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Fundamentals of Flavour for No & Low Alcohol Drinks

Alcohol is an excellent carrier of flavour but today, great drinks don’t necessarily need to contain any alcohol to be full of flavour and complexity. Over the last few years, brands such as Seedlip and Æcorn have been created to meet the demand for full-flavoured drinks that are lighter in alcohol or alcohol-free. These drinks are often bitter, bright and bold. There are many reasons why no and low beverages are gaining in popularity, and the great news is that there are many ways to make simple, yet incredible tasting and creative drinks using a few tricks of the trade.

Most styles of drinks can be made no & low, yet some more naturally lend themselves to being served with less or zero alcohol. The key to any great drink is always about creating a balance of complexity, flavour, texture and temperature. By starting with great ingredients, the approach for no and low alcohol drinks can be the same, with a few subtle differences that can be expressed as the 3 T’s.

 

TASTE

Great no and low alcohol drinks don’t need to be complicated to taste complex. Using ingredients in a variety of ways can help to build layers of flavour and also ensure you’re getting the most out of your ingredients.

Taste and flavour are often used to describe the same thing, but taste is a chemical sensation that is registered by our taste buds, whereas flavour is taste + aroma + memory. Both are subjective, and flavour is where all of the fun really happens. There are five key tastes (sweet, salt, bitter, umami (or savory) and acid) and capturing a balance of these in no and low alcohol drinks is a great place to begin. Ingredients are always more than these one-dimensional tastes. They are multifaceted layers, textural sensations or a contrasting combination of flavours. Rarely are they just ‘bitter’ or ‘sweet’.
By blending and mixing tastes through the wide array of flavours found in different ingredients, you can begin to build layers of complexity and bring added dimensions to no and low alcohol drinks.

Sugar & Acid

Most drinks require some sugar and acidity to balance and enhance the flavours of the main ingredients. Try experimenting with sweeteners without adding too much sugar. For example, adding a tiny bit of maple syrup will give the illusion of a sweeter drink or use alternative natural sweeteners like birch sugar, monk fruit or honey for added complexity and sweetness. For acidity, rather than reaching for lemon or lime, try apple cider vinegar, verjus or even green or black teas for added astringency.

RECIPE SUGGESTION: SHRUBS

Some of the oldest non-alcoholic cocktails in history were made using shrubs such as the Haymakers punch which was given to farm workers to quench their thirst on long dry days. This is a simple mixture of vinegar, honey and water which can be used as a complex base to add other ingredients to (such as mint, basil or ginger) to create a refreshingly different long drink.

Bitterness

The food writer, Naomi Duguid, perfectly sums bitter up as ‘… the gatekeeper of adult taste’.
Bitterness is found in a variety of food and drinks, and in recent years have gained a greater appreciation for what this can bring to no and low alcohol drinks, as Æcorn’s Bitter non-alcoholic aperitif perfectly demonstrates. Think of bitter ingredients as providing a backbone for no and low alcohol cocktails, one that can closely resemble how alcohol works in drinks to provide depth and complexity. Start by using tea or coffee in drinks to see how bitterness and astringency can work to add grip and mouthfeel and also experiment with bitters, tinctures, herbs and botanicals to see what other dimensions you can add.

RECIPE SUGGESTION: APERITIFS

Aperitifs such as a Spritz are great served with no or low alcohol. Simple top Æcorn Bitter with sparkling wine for a low alcohol serve, or Fever Tree Blood Orange for a no alcohol option. For an alternative to the classic cocktail the Negroni, try equal parts Seedlip Spice 94 with Æcorn Bitter & Aromatic, stirred with an orange twist.

Salt & Savory

Two very difference ends of the taste spectrum, yet both are brilliant flavour enhancers. Savory, or umami is the richness associated with mushrooms, soy sauce and aged cheese, among other things, whereas salt is well, salt or salinity. You might think that these two tastes don’t belong in cocktails, but a pinch of salt in a bitter drink can help reduce the perception of bitterness and increase the perception of sweetness, it can also help bring clarity and greater definition to very sweet flavours such as ripe pineapple or exotic fruits (try a pinch in a Pina Colada to see what a difference it can make!).
Equally, using savory and rich ingredients such as soy, miso or seaweed can bring incredible depth of flavour and a moorishness that is often missing in no or low alcohol drinks. Æcorn Dry uses Maldon Sea Salt and seaweed as a way to lift and enrich variety of green, herbaceous ingredients used in the blend.

RECIPE SUGGESTION: BLOODY MARY

Aperitifs such as a Spritz are great served with no or low alcohol. Simple top Æcorn Bitter with sparkling wine for a low alcohol serve, or Fever Tree Blood Orange for a no alcohol option. For an alternative to the classic cocktail the Negroni, try equal parts Seedlip Spice 94 with Æcorn Bitter & Aromatic, stirred with an orange twist.

TEMPERATURE

Great drinks should always be cold (if they’re meant to be!) and here, things are a little different with no and low ABV drinks. Dilution is critical in making alcoholic drinks cold and diluting the alcohol content so that the drink is at the correct strength. For zero alcohol drinks (and to a lesser extent, low alcohol drinks), chilling is important but dilution less so. How to chill without adding too much dilution? The easiest way is to start with chilled liquid ingredients! Try keeping your Seedlip or Æcorn in the fridge as a simple way to keep everything chilled. Then, always make sure you’re using enough ice. Filling the glass with ice will ensure the ice melts more slowly, keeping everything fresh tasting while minimizing the dilution. If you’re shaking a cocktail, try not to shake too long. Think about shaking to mix the ingredients rather than mix + dilute as you might for an alcoholic shaken cocktail. And finally, when stirring a cocktail, keep that stir short and sweet!

TRIAL (& ERROR!)

Finally, there is no substitute for trial and error. Start by experimenting with your favourite ingredients or use nonalcoholic distilled spirits and aperitifs brands such as Seedlip and Æcorn to recreate your favourite drinks, without the alcohol. Have fun, get creative and don’t forget to tag us with your best recipes!