THOSE of a cynical bent – even just a tiny bit – might have looked at the recent non-alcoholic ‘alcohol’ trend with some doubt. What’s the point? Non-alcoholic drinks aren’t much fun. How can they taste good? And if the real thing is available, why compromise?
But, the non-alcoholic spirits movement has well and truly rolled on from ‘trend’ to ‘craze’, and that’s not going to change.
About time, too; people are screaming for options, and the fact that the discerning casual teetotaller finally has more to choose from than a lemon, lime and bitters, or a lime and soda is in itself a cause for celebration.
The movement more or less kicked off in 2015 when UK-based Ben Branson launched Seedlip, a range of dry, sans-alcohol distillates inspired by – and utilising – his family’s farm in Lincolnshire.
Then, as consumers gradually began to realise they could enjoy the complexity and sophistication of a well-made, grown-up beverage, without the booze, it was on for young and old.
For Stuart Henshall, of Melbourne distillery Brunswick Aces, it was lifestyle changes for him and his friends that led to the conception of their Sapiir range.
“We’d originally distilled our own small batch gin to enjoy in mid-2017,” says Henshall. “But with one of the group committing to a marathon, one falling pregnant, and another going on a health kick, the gin was left on the shelf.
“We figured we shouldn’t have to miss out on the ceremony of our weekly G&T just because we couldn’t drink alcohol, so we set about modifying our equipment to extract the same botanical aromatics.”
After experiments, and “many rounds of tasting”, they managed to replicate the same flavour profiles of their fresh and savoury dry Spades Gin.
The other offering in the Sapiir range, Hearts, is the result of a series of experiments with spices and the nostalgic scents of Christmas. It’s good alchemy; even better with a high-quality soda or tonic and a refreshing herbal garnish.
When David Murphy, co-owner of reputed Sydney eatery One Penny Red, was approached to help take non-alcoholic spirits a step further, he saw it as a huge opportunity.
“[Prominent marketing figure] Mark Livings was a regular at the restaurant, and one day he said he had this idea,” says Murphy. “He’d seen a shift in peoples’ drinking habits, and contacted a company in Germany – Döhler, a flavour house – to put together some ideas.”
The result was Lyre’s, a range of ‘spirits’ inspired by, and designed to mimic (hence the name) the global standards of middle-shelf liquor. Indeed, it may be more food science than artisanal production, but the results speak for themselves.
Throw equal parts Lyre’s Dry London Spirit (gin), Apéritif Rosso (red vermouth) and Italian Orange (Campari) into an Old Fashioned over ice and garnish with a slice of blood orange, and you have yourself a pretty convincing Negroni – and you can still drive home.
The production process is decidedly more challenging than traditional gin, vodka or whisky.
“With no alcohol present in the process, it’s more difficult to extract the delicate aromas necessary to achieve the desired flavour profiles,” says Henshall.
As a result, the team individually processes, then distills, each botanical.
“This means our range has twin taste profiles, so regardless of which Brunswick Aces blend you’re drinking, you have the same experience.”
For Lyre’s, they look to the standards and go from there.
“The idea is to work from the original spirit,” explains Murphy. “If we’re doing a non-alcoholic gin, we might look to Bombay Sapphire as the inspiration. We’d home in on those flavours and work towards that profile.”
Ultimately, it gives people more choice without having to shift their preferences.
“The reason we went so broad is because we’re not changing the drinking habits of our customers,” explains Murphy. “Say you fancy a Campari and soda or a Negroni but don’t feel like the alcohol, the barman doesn’t have to change their recipe. It’s not a case of, ‘what do I do with this? I haven’t used it before’.”
“The idea was just to make it easy for both the consumer and the server, and having a normal conversation about ordering a drink, that just happens to be non-alcoholic.”
60ml Brunswick Aces Spades Sapiir
30ml pear juice or puree
Capi Soda+ Sage and Orange
TO SERVE: tarragon sprig and lemon peel.
Add 3-4 ice cubes, Sapiir and pear juice to cocktail shaker and stir to combine. Pour into a highball glass and fill ¾ with fresh ice. Top up with soda. Garnish with tarragon sprig and lemon peel.