoing drinking or drinking less for various reasons and in a post-covid world we need to entice people back out for social interaction. Providing a good range of options for people who do not drink alcohol is not only good for bartenders looking to expand their skill set, it is good for businesses. As someone who’s hangovers are now far worse than they used to be, it would be nice to find a menu with more than a couple of good, interesting non-alcoholic serves on there.
It is important to say the industry as we all know, is rife with people who drink too much and too often, and although I don’t think I ever got to the point where it became an addiction, certainly it became a bad habit at points in my career. This is a huge problem and I don’t want to ignore it. I think providing a platform among up and coming bartenders for alcohol-free drinks to be considered as good as alcoholic drinks is important for pushing the industry forward, as well as maybe reducing the amount that we within the industry drink.
And there is no shortage of options. Just look in the local supermarket for an ever-growing range of non-alcoholic spirits (and yes I’m aware many are not good but that is a gauntlet we run with alcoholic brands just as often. Maybe more so.) Vermouth and aperitifs make great bases for low alcohol drinks (not just spritz’s), whilst teas, and herbs which have been used in cocktails for years, work just as well in non-alcoholic drinks, whether shaken, made into tinctures or even cordials/syrups. There’s a whole world of non-alcoholic ingredients out there, begging to be made into great drinks, by great bartenders.