Should bartenders actively encourage ‘healthier’ drinks choices?

22nd August, 2017 by Nicola Carruthers

Who is responsible for encouraging ‘better’ drinking and lowering sugar and alcohol intake – bartenders or imbibers themselves? Two industry experts explore the issue.

Claire Smith-Warner, director of spirits education at Moët-Hennessy

Claire Smith-Warner, director of spirits education at Moët-Hennessy

“Our message is to use your creative talent to provide greater options for the consumer. That means sweetening responsibly, as well as recommending drinking responsibly”

We set up Drink Eat Live five years ago because we wanted to create an educational platform that would help drive awareness of responsible drink initiatives. We wanted to target bartenders, who often feel that responsible drinking isn’t for them, but we wanted to make it relevant to their lifestyles.

Our message is to use your creative talent to provide greater options for the consumer. That means sweetening responsibly, as well as recommending drinking responsibly. We look at how much sugar we use in cocktails and whether that can be reduced. It was also about raising awareness that agave is not a great sugar substitute for cocktails because it’s metabolised in the same way as alcohol, via the liver.

The word ‘natural’ is poorly defined, particularly in the food industry. At Belvedere, we say we are redefining what ‘natural’ means. That means we don’t add sugar to our vodka, that we only use fresh natural ingredients to flavour it, that we only distil using 100% rye, that we are a two-ingredient spirit; it’s really about simplicity and transparency.

Being natural is part of everything we do, and informs our drinks strategy. Our hero drink, as it were, combines a spirit that is low-sugar, with fresh ingredients, using half tonic, half soda, to reduce the amount of sugar that’s in the drink from the tonic.

Our scheme is about educating bartenders about which options are available to consumers who perhaps want to limit their calorie intake. My sole purpose is raising awareness and ensuring that there is more to help educate the bartenders to create more options for that consumer.

When you talk about calories you get into tricky ground because people might see low-calorie cocktails and think that they can drink more of those than ones with more calories. That goes beyond just putting calories on a cocktail menu; it’s more about helping consumers who are looking for this sort of support and advice, via bartenders, when they choose a drink from a cocktail menu.

Oskar Kinberg, co-founder of Dabbous Restaurant and head of Oskar’s Bar, London

Oskar Kinberg, co-founder of Dabbous Restaurant and head of Oskar’s Bar, London

“People tell you to avoid sugar in drinks but I think that’s a bit silly because there’s always going to be sugar in cocktails. For me, flavour is always first”

Vodka is definitely not as popular as it used to be. Gin has sort of taken over, but there are some interesting things being used to make vodka from, such as birch-water spirit and cow’s milk. I guess it’s about trying to find a quirkier way to add flavours to what is known as a flavourless spirit.

I like the low-abv cocktail trend that has started. This means you can drink over a longer period without getting trashed, and still not feel like you’re left out of the social aspect of going for a drink. For me, it’s more important to focus on flavour; I prefer to use fresher concentrates because I think it tastes nicer, and it’s better for you as well. The taste is hands down the most important quality for me. I pick drinks after what they have in them. If I like what goes in it, I want to try it.

Vodka is distilled to a higher abv than most other spirits and, as such, is purer. It’s still alcohol, though, and still has a high energy count. If you want to lose weight, vodka will make you as fat as any other spirit. Most people drink it with a mixer too, which has a ton of sugar.

There needs to be more responsibility put on consumers. At the end of the day it’s a consumer’s decision to drink whatever they choose; we do our best to educate people but there’s only so much you can do. Information is readily available for everyone. Consumers are a lot more knowledgeable today and don’t really believe a cocktail containing alcohol is healthy.

Bars can encourage responsible drinking by having more options on the menu, like lower-abv options; but it is a consumer’s choice. I think people make a decision before they go out whether they will get mashed or not. Make lower-calorie drinks available, but you shouldn’t enforce their consumption.

The good thing is that people are a lot more concerned about it now. People tell you to avoid sugar in drinks but I think that’s a bit silly because there’s always going to be sugar in cocktails. For me, flavour is always first. But I wouldn’t necessarily go and drink cocktails every day of the week.

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