A look at the approach and mentality behind dialing down ABV in cocktails.
It goes without saying that, when working in the spirits and bar industries, alcohol is all around us. And the movement toward drinking less of it is in full force, its motivations taking many forms––mental health, physical health, and guest experience summing them up broadly. Hyper-low and no-ABV spirit alternatives and modifiers (think Seedlip, William Grant & Sons’ Atopia, ISH Spirits, alcohol-free bitters, and many more) are becoming increasingly available and widely promoted, bolstering programs’ initiatives and alcohol-free drinking habits on both sides of the bar and propelling this era of consumption forward. Some might call it a trend, though given its deep roots in health, it’s likely here to stay.
Inclusion is Hospitality
“Many people choose not to drink––or drink less––for a variety of reasons. They are no less deserving of a place to gather and engage in community,” says Chelan Finney, a veteran bartender and consultant who currently works at The Stand in New York City. “By putting low-ABV and non-alcoholic drinks, you are making a declaration of hospitality through inclusion. It may seem like a small thing to have a nonalcoholic cocktail on the menu, but on a grander scale, the gesture extends an invitation. It says, ‘You belong here.’” The Stand is home to a dedicated menu of low- and no-ABV drinks that, according to Finney, are “as interesting and exciting as our alcoholic options.”
Missy Koefod of 18.21 Bitters and TJR Hospitality Group in Atlanta began experimenting with low- and no-ABV drinks around five years ago during 18.21’s shrub line launch. “We think that sober or sober curious guests should be given the same experience as those enjoying full ABV cocktails, so we have worked hard to develop complex, balanced, and delicious zero-proof and low-proof cocktails,” she tells Barcademy. “People enjoy the social aspect of drinking and want a well-crafted beverage but may not want to enjoy alcohol or may want to limit alcohol consumption. This should not inhibit their ability to fully enjoy the social experience of a cocktail lounge/bar.”
Experimenting with Ingredients
Creating a relatively level experience for alcohol drinkers and non alike is becoming the standard across the country––so how can bartenders and establishments not yet doing so begin to adapt? According to Erika Bogner of NYC Event Pro, a special events and staffing collective in New York, it can all start with looking into alternative ingredients. “Look into matcha, kombucha, and mate; CBD is also making passage for nonalcoholic drinks,” she shares. Quality non-alcoholic modifiers are just as important as alternative base “spirits.” Brenda Ripenhoff, a bartender at Westlight in Brooklyn, notes that even if your bar doesn’t have a dedicated low- or no-ABV program, that doesn’t mean you can’t cater to your guests on that front. “You can [always] have recipes and ideas on hand to offer guests when they ask instead of only offering soda,” she says, nodding to classics like the Americano. “From a human standpoint, a bar shouldn’t be an exclusive club. If one person out of five or six isn’t drinking, they shouldn’t have to miss out on the gathering just because they don’t drink alcohol.” Creativity and empathy can go a long way.