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Bottoms up for non-drinkers
NON-BOOZERS unite. The next time you bypass the wine list in search of something non-alcoholic, you'll have more grown-up options besides Coke or an artificially coloured mocktail loaded with sugar syrup. You can take your pick from beer, wine and even spirits - and still drive home without any effect on your alcohol levels.
Trendy teetotallers are driving the market for zero alcohol beverages, which is small but growing, say those in the F&B scene.
Aki Eguchi, programme director at The Jigger & Pony Group, says: "While they represent a small quantity compared to alcoholic cocktails, there's steady growth, and I do see an increase in demand. Three years ago, one in 10 customers would ask for a zero alcoholic cocktail, but now it is one in five."
In the past month, two new zero alcohol brands, Lyre's Non Alcoholic Spirits and Melati, have made their way onto restaurant and bar menus. They join Seedlip, an English brand, which depending on the blend, is made using peas, a variety of herbs, spices, peels and barks. It is distilled in copper stills in the same way that gin is made.
Seedlip debuted in London's Selfridges in 2015 and, according to its website, the first batch of 1,000 bottles sold out in a mere three weeks, followed by the second 1,000 bottles in three days, and the third 1,000 bottles in less than 30 minutes. It was first introduced in Singapore at the Singapore Cocktail Festival in 2018. Now, it's commonplace in bars and restaurants, and even in some supermarkets.
Jasmin Wong, co-founder of local bottle shop Temple Cellars, which retails Seedlip says, "we've sold nearly two times more bottles for this year compared to 2019."
Sharon Ng, Culina's corporate marketing manager, says that while she cannot disclose specific numbers, "we've noticed that the trend for zero per cent alcohol is on the rise, and we have been receiving positive feedback from our retailers." Culina sells Sangre de Toro De-Alcoholised wines.
Just like the real thing
Made in Australia, and named after the lyrebird, noted for its ability to mimic sounds from its environment, Lyre's Non Alcoholic Spirits, or Lyre's as it is more fondly known, offers the most comprehensive range of zero alcoholic spirits, with 13 currently under its collection. They include White Cane Spirit which tastes like aged white rum and the American Malt, which has the essence of an American classic bourbon malt.
It was founded by entrepreneurs Mark Livings and Carl Hartmann, who wanted a credible alternative for those avoiding alcohol, without sacrificing the flavours of their favourite spirits.
Rachel Ling, its Asia manager, says: "Far from a sugary drink that tastes nothing like a cocktail, Lyre's cocktails look, taste and have the same personality as the original alcoholic version."
One of its best sellers is the Dry London Spirit, which has flavours of juniper and citrus, while the addition of the pepperberry creates warmth and gives a dry finish. Just like a London Dry gin, it just needs tonic water to turn it into a classic gin and tonic; or mixed with Lyre's Italian orange, citrus, mint and tonic water to create a Pink Gin Fizz. Adding certain ingredients to each Lyre's spirit gives it the same mouthfeel and slight burn as the alcoholic version.
Ms Ling adds: "You don't have to change the recipes when you use Lyre's spirits, which is why they are popular with bartenders, and for those who choose to drink at home."
While there are no hard and fast rules to using Lyre's, Ms Ling suggests mixing it with other alcoholic spirits for a lower alcohol content, rather than have it totally without alcohol.
A botanical aperitif
While Lyre's markets itself as a spirit replacement, Melati is touted as a botanical non-alcoholic aperitif that restores. Melati Classic is made from 26 Asian botanicals such as goji berry, hibiscus, raw cacao, red kampot pepper and cinnamon.
Founder Lorin Winata worked with a food scientist and an ayurvedic specialist on the recipe, and says Melati's health benefits include helping to detoxify the liver, increase blood flow, improve digestion and support general wellbeing.
Ms Winata hit upon the idea of Melati on a visit to her ancestral farmland in Bali a few years ago. "It struck me that the Asian botanicals that I had been fed all my life held the secret to making unique and restorative drinks for the modern consumer looking for a non-alcoholic beverage that is sophisticated and healthy, to be enjoyed at parties, or to unwind after work."
