The drinks world is experiencing a non-alcoholic revolution. Having gained momentum over the past couple of years, the interest in and consumption of no-alcohol drinks is continuing to rise across the globe..
Whatever the reason for this, be it driven by a desire to lead a healthier lifestyle, informed by situation or inspired by a taste for high-quality soft drinks , there’s no question the movement is on the up.
In its 2021 Cocktail Trends Report, Bacardi identified the non-alcoholic drinks division as one of the most dynamic in the market, stating: “Globally, 0 per cent ABV spirits have received more interest than any other spirits category for the second year running. Bartenders feel the pandemic has accelerated the trend, with consumers more open to trying 0 per cent options as their usual routines are upended ... and new goals are set.”
Waitrose also drew attention to the no-alcohol drinks sector in its Food and Drink Report 2021, noting that searches for alcohol-free drinks continue to increase by 22 per cent year on year.
The ripple effect of consumers opting for no-alcohol drinks has meant a whole new segment of high-quality, complex-tasting soft drinks aimed at adult palates have come to attention.
This can be evidenced in the UAE, where a large portion of the population are already non-drinkers, with supermarkets stocking an increasingly varied selection of zero-proof spirits, craft tonics and mixers, and alcohol-free ciders and beers that weren’t on shelves even 12 months ago.
Leading the no-alcohol drinks move in the region is Erika Blazeviciute Doyle, founder and managing director of Drink Dry, the region’s first premium non-alcoholic online drinks shop.
Blazeviciute Doyle moved to Dubai from the UK three years ago and was surprised by the lack of high-quality non-alcoholic drinks on offer. “There was nothing in stores that was exciting," she says. "As a non-drinking consumer, you simply weren’t catered for.”
Motivated by the belief that if the right alcohol-free drinks – think premium, great-tasting, healthy and low in sugar – were made available, there would be a real thirst for them in the region, she launched the Drink Dry store last December.
The e-commerce platform went live stocking only five non-alcoholic products (a beer, a sparkling wine and three distilled spirits) and with very little marketing or PR push behind it.
By the end of the month Choithrams had put in a request to sell the products in its stores, and online orders were soaring.
“In January alone, we had to start air-freighting the zero-alcohol sparkling wine into the country because we’d completely sold out. People were so excited to get their hands on something that tasted great,” says Blazeviciute Doyle. She says that repeat custom is high.
The range of drinks has grown significantly over the past 10 months, and now includes an array of non-alcoholic lagers and ales, still and sparkling wines, pre-blended cocktails, spirits, accompanying tonics, mixers and more.
The company is planning to expand into Kuwait within the year, is in talks about launching in Saudi Arabia, and is a supplier for Hilton and Rotana among other hotels in the UAE, as well as licensed restaurants and independent cafes.
This in itself is a crucial point; it’s not only at home that people are seeking out zero-alcohol options. Raven Rudolph, a mixologist and former bar manager at Dubai's Folly restaurant, says that while he’s always been interested in infusing like-for-like flavour into non-alcoholic drinks, he and his peers began to really notice more people started requesting alcohol-free beverages a couple of years ago.
“I was very sceptical about non-alcoholic spirits at first – as I think many in my industry were – and some of the first versions I tried just weren’t up to scratch in terms of flavour and their no-alcohol specifications.”
Rudolph, who is currently assistant food and beverage director for Hilton’s luxury resort Mango House Seychelles, believes the pandemic has had a major impact on the way people drink, and says there has been a clear shift in attitude with consumers, suppliers and industry insiders becoming increasingly serious about the no-alcohol segment of the market.
Several of the UAE’s restaurants and bars have noted this change in attitudes and increased the strength and diversity of their non-alcoholic drinks menus accordingly.
Modern European hot spot Boca in the Dubai International Financial Centre was one of the first to introduce alcohol-free beers and wines in April 2020.
“Consumers were increasingly looking for a premium, non-alcoholic product to enjoy,” says Ricardo Riera Valentine, the restaurant’s co-founder and senior operations and beverage manager.
