Low-alcohol cocktails: Life beyond Dry January

13th February, 2015 by admin

Low-alcohol cocktails are not just a January fad. As Dinah Sanders discovers, there’s a serious argument for including them on drinks menus all year round


Low-alcohol cocktails are not just a January fad – there’s a solid argument for keeping them on your menus all year round

“The best drink is one that leaves you happy to have another,” say drink historians Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller. To which I’ll add, “and one which you don’t later regret”. While January often brings a focus on health and moderation, there’s year-round pleasure to be had in a balanced approach.

Far from being a step back from “proper drinking”, low-alcohol cocktails offer a full spectrum of options that have been enjoyed since the cocktail’s earliest days. Rene Hidalgo, head bartender of Grand Banks in New York City, notes: “The biggest misconception about low-alcohol cocktails is that this is a new thing. Well, have you ever had a Kir Royale?” Low-alcohol cocktails are not a short-term trend, but rather a return – as with the revival of great variety in ingredients – to tradition. They’re back, and from what we’re seeing around the world, they’re back to stay.

Yao Lu, formerly of Anvil in Houston and now head bartender and owner at The Union Trading Company in Shanghai, has an approach Harry Johnson would have blessed 125 years ago. “Folks come to a bar for various reasons; you could be celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, a raise, or for the complete opposite,” he says. “The only, and I say only reason for a bar to exist in the first place is for people to walk out happier than when they came in. Therefore it’s up to us as bartenders and hosts to make sure this happens regardless of how much they can drink.”

Socialising doesn’t always mean drinking

As Lu points out, it’s about an experience; people don’t come to restaurants merely to get full and they don’t visit bars just for the sake of drinking. Jennifer Colliau, head bartender of The Interval in San Francisco and founder of Small Hand Foods, also celebrates this essential social aspect: “You don’t have to partake in the booze to be part of the community at a bar.”

An emphasis on the guest’s happiness is at the core of the best service in the UK as well. The menu of Artesian Bar at the Langham Hotel in London lists alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails together without any distinction. Bar manager Alex Kratena says: “We feel that if there are so many amazing vegetarian dishes, if chefs don’t need meat on every plate, why should we limit ourselves only to alcohol? We don’t want to disappoint a guest who can’t or simply doesn’t want to be drinking that night to feel pushed to the side, or pointed at by their company. We want them to enjoy delicious and beautifully presented drinks.”

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