Melati Classic has a fruity taste with a floral nose and spicy undertones. It can be drunk over ice, or mixed with equal parts tonic or soda water for a refreshing aperitif.
Ready to drink hangover free cocktails
While zero alcohol spirits from Seedlip and Lyre's require some mixing, Savyll Beverage Co's range of alcohol free cocktails, which include Bellini, Gin and Tonic and Mojito, can be enjoyed straight from the bottle.
"The ready-to-drink format appeals to city folks, who want a drink without having to fuss about," says Irene Goh, founder of Hiko Drinks, who is distributing Savyll. "All that is needed is to chill the drink, pour over ice and add a little garnish."
More brands and options
Besides Seedlip, Melati and Lyre's, other players are also jumping on the zero alcohol bandwagon.
For example, there's Free Spirit, an alcohol free bottle shop started by Rebecca Forwood, founder of The Fishwives and Emma Pike of Farmer's Market. Some time ago, Ms Pike decided to go on a 90-day alcohol detox and was frustrated that her options when dining out were either sugary sodas, mocktails, or water.
She researched the global market for alcohol-free beverages, and found that the market share in Europe was up around 24 per cent over the past 12 months, but Asia was still lacking. Knowing that Ms Forwood's husband was also trying to go alcohol-free, the two women decided to work together to bring in zero alcoholic options.
Free Spirit offers alcohol-free beers, ciders, wines, spirits and mixers. Their top sellers include the beers and the Brunswick Aces Alcohol-Free Gin. Ms Pike says more labels will be added to the inventory.
"We do have high ambitions but I think more and more people are looking for alcohol-free alternatives when out at bars and restaurants. Our hope is to have alcohol-free beers, wines and spirits available in 50 per cent of Singapore bars and restaurants within the next two years," says Ms Pike.
In December, beer drinkers will also be able to sample two low alcohol beers from Danish craft brewery Mikkeller. SST Trading Co, the official partner of Mikkeller Singapore will be bringing in the Limo Raspberry and Weird Weather IPA, which are both 0.3 per cent ABV.
Sylvester Fedor who handles sales and marketing at SST says this is the first time that the company is bringing in almost zero alcohol beer.
"Sometimes people want to have a good time, but it's not all about getting drunk. Non ABV beers have been on the rise recently as improvements in taste, and creations of yeast strains have helped push it towards mainstream acceptance," says Mr Fedor. "We've seen a big push on 0 ABV spirits in the local market and we think that craft beer will move towards that too."
Drink of choice at bars and restaurants
While zero alcohol cocktails are technically still mocktails, bartenders say that today's offerings are no longer the sickly sweet drinks from before.
"The mocktails made using the zero alcohol spirits are now definitely more complex and much closer in taste to their alcoholic counterparts," says Sim Sze Wei, bar manager at Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall.
The bar at Haji Lane uses Seedlip and Lyre's in its zero alcohol cocktails. "As an all day bar that serves food we want to be able to offer some non-alcoholic cocktails for our guests. In the past they usually consist of fruit juices and syrups which is not what we want," says Mr Sim. "So we developed a selection of drinks that look and taste like classic cocktails."
Popular choices include the Lavender Mojito that uses Lyre's Cane Spirit and the Grapefruit Spritzer which uses Lyre's Italian Spritz. "With Lyre's it is not as difficult to use as the flavours of the individual product replicate the alcoholic versions really well," says Mr Sim.
Ng Kai-Ho, bar manager at Don Ho, says non-alcoholic cocktails have always been in the shadows and most of the time weren't given much priority when creating bar menus.
"But in recent years there's been a higher demand for this particular category of drinks. People like to try something out of the ordinary, not just your classic mocktails," says Mr Ng.
Diners at The Cicheti Group's restaurants can have a NoGroni (non-alcoholic negroni) made using Melati with their meals. "As much as wine is a core pillar of our brand, we're big proponents of the low ABV/non-alcoholic movement as we believe in offering diners who don't drink an option that is more sophisticated than your run-of-the-mill soda or juice," says Ronald Kamiyama, managing partner at The Cicheti Group.
