Non-alcoholic beers and bubbles have been around for decades, but have you ever tried a zero-alcohol whiskey or gin? Both drinks have the bite and warmth reminiscent of their alcoholic counterparts, but neither comes attached with the horrors of consuming ethanol nor a hangover.
A drink or two on a Saturday night doesn't need to involve real alcohol, while mocktails need not be sugary, calorie-packed concoctions any more, thanks to a growing market of sophisticated non-alcoholic options.
Who's drinking non-alcoholic beverages?
The rise of alcohol-free wines, beers and spirits feels like an obvious fit in a region such as the Middle East, where a significant segment of the population are natural non-drinkers. Rather than choosing between a soda or sugar-laden mocktail, the alcohol-free revolution ushers in a smorgasboard of flavours for those who have never tried a sip of booze.
“We are unlocking a new palate for non-drinkers,” says Sudera Fernando, a mixologist and brand ambassador for Lyre's Spirit Co. Those who have never tasted alcohol before will not have the same experience as people who have, he explains, because “it will be new for them”.
These fancy cocktails, which the team describes as an “elevated version” of typically sugar-loaded mocktails, create a warm and bittersweet sensation in the mouth because of the natural spices they use to imitate the flavour of alcoholic drinks. A sampling of the zero-alcohol passion fruit martini at La Maison Ani in Dubai, for example, delivers a similar taste profile, but without the buzz of booze.
Meanwhile, for alcohol drinkers, this means giving up booze does not have to come at the cost of a thriving social life.
The end game, says Karl Fielding, Lyre's vice president for the Middle East and Africa, is “not about differentiating between drinkers or non-drinkers, but rather having a delicious and different option to raise a glass to during special occasions. We're not going to segment the market and talk to people in different ways because the occasion, for most people, is the same.”
Raising a toast to a new lifestyle
As non-alcoholic drinks make their way to restaurants across the Emirates, the popular activity of pairing dishes with liquor is becoming more accessible. Lyre's, which originates from Australia, has forged hundreds of restaurant and hotel partnerships across the country to offer its bespoke spirits, as have companies such as French Bloom and Wild Idol, both of which made their UAE debut this month.
“If someone doesn't drink for religious reasons and they are in a beautiful Italian restaurant, we want them to be able to order an aperitif or an Amalfi spritz or an espresso martini with their dessert,” says Fielding.
“The aperitif hour is the ritual of having a drink with your antipasto and before your main course, and it's something we are bringing to people who don't drink alcohol. Now they can experience that full, beloved Italian ritual.”
Such beverages also allow people to take part in social and professional gatherings without the fear of feeling indisposed the next day or, indeed, driving back home the same evening.
“Champagne or sparkling wine has become symbolic with celebratory moments, but now people have an alternative to include in that moment for those who are driving, not drinking or don’t want to drink,” says Paul Beavis, chief executive of Wild Idol, which serves its alcohol-free sparkling wines at Amazonico, Nammos, Mandarin Oriental Jumeirah and Caesars Palace.
“The occasion moment has just become a lot easier for non-drinkers with the addition of premium non-alcoholic spirits, beers and alcohol-free bubbles.”
The whole experience, he says, complements the UAE's grand gastronomic ambitions, and breeds a set of drinkers who are more flavour-conscious when it comes to their beverages.
Fielding says there is less external pressure for people to consume alcohol these days, with a far-reaching 2019 UK study published on drinkaware.co.uk showing that younger people are either not drinking at all or drinking less often than the generations before them.
A document published in 2022 by the International Journal of Drug Policy on the US' National Library of Medicine website also notes that youth drinking has seen a marked decline in many high-income countries in the past two decades, with the researchers arguing that the trend is “unlikely to reverse”.
Entrepreneurs Maggie Frerejean-Taittinger and Constance Jablonski, who are behind the 0.0 per cent alcohol sparkling wine brand French Bloom, attribute this decline to a renewed traction in the wellness movement, especially after the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
“The wellness movement, towards exercise, mental health, vegetarianism and so on, as well as a growing emphasis on holistic approaches that have gained traction over the last decade and in which Gen Z grew up, have led consumers to make healthier, more mindful decisions,” says Frerejean-Taittinger.
French Bloom's sparkling wines, which are concocted and bottled in the south-west of France, are organic, vegan and halal-certified, with no added sugar or preservatives.
The health aspect plays a major part in the appeal of non-alcoholic beverages for many. Such brands are reaping the benefits in the form of increasing demand, not only from direct consumers, but from restaurants and hotels that are looking to expand their beverage offerings.
Fior Markets, last year, said the non-alcoholic drinks market is on track to reach $1,732.7 billion by 2028.
Striving for moderation is another aspect that plays into the appeal of such drinks.
Fielding says Lyre's research, for instance, suggests some bargoers would alternate between glasses of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks on a big night out. These changes in drinking habits give the alcohol-free industry an edge.
Scroll through the gallery below for 2023 food trends