“We were the first outlet in the country to work in partnership with Heineken and offer their 0.0 per cent beer, which is also natural, sustainable and vegan, on our business lunch menu. This created a real buzz around the drink with our regulars, many of whom now enjoy it daily.”
As well as beer, Boca also stocks de-alcoholised red, white and rose wines from Spanish grape producers Torres and a 0.0 per cent Blanc des Blanc Sparkling Chardonnay.
Valentine predicts this range will continue to expand in the near future and that the non-alcoholic wine sector will get a major boost in quality when glasses designed specifically to enhance the flavour of the drinks appear on the market.
Vasile Dorofeev, beverage manager at Italian restaurant Roberto’s, shares a similar viewpoint and says that after noticing a global and regional move towards a healthier lifestyle in the drinks sector, the company responded at pace.
“We stock non-alcoholic beer, sparkling wine and zero-proof botanical spirits. We’re also looking for zero-proof still wines that can satisfy the palates of our patrons, and would like to increase our non-alcoholic beer range with some unique craft-style beers,” he says.
Whether you’re already a non-drinker, have been tempted by the thought of going alcohol-free or reducing your alcohol intake for some time, or are new to the idea, one thing is certain: it is no flash-in-the-pan fad.
Read on for our guide to keywords and interesting drinks to sample:
Alcohol-free drinks to try in the UAE
Lemon Sherbet at Roberto's, DIFC
This handcrafted drink made from a base of zero-proof Verbena distillate, lemon peel syrup and cold-pressed fresh pineapple juice is the perfect accompaniment to Roberto’s popular Lemon e Lemons dessert.
Petite Cherie at Angelina Paris, The Dubai Mall
Launched by the elegant tea room Angelina in collaboration with Goutal to mark the perfume house’s 40th anniversary, the Petite Cherie mocktail is inspired by the famed fragrance of the same name. The work of specialist Eugenie Blanche, who lives in Paris, the drink has similarities in flavour profile with the perfume, thanks to hints of rose and pear, with additional sweetness from a white chocolate syrup and a peppery finish thanks to green shiso leaves. Rose petals and a peach butterfly add a memorable final flourish.
Biere des Amis 0.0
Available on a number of UAE restaurant and bar menus, as well as listed on the Drink Dry store, this Belgian blonde ale is regarded as one of the finest in the no-alcohol range for its refreshing, mellow taste.
Blanc des Blanc 0.0% Sparkling Chardonnay
Another bestseller on the Drink Dry store, this zero-alcohol sparkling wine is celebrated for its crisp, dry finish and elegant flavour. A favourite at Boca, Valentine recommends pairing it with the restaurant’s Dibba Bay oyster dish.
Know the lingo
0.0% ABV: In the UAE the term “non-alcoholic” means exactly that – the drink contains 0.0% ABV (Alcohol by Volume). In other parts of the world this may differ, for example in much of Europe and the US drinks containing up to 0.5% ABV can be labelled as alcohol-free.
Shrub: A highly refreshing fruit-based syrup (otherwise known as a drinking vinegar), made from fruit or vegetables, vinegar and sugar and used to add a tangy, acidic note to any number of non-alcoholic drinks, from complex sober cocktails to simple sparkling waters.
Sober cocktail: Non-alcoholic cocktails that are built on the DNA of a classic cocktail, but use zero-proof botanicals in places of spirits.
Sober curious: Those who consciously drink less alcohol or no alcohol at all.
Zero-proof spirits: These refined-tasting distilled, filtered and blended botanicals are often made in the same ways as a traditional spirit before undergoing an extraction process to remove the alcohol. Alternatively, some zero-proof spirits are simply made without alcohol in the first place.
Keeping things as simple as possible, sparkling mineral water is water that contains naturally occurring salts (minerals) and is infused with dissolved carbon dioxide gas, either naturally at the spring or manually during production to give its signature an effervescent quality.
Soda water (club soda to the Americans), meanwhile, is artificially carbonated water with small quantities of salts (potassium bicarbonate and potassium sulphate).
A seltzer is also artificially carbonated, but doesn’t contain those added minerals.
With its distinctive bitter note, tonic water is a different drink entirely, made from carbonated, sweetened water infused with quinine.