The radical new wave of low and no drinks

Up until now, the ‘no and low’ movement has been drenched in drinks looking to replace their alcoholic counterparts. But things are changing, says Millie Milliken, who takes a look at a new breed of beverages redefining what low alcohol can mean

Words by Millie Milliken

Mother Root ginger switchel
Mother Root switchel, a zero-percent vinegar drink - here, served tall in a ginger spritz

It’s safe to say that no- and low-alcohol drinks are booming . As of 2021, the industry is worth a whopping £94m and it’s set to grow 34% by 2024. From Seedlip to Sipsmith, brands old and new, large and small, are turning out booze-free alternatives for the alcohol-conscious consumer.

To date, a lot of these drinks have been created to act as alternatives to their alcoholic counterparts, mimicking the flavours of gin, wine, whisky and the rest of the alcoholic-drink spectrum. There is, however, a new stream of brands ignoring the tried-and-tested formats; products that may indeed fall into the no-and low-category, but are first and foremost complex, delicious drinks in their own right.

Ama Brewery's makers hold up kombucha in the jar
Ramon Perisé and Dani Lasa of Ama Brewery, observing their ‘haute kombuchas’

Some of these are low in alcohol by the sheer result of production processes, while others are simply the outcome of a quest to create exciting new flavours. Could these category-defying drinks be a sign of things to come at the bar and on the shelves?

‘Creating no and low drinks based on alcoholic drinks has been the path producers have been going down,’ explains Camille Vidal, founder of mindful drinking platform La Maison Wellness and judge for the IWSC’s low-and-no drink awards. ‘Producers have been playing within limitations, and with the heritage of [wine and] spirits making in mind – but this limits creativity, and more people are starting to push those boundaries.’

One such person is Dani Lasa, co-founder of Basque-based Ama Brewery, who alongside Ramon Perisé is making micro-batch low-ABV ‘haute kombuchas’ using teas sourced by the Rare Tea Company. ‘Being non-alcoholic is not the main reason we’re doing this,’ explains Lasa, although the former chef began experimenting with no-and-low liquids as an answer to restaurant guests looking for a lighter drink pairings – after playing around with stocks, broths and infusions, it was fermentation that piqued his and Perisé’s interest. With four sparkling kombucha teas now on the market, Ama is even looking to go one step further by ageing their kombucha in barrels.

Mother Root switchel being made
The team at Muri overseeing their fermented blends (left); Bethan Higson grates ginger to add to Mother Root switchel (above)

As well as fermentation (a well-known production method to create nuanced and punchy flavours), other age-old methods, ingredients and flavours provide the backbone for these drinks beyond distillation. Some are using interesting strains of yeast to bring new layers of flavour to their ingredients, while others are rejuvenating centuries-old recipes or introducing traditional drinks like kvass (a bread-based Slavic drink).

And then there are mid-ABV drinks: specifically spirits coming in around the 20% ABV mark, which provide less alcohol (especially when used in standardised measures for cocktails) without compromising on flavour; drinks that sit around the same ABV as vermouth but are far less traditional in style. While these types of products can’t be classified as ‘low ABV’ (0.05%-1.2% ABV), these drinks are a welcome answer to those wanting to enjoy alcohol at a more moderate strength.

It’s an exciting development in this burgeoning – and sometimes crowd-splitting – category. Christine Parkinson, co-founder of Brimful Drinks and ex-head of wine at Hakkasan Group says that the term ‘no and low’ is a helpful ‘roof for these drinks to shelter under’. But both her and Vidal are hoping that language around the category will evolve to become less negative, and in turn, bring these new, less clean-cut drinks into clearer vision.

Yes, these drinks may be no-, low- or mid-ABV; and yes, they may help people moderating their drinking; but perhaps their alcoholic status – or indeed lack thereof – is the least interesting, or defining thing about them.

Five new-wave ‘low and no’ drinks to try

Ama Brewery's BAT pet-nat tea served with cheese and figs

Ama Brewery Bat pet-nat tea, 1.5% ABV

Using some of the world’s highest-quality teas, the Ama team (which also includes an artisan winemaker, scientific analysts and a lab technician) ferment their infusions using a SCOBY (a symbiotic culture of bacteria or yeast), then combine previous batches to up the complexity of flavour. It’s a nuanced and handmade process. This particular kombucha-based fizz marries water from the Izarraitz Massif in the Basque Country with the Yabukita variety of hand-picked sencha tea from Shizuoka in Japan. It’s delicately balanced while also delivering a complexity that makes it the perfect aperitif or match for oysters and shellfish.
RRP £29, Sagerandwine.com

Mother Root, 0% ABV

Created by Bethan Higson, who previously worked in the wine industry, Mother Root is a contemporary take on a 17th-century recipe. Combining organic apple cider vinegar, blossom honey, ginger juice, ginger extract and capsicum extract, this ‘ginger switchel’ is made by a small manufacturer just outside London and uses maceration at its core. It’s fiery, sharp and sour, with the perfect balance of acidity to make drinks sing. It’s elegantly simple lengthened with soda or used in light and refreshing cocktails.
RRP £24, Motherroot.london

Audemus fractal bottle range

Audemus Fractal 3.0 Blooming table spirit, 21% ABV

While sitting high for a low-ABV choice, this unusual spirit from the mavericks at Audemus is a lower-ABV white spirit than most on the market. Inspired by Korean soju and Japanese shochu, Fractal 3.0 Blooming has been made by distilling biodynamic Gewürztraminer wine from Alsace and a small amount of bergamot from Calabria in Italy. Best served neat and chilled – or as a low-ABV base for cocktails – its slight pepperiness and subtle florality make it the ideal match for east Asian cuisine.
RRP £24, Audemus-spirits.com

Muri Passing Clouds bottle and flute

Muri Passing Clouds, <0.5% ABV

All the way from Copenhagen, Muri is the brainchild of Murray Paterson whose career change from working in The City to working in cider led him to learning the complex production processes now used for his two flagship drinks – Passing Clouds and Nuala. The former uses cold-brew jasmine tea with white currants fermented with pichia kluyveri yeast; water kefir grains to ferment crushed quinces; and kvass infused with geranium and woodruff. The result? Tropical and stone fruits on the nose with a lift of floral character on the palate – and a lovely acidic bite for pairing with food.
RRP £19.50, Sagerandwine.com

Sollasa low alcohol spirit bottle with tonic and snacks

Sollasa, 20% ABV

Another lighter-than-usual spirit to have recently hit the market is Sollasa, a grain-based spirit designed to pair specifically with Indian food. Combining lime, lychee, orange zest, mint, basil, sea salt, cardamom and coriander seeds, the aperitif-style spirit, when mixed with tonic, comes in at a light 5% abv. Citrus notes balance the more floral tones of the lychee while sea salt helps downplay sweetness. The lasting spice is a real delight.
RRP £29, Sollasadrinks.com