The ‘low and no’ revolution

by Jess Carter

03 January 2019

Whether you’ve resolved to stay dry for January or not, here’s all you need to know about the rise of ‘low and no’ drinks trend, which looks set to really kick off in 2019...

For those gallantly taking on Dry January, the first alcoholic drink of 2019 is still weeks away. There might well be a few dips in willpower to navigate during that time as well; ordering another water or overpriced cola at the pub while your mates enjoy some delicious looking craft concoction or other isn’t an ideal scenario for most.

If the mere thought of going cold turkey makes you suddenly really fancy a brew (and not of the caffeinated kind), though, don’t sweat – that’s okay too. Whether you’re giving up booze, thinking about cutting back (as seems to be a trend, UK-wide) or are just bored of the sickly after-thoughts many pubs call their soft drinks, we have some good news. The ‘low and no’ scene is gaining momentum on our patch, with local breweries now producing small beers, distilleries making ABV-free spirits, and new specialist retailers and events showing them all off. It’s not a moment too soon, either.

Much like with eating, drinking is intertwined with socialising, meaning that avoiding booze may not be as straightforward an endeavor as it might seem. Add to that the lacklustre range of softies we’re all used to, and abstaining gets even trickier.

“For a lot of people, drinking is definitely ingrained in our culture,” says Dee Davies, bartender, creator of Jinzu gin and co-creator of Bristol Syrup Company. “It’s a social activity, which a lot of us have been involved in for years, possibly even having been taken to the pub with the family as a child. However, there is a shift towards better drinking, less often. More and more young people are cutting back or fully abstaining from drinking – which in turn calls for more and better quality alcohol-free options.”

And the market has obliged, too.

“The drinks industry has always been quick to cater for trends,” continues Dee. “The rise in no-ABV options is a classic case of supplying a demand.”

In light of these new products, the alcohol-free drinks that have historically been served in bars look even less appealing than they did before, right?

“My heart sinks when I ask for something alcohol free and the staff tap the top of the hose attached to the bar, or offer me a coke with a straw,” says Laura Willoughby, co-founder of mindful drinking movement Club Soda. “I am not 12 and I am not about to go and sit in the car with a packet of crisps and wait for my dad.”

At the end of last year, Wiltshire welcomed its first ever pop-up alcohol-free bar – courtesy of Club Soda. The venture offers information, advice and events for those who don’t drink or are curious about cutting back. And part of that is showcasing how much the soft scene in changing.

“Low- or no-alcohol drinks designed for an adult palate have always been a rare find,” says Laura. “What this new wave of drinks achieves is to design something for grown-ups to be enjoyed in the same way as alcohol. An experience, not a compromise. Compared to traditional soft drinks they are lower in sugar (and often in calories), pair better with food and are sippable. They have complex flavour profiles, tannins, bite and are not so sweet. They’re great drinks in their own right.”

We can expect to keep seeing substantial growth in great quality booze-busting drinks this year, then. Particularly in a couple of specific areas.

“Alcohol-free spirits have grown massively,” says Tom Ward, founder of South West alcohol-free-drinks retailer, Wise Bartender. “And I think there’s lots of potential in alcohol-free cider, too.”

Watch out for more local ‘low and no’ drinks to start drip-feeding into bars, pubs and bottle shops – we’ve already heard word (shh!) that Bradford-on-Avon brewery Kettlesmiths is developing something new. Didn’t find out from us though, mmkay?