At Basque Kitchen By Aitor, Melati is served with sparkling water as a welcome drink at lunch. Its general manager Vincent Jaureguiberry says: "This has been very well-accepted as most guests are curious about the story behind unique beverages - so it's a new discovery for them."
Over at Salted and Hung, Melati is served as a spritz, and restaurant manager Lai Yan Yi says, "we want to give an inclusive dining experience for all guests whether they drink or not. Having a non-alcoholic drink to accompany their meal is as important for a non-drinker as a glass of wine is to a drinker."
At Restaurant Zen, non-alcoholic beverage sales make up on average about 25 per cent to 30 per cent of pairing sales.
"At our level of dining, each and every guest deserves the same amount of attention to detail," says general manager Aaron Jacobson."Just because someone does not drink alcohol is not a reason to discriminate against them. Making a special programme for them that is just as interesting and cutting edge as the alcohol programme is a lot of work."
At Pollen, diners have the option of an alcohol or non-alcohol pairing. Its temperance beverages are made with infusions and fermentations of fruits, vegetables and herbs, such as the Cantalope Melon with Lemon Verbena.
Ashwan Suppiah, its general manager, says: "When you invite someone to your place and they don't drink wine, you still offer them that level of hospitality with a special non-alcoholic alternative."
No alcohol, so where's the fun?
While they have not gone totally off alcohol, Ms Pike, Ms Ling and Ms Winata all agree that consuming non-alcoholic cocktails has not left them with hangovers, and they can still be in top mental state the next day.
"What's more, people are now more conscious about what they eat and drink, and the effects of alcohol on their bodies, so there is a demand for alcohol-free beverages, that is not a cola or a juice," says Ms Goh.
Zero alcohol cocktails also tend to have less sugar and calories in them, and are priced about 20 to 30 per cent cheaper too.
Not everyone is a convert. Kimberley Yeo, director of Don Play Play, a Japanese rice bowl company, has tried Seedlip once and will not order a non-alcoholic cocktail again.
She drinks abut three times a week, and likes whisky, gin, and fruity and floral cocktails. She says she gets a hangover the next day if she knocks back champagne as well, but generally she feels fine.
"I enjoy the taste of alcohol, and I do like getting a high as well. Drinking is a very social activity and I've always enjoyed chatting, and playing games with my friends over rounds of drinks. Drinking is just a very natural next step after dinner," says Ms Yeo.
After her first sip of Seedlip, "the only thought I had was, 'why would anyone try non-alcoholic spirits?'," she says. "I would rather have a glass of overpriced orange juice from a carton."
Still, she's not Lyre's target audience, says Ms Ling. "We can't make drinkers not drink alcohol if they don't want to," she says. "But we have consumers whose motivation to not drink is based on other reasons such as detox, being health conscious, alcohol allergy, training for sports events, pregnancy, gluten intolerance or avoiding a hangover."
Drinking without feeling intoxicated
Dr Melvin Look, director of PanAsia Surgery and a consultant surgeon in Gastrointestinal, Laparoscopic and Obesity Surgery, says the intake of ethanol (the active compound in alcohol), in moderate quantities, can have some beneficial effects on the heart and circulatory system, in turn reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. It may also have a preventive effect against type two diabetes and gallstones.
"Despite the known benefits of moderate alcohol intake, it is difficult to encourage this widely as any sort of alcohol consumption can eventually lead to addiction problems," says Dr Look.
Excessive intake of alcohol can damage the liver, pancreas and heart. It can also increase the risk of cancers of the breast, pancreas, mouth, throat, esophagus and liver and also lead to obesity.
With regards to switching to zero alcohol options, Dr Look says "such drinks may be a good alternative for those who would like the taste of a spirit or cocktail without the alcohol content. You can enjoy drinking as much as you want without the risk of feeling intoxicated."