Drink, Features

The rise of low ABV

With demand still strong for healthier options, our bartenders are getting creative with low-alcohol cocktails

From the Activated Charcoal Collins that welcomed members to a recent wellness cocktail event at Soho House Toronto to the juice-forward Coco Collabo at White City House, low ABV drinks seem to be everywhere this summer.

Designed for easygoing summer drinking, a low ABV (alcohol by volume) cocktail will often feature soda water, juices, tonics and cordials that bring flavour without a lot of alcohol.

Their popularity is linked to a spike in interest for low-sugar drinks, believes New York bars manager Ben Fitzgerald. “I did tracking sales for the last six months and we noticed there was a rise in low-sugar drinks,” he says. “Everyone seemed to be drinking margaritas without agave. We also noticed Aperol Spritzes ordered with less Aperol because it was too sweet.”

The health aspect of drinks seemed especially appropriate for the new DUMBO House, where health-conscious members are likely to spend a whole day around the pool this summer. “When I think of DUMBO, I think of young professionals who love to go for a run on the water before they go to work. That’s where it started,” says Ben.

The result is Bergamot & Calamansi, which showcases Italicus, a flavourful but low-proof rose petal and bergamot aperitivo, and the Sakura Tonic, made with Mancino Sakura vermouth, honey ginger verjus, East Imperial yuzu tonic and pickled grapefruit. The latter is a Paloma-style drink reimagined with less sugar, Ben explains. “We stripped all the sugar from the soda, but reintroduced those flavours.”

Another way to create intriguing flavours without going heavy on the spirits is to start with a cold-brew tea. Amy Finn, our coffee QC manager for North America, has been playing around with botanicals for our US Houses lately and thinks her hibiscus sangria has hit just the right balance. “Cold-brew tea is easy to do at home with no previous experience and can also be a great addition to tasty low-alcohol cocktails,” she says.

Over in London, there’s a whole section of the White City House menu dedicated to “light-hearted” drinks. For bars manager Chris Goncalves, the most interesting is the Coco Collabo, made with coconut Cocchi Rosa vermouth, watermelon juice and coconut water and garnished with mint. “It’s fatwashed with coconut oil to give it a bit more texture and viscosity, and retain a lot of flavour,” he explains.

The team make their own turmeric syrup for the Turmeric Swizzle, a bright yellow drink with a surprisingly delicate flavour, while the glass for a Cold Press Martinez (Martini Ambrato and Rosso, Sandows Cold Brew, Campari, anis, aromatics) is sprayed with absinthe to give the sensation of a much stronger drink.

“We wanted this list to be light and refreshing, for all-day drinking by the pool,” says Chris. “We’ve found it’s been really popular so far. Sometimes heavier drinks are not that accessible, but low ABV is for everyone.”

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