Low alcohol drinks - an update

I posted early last year about alcohol-free and low-alcohol drinks. At the time, there were very few alcohol-free drinks available in the UK that were intended specifically for aperitif drinking. How things change in a year! What follows is an update of that post, with some new products reviewed.

Our neighbour has commented that, as a non-drinker, she often feels infantilised by the choices offered when she goes out with others. While friends drink wines, spirits and beers to suit the adult palate, more often than not she is offered pop or fruit juice. No wonder she generally drinks water! I made it my mission to find some grown-up drinks that don’t compromise on alcohol.

We start with tonic water. One of the markers of the adult palate is that it tolerates bitterness much more than a child’s does. Tonic may be sweet and fizzy but it’s unmistakably adult. It’s also fresh and stimulates the appetite, so it works well as an aperitif. Try mixing it with grapefruit or orange juice (1/3 juice and 2/3 tonic) if you want it to feel like a light cocktail. Tonic works as well for a non-drinker as it does for a gin-fiend on a night off.

On its own, carbonated water can seem a bit dull. Even a nun on a night out would want a touch of vermouth with it. To give it a bit of interest, you can splash a bit of Angostura bitters on the ice before you pour the water. If you still find that too watery, you can try mixing bitters with tonic or lemonade. Check with your guest first, as Angostura does contain alcohol. You’ll not put anyone over the driving limit, but many guests would want to refrain from alcohol altogether. As an alternative, try a fiery ginger cordial and a couple of slices of lemon.

There are a few commercial drinks out there that I have enjoyed. I have found a couple of the Fentiman’s drinks very pleasant. In particular, I’d recommend their sparkling lime & jasmine as it’s light and refreshing and not too sweet. Again, be aware that it’s a fermented drink that contains a trace of alcohol, so check with any non-drinking guest before serving it.

Belvoir Fruit Farms also produce some interesting alternatives to alcohol. In particular, they have developed a juniper and tonic drink that is delicious and fresh. While it could never be a convincing substitute for G&T, it has enough bitterness to satisfy my neighbour's need for "adult" drinking.

In the last year or so, a number of producers have developed drinks they describe as "alcohol-free sprit." They are full-flavoured, distilled botanical drinks, designed to be mixed with tonic, soda or other traditional mixers. I have to be honest and say that most of them have not quite got it right yet, to my taste. If you enjoy the kinds of herbal and hedgerow drinks you often find in craft fairs and farmers' markets, you might find them a pleasantly dry alternative. They're generally not for me, though.

Better than any of these is Everleaf aperitif cordial. It is a bitter-sweet drink with notes of citrus and spice (notably saffron). The bitterness comes from gentian root, that aperitif staple that gives the Negroni its bite. The makers suggest mixing it with tonic water as a spritz (1 part Everleaf to 3 parts tonic, with ice and a slice of orange), and I have found it suits me in summer with plain soda water. I've also found it to be an interesting addition to one or two alcoholic drinks, but that's another post! You can buy Everleaf online or in good drinks stores. (In the UK, Sainsbury's sells it, too.)

Image courtesy of Everleaf Drinks

Two Italian drinks stand out, too, both of which are available online. They’re clearly marketed as aperitivo drinks and come in chic, little bottles that remind you of the classic Campari & soda premix ones. Crodino tastes citrussy, with a touch of vanilla and the same kind of bitterness you’d find in an Aperol spritz. That’s hardly surprising, because it’s made by the same company as Aperol. I’d treat it exactly the same as a spritz, garnishing with tons of ice and fruit. San Bitter is a deep red drink, made by the people who do the San Pellegrino water. I don’t find it quite as bitter as Crodino, but it has the same touch of vanilla that reminds you of a very posh cream soda (but not in any way as sickly). Serve it with slices of orange.

Next time: a challenge from my readers


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