Low and No Alcohol ‘Spirits’ - A Suitable Substitute

"Low and No" alcohol alternatives are becoming a popular sub-culture in the drinks industry. People who abstain from alcohol consumption are still keen to experience the sensations alcohol offers. They want to enjoy expertly crafted products, dive into complex flavours and botanical mixes, but without the effects of alcohol.

And why not? "Low and No" offers drinkers two options: "No" is self explanatory, and "Low" is a great idea, consisting of spirits with an ABV of 0.05% - 1.2%,1 to give a hint of the sensation of drinking an alcoholic drink with hardly any alcohol.

 

Moving On Up: The Growing Trend

A growing moderation trend is occurring with 20% of UK adults abstaining from alcohol, and as many as one-third moderating periodically.2 The current Low/No trend is driven by 18-24 year olds who want to “drink less alcohol or switch to Low/No substitutes.”3  Almost half of "adults aged 25-44 prefer Low/No options instead of soda to reduce sugar consumption."4 

There are certainly other contributing factors, too. Activities like Dry January and Alcohol Awareness Week have furthered consumer interest.5

Currently, we are seeing a growing interest online with searches for “mocktail” up 42%, and global consumers mentioning “non-alcoholic” 81% more than a year ago,6 which is a huge jump in that space of time!

This current trend and future prediction according to Statistica.com points to solid growth. “Revenue in the Non-Alcoholic Drinks market amounts to £805.9M in 2020. The market is expected to grow annually by 6.8%.”7 This popularity in growth naturally spurred increased product launches. With all this activity, Low and No has become a talking point amongst spirit writers, leading to even more exposure. Notably, it has become a dedicated category in large competitions like the IWSC.

There is a culture growing around Low and No which is a welcome development considering personal responsibility and making healthier choices. Because drinking is deeply embedded in UK society, with 80% of adults consuming alcohol,8 it was often the case non-drinkers were left out in the cold, with only soft drinks available at pubs. Other options were overly sweet and often outlandishly servedanything but discreet or pleasant on the palate. Many feel social pressure to drink, especially young consumers. 43% of those age 18-34 report that not drinking in social situations feels awkward.5

Later, came a surge in the popularity of mocktails, certainly a step forward. But progress halted for a while after this point. While we could go to bars and order a mojito without rum, essentially a glass of soda water flavoured with sugar, lime juice, and mintwhich just felt like something was missing. Having tried these myself, I can confirm each sip tasted incomplete. Hence, the next evolution in the growth of Low/No spirits.

 

New Product Development: Not As Easy As You’d Think!

The no-alcohol brand, Seedlip, were one of the early notable names on the scene and have grown quite a reputation. However, making a non-alcoholic spirit is tricky and some of the early Low/No brands experienced problems. The production is not as simple as making a flavoured water, which would disappear when combined with a mixer.

Although many Low/No drinks suggest the perfect serve is neat over the rocks (I should imagine due to dilution issues), mixing is an important requirement. Alcohol carries flavour and gives weight to a drink, something that comes through a mixer, and this sensation needs to be captured for a satisfactory replacement—especially when labelling products as a Low/No "spirit".

Trying to replicate the sensations of alcohol without using alcohol is a difficult thing. The tendency in a lot of offerings is to overdo the ratios of botanicals to compensate, leading to such highly concentrated flavours that, before mixing, they can come across as fragranced disinfectant. Still, any new area of innovation will need work, and as we hit the final months of 2020, we are starting to see some of the fruits forming on the tree.

Some fantastic products are being released, and it's interesting to discover everyone’s take on a suitable replacement "spirit". What does it need to make for a weighty drink that can be mixer? How do we get the complexity that comes with alcoholic spirits? Plus, what can warrant a price tag similar to that of its alcoholic counterpart? This has definitely been a hindrance to the category becoming as popular as it could be.

 

Some companies are rethinking the method of delivering a low ABV drink, with Hayman's release of it’s ‘Small Gin’. A gin at 43%, but made with four-five times the botanicals. When you make your G&T, you use a small thimble-sized amount (the thimble comes with the bottle). So, when diluted with tonic, the ABV of the drink sits at 0.2 units of alcohol and 15 calories, but with all the flavour of a full strength gin, which is really very clever.

Personally, I perceive the growth of Low/No as a positive development in the drinking world. There was an obvious gap in the market, and with it an opportunity. The result has led to an entirely new culture that supports non-drinkers and intrigues drinkers while bringing the two groups closer together. Plus, it’s worth noting the crossover as "59% of drinkers consume both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks".6

There have also been "non-alcoholic" bars set up. In these establishments, you can choose from an extensive list of non-alcoholic drinks, catch up with friends, play pool and do all the things you would normally do in a pub. Places like this have been a lifeline for some people who have given up drinking and found it to be antisocial.

