Summer is a time when low-abv cocktails are thriving due to their drinkability. For many bars, low-abv drinks come in the form of Aperol spritzes and other aperitif-based libations which are more refreshing and less likely to weigh you down like heavy booze can. These cocktails can be found on bar menus all over the world as they continue to gain momentum in modern cocktail culture and offer a new way for bartenders to think about building a drink.
Bartenders are becoming increasingly creative and curious about flavors of more obscure liqueurs, and aperitifs, which they now have access to. Consumers are responding to the bartender’s curiosity with an open-mind and enthusiasm towards trying something new - even though it may be less likely to get you a quick buzz.
As the craft movement forges forward, and consumers continue to educate themselves around drink culture, the market will continue to expand with new products entering the beverage space that may not have been available before. Take Italicus for example; this elegant Italian liqueur is made with authentic Italian bergamot, and other floral botanicals to make for a subtle, yet flavorful modifier that bartenders are going crazy about and has won best new spirit at TOTC Spirited Awards. Did I mentioned that it’s only 20% abv? The brand’s win at the Spirited Awards in 2017 is a testament to where the industry is going and how low-abv cocktails are being embraced by both bartenders and consumers alike.
All that said, creating well-balanced low-abv cocktails isn’t always a simple task because the base is, oftentimes, something less dominant than your gin, or whiskey which can make it difficult to successfully highlight. Accomplishing balance can come in the form of an herbal syrup that mimics flavors in a traditional spirit, or to add a layer of depth that may just be missing since simple syrup tends to be a bit boring.
My latest recipe, “Feeling Bubbly”, is a three-ingredient cocktail that uses lo-fi dry vermouth as the base, paired with lemon and Fever-Tree’s latest tonic expression - citrus tonic. It’s a simple mix that uses a quality, quaffable vermouth as the base, along with a brightening citrus and flavorful tonic to make for a clean, and simple session cocktail that you can enjoy many of on a warm afternoon before feeling much of a buzz. You can view it as a more flavorful (dare I say fancy?), alternative to spiked seltzers. The good news is that low-abv usually means lower calories as well, another reason why educated consumers are preferring these drinks over others.
You may be saying to yourself - this all sounds good, now how do I make one? Well, the format I used above for my latest cocktail can serve as the perfect template for your next low-abv cocktail. Take an aperitif, or fortified wine (vermouth or sherry), and use that as the base, then add some sort of citrus, or juice, and some bubbles as a lengthener. Boom - you’ve got yourself a low-abv cocktail.
But, if you’re like me, you may want to look to some of the big guns for some low-abv cocktail drinkspiration. In my experience, I’ve found that both Japanese and Italian-inspired cocktail bars will often have great low-abv options with Japan’s focus on clean, focused simplicity and Italy’s love for aperitifs. Here are a few of my favorites to look to when I’m in need of some drinkspiration for less spirituous cocktails:
Dante NYC - drink to note: Bicicletta on tap
Bar Goto - drink to note: Bamboo Tonic
Katana Kitten - drink to note: Yuzu Spritz
Fresh Kills Bar - drink to note: their Low-ABV menu
As bartenders continue to explore with the vast amount of new ingredients available to them, and consumers remain interested in big flavors as opposed to just big booze, low-abv cocktails will continue to see a steady growth in the industry and will be much more commonplace than they currently are. I’m alright with knocking back a few of these delicious libations and I hope I’ve inspired you to try one, or a few, too.