For low-no read low-yes

11 June, 2019

Mai Tjemsland MW, portfolio manager of Autentico Group in Norway, says: “Us Vikings like our alcohol but, even so, there is a market here for low-alcohol wines.”

US-based Advanced Beverage Technologies has created a new company, Bevzero, to provide bulk non-alcoholic base wines to the industry. “Growth in the non-alcohol category is strong, not only in South Africa and Europe but also in the US,” says chief executive Debbie Novograd. With Canada and several US states legalising cannabis, Bevzero appears to be well placed as cannabis-infused beverages must be non-alcoholic by law.

Looking to the future, a game-changer may be on the horizon as a team at Imperial College, London, is researching an ‘alcohol substitute’ that “may be developed within five years”.

The expression ‘non-alcoholic spirits’ may sound like a contradiction of terms, but it’s this exotic category that’s pushing the no-low boundaries like no other.

Seedlip set the scene when its ‘zero alcohol botanical spirit’, was launched in Selfridges, London, in 2015. Eagle-eyed drinks giant Diageo identified the global potential and had invested in the company by 2016. With a wid range of botanicals, from orange to lemon, hay to hops, peas to ginger, this trendy ‘spirit’ is now poured in exclusive restaurants and cocktail bars in more than 20 of the world’s major cities.

With their bottle shapes, clear glass and a common thread of botanicals, the marketers have cleverly linked their packaging image to gin. Not surprisingly, stories of consumers confusing the two products abound. At £28 (E30, US$45) Seedlip’s price tag makes a mix-up even easier, but such eye-watering prices do, of course, reflect a confident, buoyant and prosperous market.

Caleño, a ‘non-alcoholic spirit’ extends the botanical range to Inca and juniper berries, coriander, cardamom, citrus and spice, “making not drinking fun, it’s best served with tonic”, according to founder Ellie Webb, again touching upon the lucrative premium gin market.

Feeding the exotic, Ceder’s ‘distilled non-alcoholic’ drink sources many of its botanicals, including rooibos and buchu, from the Cederberg mountains in South Africa’s Western Cape, before blending in Sweden with Swedish water. Borrago’s No. 47 Paloma Blend boasts no alcohol, no sugar, no calories and a ‘secret’ recipe of six steam-distilled botanicals.

Soft drinks are big sellers around the world but, let’s be honest, they’re not very cool. Enter the new-wave softies. The sector that needs a new name very quickly. If the ‘non-alcoholic spirits’ category is exotic and exciting, this new wave of soft drinks is running a very close second. With ingredients that include cider vinegar, sour cherry, Darjeeling tea, garden mint, basil, peach, juniper, ginger, pink peppercorns, lavender, fennel, ginseng and nutmeg, to name but a few, they are designed to take our taste buds to another level.

With no alcohol, low or no sugar and revolutionary ingredients they can be served solo, but as mixers with non-alcoholic spirits they’re tapping into the global success of mocktails. The Coca-Colas, Fantas and Pepsis of this world are looking over their shoulders with good reason.

For decades mixers were just, well, mixers. Tonic water was pretty boring, that was until Fever-Tree came along in 2005 “to create mixers that do justice to the world’s finest spirits”. Its extensive range, which now includes six variants of tonic water, is distributed to more than 70 countries. The company is now valued at £4.5bn.

“We saw a gap for a soft drink alternative that can be paired with food and created Nonsuch Shrubs,” says Henry Chevallier Guild, a member of the Aspall Cyder family. Welcome to the curious world of drinking cyder vinegars. Sour Cherry and Garden Mint flavour with your main course anybody?

Real Kombucha, brewed from tea and marketed as a partner for food, is listed in many top restaurants, the Darjeeling style being matched to fish, green tea to salads, and black tea to robust meats.

GLOBAL TRACTION

Responding to the food matching revolution, ‘spirit’ pioneer Seedlip is introducing Æcorn Aperitifs in early 2019, made with English grown grapes and aromatised with herbs, roots and bitter botanicals. “Seedlip has given those who are not drinking a seat at the bar, and now Æcorn Aperitifs will give everyone who is not drinking a seat at the table”, says director Claire Smith-Warner. Ben Branson, Seedlip’s founder, adds: “Since launching Seedlip three years ago, the global traction has been both surreal and overwhelmingly positive. We are still just scratching the surface of the category’s potential and Æcorn Aperitifs takes us another step closer to our aim of changing the way the world drinks.”

Vieve’s range of flavoured protein waters “now includes watermelon and is exported to 10 countries across Europe and the Middle East”, says founder Rafael Rozenson.

Meanwhile, the traditionalists are also stepping up to the plate. Belvoir Fruit Farm’s cordial range is taking ‘just add water’ softies to new heights while giving mixologists further rich fruit options.

Kolibri has added innovation to the exotic by allowing drinkers to add their own sugar from a measuring device (5-15ml) within the cap to such flavours as Cardamon & Chilli. “Customers are individuals with unique tastes. Customisation is the only way to ensure everyone’s satisfaction”, says co-founder Kamila Sitwell representing a sector that refuses to stand still.

I recently joined Adrian Chiles in the recording studio following his TV programme. Just a couple of years ago we’d be talking only of wine. Now the podcasts embrace no-low wine, beer, lager and spirits as well as new wave soft drinks.

We’ve called the podcasts Drink Better. Drink Less, because today that’s what people of all ages want to do.





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Joe Bates

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