Earlier this month, I quizzed top bartenders on trends they expected to come to play in 2023. There were AI bartenders and batched beverages, healthier drinking and the rise of rum. But one of the biggest trends? The continued influx of non-alcoholic products.
“I definitely feel like spirit-free and low-ABV cocktails will continue to pick up in popularity,” adds Nick Hassiotis, the operating partner of Foundation Social Eatery in Alpharetta, Georgia. “The ability to enjoy cocktails all day long and not be an absolute waste of space sounds like a pretty cool (and responsible) way to be.”
“[In 2023,] I think we can expect to see even more development into low- and no-ABV spirits and cocktail menus,” says James Nowicki of Common Thread in Savannah. While Savannah is a notoriously boozy city, he’s built out his cocktail offerings to include five different low-ABV options, highlighting ingredients like grapefruit shrubs, non-alcoholic aperitif syrup and smoked tea.
Jason Asher, vice president of beverage at Phoenix’ Grey Hen Rx, UnderTow and Platform 18 keeps three non-alcoholic cocktails on every concept’s menu. That includes drinks like the ‘Shipless Sailor’ (non-alcoholic Jamaican rum, Heirloom Alchemeres, orgeat, hibiscus, lime leaf and pineapple) and the Constable’s Companion (non-alcoholic London dry gin, green chartreuse, mint and poblano).
It’s easier than ever to build out smart non-alcoholic offerings thanks to the broad spectrum of new products on the market. Bartenders and consumers can play around with spirit-free rum, make a spritz with a booze-free aperitivo or sip on 0% Champagne. Nielsen IQ noted that between mid-July of 2021 and 2022, “72 new non-alcoholic drink SKUs were introduced to the US market: 37 were non-alcoholic beer, 17 non-alcoholic wine, and 18 non-alcoholic spirits.”
MORE FOR YOU
Shannon Michelle, the beverage director at Josephine in Jacksonville points out that brands like Lyre’s — a line of non-alcoholic spirits replacements — won Best New Spirit at 2022’s Tales of the Cocktail awards. “The shift to seeing zero-proof cocktails being readily available on cocktail menus is something you can expect just about everywhere you can grab a beverage.”
There are also dedicated homes for these products. Over the last twelve months 6h4 spirits sector has seen a huge proliferation of non-alcoholic bottle shops. There are over fifty different sober bars and bottle shops in the United States. Boisson, a chain of non-alcoholic bottle shops, alone has ten different locations from coast to coast.
And there are the bars. There’s Hekate “elixir lounge” in New York, Awake “sober bar” in Denver, Houston’s Sans Bar, and Wildcrafters in Jacksonville. The fact that there’s enough product to stock shelves and demand to stay open says it all — non-alc is here to stay.
“I hope to see more care and craft in non-alcoholic offerings,” says Adam Morgan, bar manager of Husk Nashville. “Seeing more inclusivity is another big trend. As a whole, we have merely scratched this surface on this topic and I’m excited to see more of it at the forefront.”
Natalie Newberry of The Continental in Nashville agrees. “With the large influx of NA spirits hitting the market, I think it’s fair to say we will see a dramatic increase in zero-proof cocktails on menus. That being said, I think we’ll see those zero proof spirits being integrated into other cocktails as ways of lowering the ABV but still packing flavor.”
Alongside no-proof options, Michelle also foresees the rise of shim cocktails: drinks that feature less than half an ounce of standard proof spirits. “Shim cocktails bring more of the world’s most historical spirits to the forefront, like vermouth, sherry and amaro, to create something herbaceous and bold with less guilt than a full-octane drink, and in turn challenge us bartenders to go out of the box to create a more diverse imbibing experience,” says Michelle.
One of the biggest drivers of the non-alcoholic market isn’t abstainers — it’s regular drinkers looking to break up their alcohol with thoughtful, delicious no– or low-proof options.
These low-proof options also allow for sessionability.“The cocktail is not reserved for the dinner time slot any longer,” says Ryan Sabor of The Quoin in Wilmington, Delaware. “Afternoon drinking, with low-ABV style beverages and aperitivo-style cocktails, is becoming more accessible and readily available, pushing the social aspect of an afternoon cocktail as opposed to the high alcohol effects of all-day consumption.”
That in mind, no matter the proof, these drinks have to be good. “Too many offerings at bars rely on juices, sweeteners, etc., in their non-alcoholic drinks,” says Kai Wilson, the beverage manager of Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago’s South Loop, “but more guests desire something with the complexity that a vermouth or an herbal liqueur, etc., brings to a cocktail. Many non-alcoholic brands are addressing this need and once bar staff become more familiar with them, I believe we’ll see some spectacular spirit-free cocktails.”