Let’s be honest, in years gone by the non-drinkers’ option of a “mocktail” was not just boring, but usually sickly sweet.
But times are changing, tastes are changing and so are at least some Australians’ drinking habits.
There’s been a gradual decline in alcohol consumption in the past five years, while months of moderation such as FebFast and Ocsober have become fashionable. Tastes have become more sophisticated.
There are zero-alcohol beers (that actually taste good) and lower-alcohol wines (ditto), and now the flourishing art of cocktails has spread to low-, no- and faux-alcoholic beverages.
At one of Melbourne’s swankiest cocktail bars, The Everleigh, a new list of cocktails is catering to what bar manager David Molyneux says is higher demand.
“We do a lot of half-serve martinis and half-serve Manhattans, single-shot highballs like a cuba libre,” Molyneux told The New Daily.
“It’s a full-size drink but only one serve of alcohol.
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Welcome to the Summer of no and low alcohol cocktails here at The Everleigh. A dedicated menu of cocktails with no more than one standard drink per serve. . Might be just the thing you need to keep cool today! . #TheEverleigh #finedrinking
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“We also have a rotating list of non-alcoholic drinks. The Damascus Fizz, for example, with lemon, salted apricots, coconut cream and orange juice served tall – kind of like a creaming soda texture – tastes really complex. It tastes as though it might have alcohol.
“Ten years ago the culture of ordering a non-alcoholic drink was, ‘It’s not one for the staff to care about that much’, but just because someone doesn’t want to drink alcohol doesn’t mean they don’t want a good experience.”
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Molyneux believes one aspect is people watching their health, but it’s also driven by taste and a desire for quality.
“No one likes to wake up with a hangover and well-made alcohols are less likely to have that effect,” he said.
“We use top quality spirits and well-made local sodas. Everything is juiced to order.”
At South Melbourne’s Lûmé, famed for its edgy, high-end fine-dining menu (melaleuca-smoked duck, fermented black bean, macadamia milk), drinks are just as creative as the food and often booze-free.
“We’re selling as many non-alcoholic drinks as cocktails or wine,” restaurant manager Ilanit Bard said.
Bard believes bartenders are starting to think like chefs.
“(They’re using) different techniques to provide a bouquet of flavours and finesse in a liquid shape,” Bard said.
At the hip PS40 bar in Sydney, they call it “a culinary approach” and the menu has a generous number of inventive NA cocktails. Their Zero Proof Paloma – 11 Seedlip Spice spirit, PS grapefruit, gentian, verjuice and olive – is a typically complex in flavour and totally booze-free.
Lûmé’s zero-proof program includes a negroni, using a distilled spirit from ALTD Spirits, an Australian company specialising in non-alcoholic botanical spirits that are sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan friendly.
“We also also have a faux saké, and our
Chamomile Fizz, made from carbonated chamomile, sage and wattleseed, has the fine bubbles of a champagne and a briochy /nutty character, but without the morning hangover.”
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Bartenders – and those shaking and stirring at home – are being helped along by the availability of non-alcoholic spirits and mixers.
UK-based Seedlip produces “the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits” and uses spices, peels, barks and herbs. Their range includes the NOgroni, a ready-mixed take on the classic Italian aperitif, as well as complex no-alcohol spirits.
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Drinks are always better shared w/ friends & this recipe is perfect for a jug or drinks dispenser.💚 . ‘Teaser’ . 50ml Seedlip Grove 42 10ml Honey Syrup 10ml Lemon Juice 80ml Rhubarb Cold Tea Dash of Soda Water Strawberry to garnish Ice . Measure & pour all ingredients into a glass. Stir w/ a bar spoon & add a generous amount of ice. . This recipe is perfect to make in advance in a large batch & keep it chilled in the fridge. (Just make sure you don’t add the soda or ice until serving, to ensure no dilution of flavours) . 📸 @cookandnelson @dantrotterphotography
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At one of Melbourne’s newest bars, Byrdi, a coffee-through-to-late-night-cocktails venue, master mixologist and award-winning bar owner Luke Whearty has replaced “shaken not stirred” with fermented, smoked, evaporated, carbonated and more. The often science-lab geekery makes for some amazing cocktails, many low or no alcohol.
Their not-mezcal highball blends poached, smoked, dehydrated and distilled Yarra Valley pear with sparkling pear soda – it’s just one example on the list.
This trend is not just in Australia. It’s happening overseas as well, with serious options for those drinking less. In New York – traditionally cocktail central – no-booze bars have been a thing for a while.
Even Irish drinkers are heading the call. In May a completely alcohol-free bar, The Virgin May, opened in Dublin.
Australia may not be quite ready for that yet, but it might just be a matter of time.