For most of us, cocktail lovers, classic drinks such as the Martini or Old Fashioned will always hold a special place in our hearts. Could it be that drinking them ‘takes us’ to an era or a place where we feel more adventurous and ready to face our villains like James Bond fights Le Chiffre in the famous Casino Royale? Maybe it is the complete opposite, and sipping on a strong classic relaxes us and makes us think of innovative ideas like Don Draper in the captivating Mad Men?
Nevertheless, as romantic as it may sound, more and more people seem to be moving away from the idea of having a strong, punchy cocktail and are instead choosing Low ABV (alcohol by volume) alternatives. For example, Diageo predicted that low and no alcohol cocktails would be one of the top leading trends in 2019. Unsurprisingly, the Spirits Business article posted in December 2019 supports this prediction – they revealed a research by CGA showing that the on-trade sales of low and no-alcohol beverages in the UK rose by 48%.
One of the best examples of a low abv drink that has been conquering the world over the last decade is the Aperol Spritz. According to the Campari Group sales reports Aperol sales in 2018 grew by outstanding 56% and was also up by 22% in 2019. However, if you have a look at the top 10 best-selling cocktails in the world in 2019 the Aperol Spritz is still 9 spots behind the Old Fashioned which has been the best-selling cocktail in the world for five years in a row now. Also, to further contradict the low abv trend, The Guardian identified that over the past five years, the popularity of gin grew expediently with annual sales nearly doubling in the UK.
Most of the research looking at the low abv drinks trend is done across cocktail bars and the retail industry, however I was curious to see how this compares to the events industry. I wanted to see if there are any major differences in the consumption of low alcohol drinks between the bar and event sectors. In order to do so, I interviewed Jean Vital, Bar Manager at the fabulous Mews of Mayfair and the events director and general manager for Restaurant Associates at a world-famous media company in central London, Stephen Shirley.
1. What type of cocktails have been the most popular choices by your customers over the past year?
Jean: Aperol Spritz, Fruity Martinis, Espresso Martini, and Margarita types.
Stephen: Anything Gin based always goes well, the most popular have been takes on classics that people recognise. Whether that’s a gin sling alternative, sour or gimlet people seem to love Gin still.
2. In your opinion, which are the key factors driving people in picking certain drinks over others?
Jean: They pick what they can easily understand in terms of flavours and ingredients. They also pick what is valuable.
Stephen: Personal preference of spirit is always a big one, if people don’t ‘do’ whiskey they will invariably shy away unless educated or taste before knowing. Otherwise engagement, no matter the cocktail, is often the driving factor. How does it look, feel, read on the page.
3. What do you consider a Low ABV drink?
Jean: A drink mostly using aperitifs, liqueurs and fortified wine. Any ingredients lower than 30% abv
Stephen: Low ABV for me is 5% or lower, more aligned with a longer sipable drink.
4. Have you noticed any increase in demand for them in recent years?
Jean: Not really. Just Aperol Spritz and Sparkling wine cocktails such as the Bellini or Mimosa which are very popular, especially during brunches.
Stephen: 100%, we always offer both a non-alcoholic alternative, constructed in the same manner with the same flavour profile as the alcoholic alternative. The more we move towards healthier offerings and more people are conscious of what they are ingesting, will result in more fluidity and consciousness of alternative offers.
5. Is there a specific time/occasion when you would prefer a Low-ABV cocktail to a stronger serve?
Jean: I personally prefer low Abv drinks all day long, but mostly before dinner or during a reception.
Stephen: Earlier drinks receptions tend to work better with Low-ABV cocktails as well as pairing with foods so the experience is still enhanced without overpowering of the flavours from a stronger beverage.
6. Your Ideal Low-ABV drink would be:
Jean: It would be based on fortified wine with a touch of amaro liqueur (as Campari, Fernet or Suze) with a tonic or soda top- up.
Stephen: Low-ABV whiskey sour (I wish!)
7. What kind of drinks would you like to see gain momentum over the next year?
Jean: Americano style drinks and spritz served in highball.
Stephen: I’d like to see some more diversity away from Gin and towards deeper more complex spirits in cognacs, rums and such. The alcohol is so much more prevalent that you have to play with the core attributes rather than just adding flavours on top.
After speaking with Jean, I find it hard to decide if Low-ABV drinks are actually on the rise in the bar industry or certain cocktails are only growing in popularity due to strong marketing by companies owning certain products, which is always a big driving factor in the alcohol industry. It does seem like though that the general trend of people caring about their well-being more than ever before, does make certain consumers order lighter drinks more often. However, in the events industry, where the choice of cocktails is usually decided by event planners, there seems to be a far greater emphasis on the availability of Low ABV options.
My conclusion is that while Low-ABV drinks might have slightly grown in popularity throughout the last few years but the change is nowhere near relevant enough to assume that this will continue. People are most comfortable drinking classics and since the majority of these are traditionally fairly strong and include a hard spirit, I wouldn’t expect a huge change in the near future until more Low ABV staples come along.
By Dovile Daugelaite