From a creative point of view, the growth in this category provides a fantastic opportunity for innovation and extending the spectrum of possibility. What if you like an Aperol Spritz but they go to your head? No problem! Simply use 3/4oz Spritz syrup. With it you get all the flavour of a bitter aperitivo, but no extra ABV added to the fizz. When used inventively, these products offer a new choice to the staple question "to drink or not to drink...?"

 

Nona June: A Fine Example

At Your Drink Box, we stock Nona June purely because it’s the best non alcoholic gin that our founder , Damien Egan, has tried. Created by Charlotte Matthys, Nona June is a great example of a product that came from identifying that gap in the market.

Charlotte went to a bar, found there wasn’t enough choice for non-drinkers, especially in non-alcoholic cocktails, and that inspired her to create Nona June. The non-alcoholic gin is made with a generous amount of herbacious and citrus botanicals, because why should you have to compromise on flavour or experience when choosing a non-alcoholic spirit substitute?

Nona June Tasting Notes

So, what’s it like? If we’re getting into it neat, like a spirits judge would, there is a strong and fragrant nose compiled of elements of citrus mostly lemon and bergamot. This is balanced wonderfully by a myriad of rich and complex savoury, herbaceous notes. On the palate, those flavours do very well to carry through, making for a tasty and distinctive palate. It’s better balanced than others I’ve tried in its neat state, but how about with tonic? Will it hold its weight?

I mixed a 50/50 mix with tonic initially and am really surprised at how bright and fresh the nose is. On the palate the flavours still come through the tonic nicely. It’s very effective for a non-alcoholic drink. The taste has the character of a premium spirit and will make for a very refreshing beverage. I’d suggest keeping garnish simple with lemon, with the addition of rosemary for more of a statement serving. If you’re big on your citrus, you could even treat it to lemon, lime and orange for a vibrant serve.

Personally, I’m excited for the future of Low/No. I’m excited because these products will take us on a new journey. The opportunities to have new ideas, and create new drinks are just huge! That, combined with the rapidly evolving Low/No culture and the inclusion of non-drinkers into a world that I really love means we can all share more thirst-quenching experiences together. Cheers to that!

 

 

About the Author: Bernadette Pamplin

After landing a job in a gin bar, Bernadette became obsessed with gin and sought extensive training to learn all she could about the juniper spirit. Later, she merged her passion for gin and her passion for words  becoming a drinks writer.

She now pens articles for publications like Gin Magazine, content for Your Drink Box and her own popular blog Under The Ginfluence.

She has also served as Brand Ambassador for a large UK Gin Festival and helps organise the Craft Distilling Expo as well as speaking on its panels. 

Bernadette has four years experience judging events like Gin of the Year, World Gin AwardsSpirits Business AwardsGin Guide AwardsIWSC and the American Distilling Institute Judging of Craft Spirits. She loves trying gins, learning to distinguish flavours and how the botanicals and distillation processes create the final result. Very much "under the ginfluence," Bernadette is driven by the spirit's history, flavour and story. While gin is her speciality, she has affection for all spirits.

 

References

1. Drink Aware: How to reduce your drinking 

2. Baker, A., 2018. Attitudes Towards Craft Alcoholic Drinks - UK - August 2018 [online] Mintel; Price, A., 2019. Alcoholic Drinks Review - UK - February 2019 [online] Mintel; Soininen, K., 2019. Attitudes Towards Low- and Non-Alcoholic Drinks - UK - August 2019. [online] Mintel; Caines, R., 2020. White Spirits and RTD - UK - January 2020. [online] Mintel.  

3. The Guardian: Young drinkers thirst for low-alcohol beer sets new trend

4. Caines, R., 2020. White Spirits and RTD - UK - January 2020. [online] Mintel. Available through: ARU Library <http://library.aru.ac.uk> [Accessed 9 April 2020].

5. Soininen, K., 2019. Attitudes Towards Low- and Non-Alcoholic Drinks - UK - August 2019. [online] Mintel. Available through: ARU Library <http://library.aru.ac.uk> [Accessed 9 April 2020].

6. Carruthers, N., 2019. Non-alcoholic ‘spirits’ to play a ‘key role’ in on-trade. The Spirits Business. 16 May 2019. [online] Available at: <https://bit.ly/2QKdD7k> [Accessed 14 July 2020].

7. Statista.com: Non-alcoholic drinks stats

8. Price, A., 2019. Alcoholic Drinks Review - UK - February 2019. [online] Mintel. Available through: ARU Library <http://library.aru.ac.uk> [Accessed 9 April 2020].

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