Camille Vidal, creator of Mindful Cocktails and founder of La Maison Wellness, knows a thing or two about no & low drinks – here are her suggestions for how to make the most of the least amount of alcohol.
With the rise of health-conscious consumers, new generations drinking less alcohol, a fast-growing sober community and more mindful drinkers wanting to drink less and better, it’s fair to say that the low & no category and non-alcoholic cocktails are here to stay.
It’s not a trend nor a fad, but an expanding movement and the way forward for many drinkers around the world. Let’s not confuse delicious, sophisticated, well-crafted low & no cocktails for what once upon a time might have been referred to as a mocktail, virgin cocktail or other terrible descriptive.
Welcome to 2021 – where drinking doesn’t have to mean imbibing and tasty doesn’t have to be boozy. Here, I’m going to take you through how to successfully make no & low cocktails.
Do it and do it with passion
For some of you, alcohol free might not be your jam, but it’s important to remember that we don’t make a menu for ourselves but for our guests. When someone orders a non-alcoholic cocktail and you internally roll your eyes and create something without passion, well… it tastes like it. So do it and do it with the same enthusiasm. Take it as a challenge to make something amazing to make your guests happy.
Cocktails not soft drinks
There is a difference between non- alcoholic cocktails and soft drinks. I remember going to a bar and asking for a non-alcoholic cocktail... to which the bartender responded: “Yeah, we have lemonade.” A non-alcoholic cocktail isn’t a soft drink, it isn’t all your left-over juices blended together and served with a garnish. It’s more than that.
Think outside the box
I think it’s fair to say that as bartenders we are creative people. We love flavours and putting them together in magical ways and revisiting classic cocktails. But when it comes to non-alcoholic cocktails it’s not always as straightforward as removing the alcohol, because what you’re left with is a sad mix of juices and sugar. Even a simple replacement of the alcohol by its non-alcoholic counterpart does sometimes need more work.
Using a non-alcoholic spirit, aperitif or liqueur in your non-alcoholic or low-abv cocktail is a great place to start. For anyone who might be questioning the authenticity of the no & low category, it’s undeniable that this adds a great deal of complexity into your drinks. Made in a similar manner to more recognisable spirits, these are a great tool and having a selection of alternatives to your favourite spirits, from gin to rum and aperitif liqueurs, will definitely make your menu more interesting and elevate the experience for your guests.
Sometimes a simple swap is not satisfactory as you’re missing the backbone of alcohol in your drink. If you want to add more flavour structure into your non-alcoholic beverages, here are a few of my favourite ingredients:
• Vinegars: they bring great flavours and also add bite to your alcohol-free cocktail, for a longer finish.
• Teas: a great addition to cocktails, again for the flavours (there are so many options), but also because of the tannins naturally found in tea that create structure in your drinks.
• Sugar alternatives: I like to play with loads of different sugar alternatives and experiment with texture and flavour from maple syrup to molasses, date syrup, and unrefined sugar, which has more flavour.
• Bitters are our spices for cocktails and you can also find some great non- alcoholic bitters to add flavour. Explore very carefully and with knowledge when using essential oils (they aren’t always digestible, so research first).
• Herbs and spices are always a great addition.
• Carbonating by adding bubbles – either soda, tonic or even kombucha (great as you have the slight vinegary taste in addition) – can really lift the flavours of your drink.
These are just a few tips and tricks to elevate your no & low cocktails; but remember that all ingredients are important in your creation, whether alcohol-free or not... from the quality of your ice to the mixers, fruits, herbs, spices and more.
Inclusivity on menu
Often one of the first experiences of your guests, after greeting them of course, is the menu. So, making your menu inclusive and an experience for all is important. I recently created a mirror menu for a venue in Paris, where all cocktails are available with and without alcohol; but if this is maybe too much for your venue, try to avoid putting your non-alcoholic options at the back of the menu, as if they are an afterthought or less-valued part of the experience.
Remember, you serve people – that’s hospitality – and we should be able to look after every single guest walking into our bar, regardless of whether they want a boozy or boozeless experience.