When one of London’s most famous restaurants introduces a non-alcoholic drinks list, you can be sure that change is afoot in the world of consumer habits. Especially when that restaurant became famous for opening Londoners’ eyes to how Chinese food can be matched to wine and won a Michelin star for its efforts.
But since last March, visitors to Hakkasan Mayfair and Hanway Place (as well as Yauatcha Soho and City and Sake No Hana) have been able to sample the Orchard List, a truly eye-opening collection of 29 of the finest non-alcoholic drinks from around the world that was two years in the making and spans nine categories of booze-free drinks.
The moody interiors at Hakkasan Mayfair
“It was time for a dedicated list of high-quality, interesting drinks without alcohol,” explains Hakkasan’s group head of wine, Christine Parkinson. “More and more people are cutting down on their alcohol consumption every year, but at the same time, the appreciation of food and drink has never been higher.”
While Parkinson admits that many soft drinks still fit the image of “sweet, fruity and fizzy”, an increasing number do not, instead offering a flavour profile that is as likely to include dry, bitter and sour notes. “I often drink non-alcoholic,” Parkinson says, “but I look for the same things that I expect in a good wine or saké: something balanced, complex, satisfying and that works with food.”
Luscombe's Damanscene Rose Bubbly
One of the drinks on the Orchard List is Luscombe’s Damascene Rose Bubbly (4x270ml, £6, Able & Cole) which, with its delicately perfumed nose of rose and jammy strawberry on the palate, is a compelling alternative to the Gewurztraminer that is such a classic match for Chinese food.
Luscombe’s chairman and founder Gabriel David re-focused his family’s cider orchards onto soft drinks in 1997 because so much of his social life was dependent on him driving around Devon and he was convinced that there was a gap in the market for a high-quality alternative to Coke. Twenty-one years later, as David points out, 30% of people choose not to drink alcohol when they go out.
“It is now unthinkable that a non-booze offering would be just a Coke or J2O,” he says. “Consumers want a non-alcoholic drink that is as interesting and forward-thinking as the plethora of wines and beers that are available. Non-booze has become mainstream and woe betide any restaurant or bar which does not offer its customers a range that they cannot find in a supermarket around the corner.” Which is why you’ll find Luscombe’s range of 35 juices, crushes, bubblies, ginger beers, sparkling fruit waters, tonics and mixers stocked in the likes of organic retailer Able & Cole instead of Asda.
One of the most visible non-alcoholic success stories of recent years has been Seedlip, which you’ll see on the back bars of some of the coolest venues in London, from Soho House to The American Bar at The Savoy. Seedlip claims to be ‘the world's first distilled non-alcoholic spirit’ and is most easily described as a booze-free alternative to gin. Try its three expressions – Garden 108, Spice 94 and its new orange and lemongrass Grove 42 – and you’ll see what we mean, not least because its price point of £27.99 (Waitrose) puts it on a par with many premium spirits.
Or gin and tonic drinkers can simply forego the gin. Fever Tree tonics have been the most famous alternative to you-know-who since it was founded in 2003 and now numbers eight tonics, two lemonades, a soda water and Madagascan Cola. Each is made even more delicious with a dash of bitters.
Its most recent releases, Smoky Ginger Ale and Spiced Orange Ginger Ale (95p each, thewhiskyexchange.com) have been designed to match the complex flavours of dark spirits such as whisky and rum, but are just as nice on their own, while Fever-Tree’s Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer are available in ‘Refreshingly Light’ low-calorie versions.
If you’re more used to drinking a Negroni than a G&T, try Monte Rosso (£2.55, Waitrose) which gives the same hit of bitterness you’d get from Campari or Aperol. Like the best Italian aperitifs, it’s made from botanicals, wild mountain berries and bitters distilled from barks, shrubs and citrus peels. Try it in a tumbler on the rocks or, if you’re more of an Aperol Spritz kinda drinker, in an ice-filled balloon glass with a slice of orange.
Then there’s T&E No.1 (£2.55, Waitrose) which, like gin, gets much of its green-fruit flavour from the range of botanicals among its 22 ingredients. Its initial hit of citrus sharpness gives way to a subtle sweetness rounded out by a gentle effervescence. Its similarity to vermouth makes it a good alternative to white wine during a meal, with a third of the calories. Garnish it with a sprig of rosemary, if you have any lying around from Sunday lunch.
One of the reasons many people are put off trying a non-alcoholic alternatives is the sweetness of so many soft drinks; if you’re going to consume all of that sugar, you may as well get it from the kick of alcohol, the thinking goes. But there are now several alternatives with such a sophisticated flavour profile (and often no added sugar) that you won’t miss the alcohol.
The London Essence Company (£1.85, Tesco) offsets traditional sweetness with more adult flavours: think the floral tartness of Elderberry & Hibiscus or the ripe juice meets exotic spice of Rhubarb & Cardamom. Its new White Peach and Jasmine soda is its most approachable yet while maintaining the grown-up sophistication that won’t make you feel like you’re drinking from the children’s menu. And while they might be called sodas, at around 50 calories for a large glass, they’re considerably lower in kcals than a can of fizzy pop.
Another reason some consumers may steer-clear of no-alcohol drinks is the memory of the alcohol-free beers launched in the 1980s that tasted more bitter than a pint of bitter. The quality, however, has improved massively in the intervening 30 years. At .5% abv, Krombacher Pils Low Alcohol (12x330ml, £19.99, Amazon) isn’t entirely booze-free but it is brewed in the same way as Germany’s best-selling premium beer, Krombacher Pils, minus the alcohol. It has all the full-bodied taste of beer but with fewer calories (around 85 per 300ml bottle) and is a terrific match for spicy Asian food or simply cooked seafood (think moules-frites or fish & chips).
Why not just drink water, you may ask? Nothing wrong with that, especially with food, but flavoured waters make an excellent aperitif.
Kingsdown was founded in 1995 as a small family business bottling spring water on the North Downs in Kent and launched its Sparkling Pressés in 2015. Flavours like Blackberry Sparkle do what they say on the simply designed bottle: sparkling spring water mixed with natural flavours such as Sicilian lemons, Spanish oranges and British rhubarb. They’re deliciously refreshing on their own and also lend themselves to simple non-alcoholic cocktails. Try adding the juice of one lime, some cucumber slices and fresh mint to a bottle of Kingsdown Ginger Beer and you have a virgin Moscow Mule.
Anybody who’s sweltered in the height of an Italian summer will have been grateful for the thirst-quenching qualities offered by Sanpellegrino’s cans of orange- and lemon-flavoured sparkling water, neatly topped with an iconic foil lid. If you love the flavor of those, try the brand’s new pair of organic sparkling drinks made with Italian fruit juice and black tea: Limone + Tea (lemon) and Pesca + Tea (peach) (6x250ml, £3.79, Tesco). Serve them in a long glass with ice and a sprig of fresh mint for an Italian take on the American classic of iced tea.