Sipping a Number 7 Rickey (quince, rose geranium and house soda) at the bar of 45 Jermyn Street, I feel very sophisticated. I also suddenly feel certain I could stay off the sauce over the Christmas season.
The drink, a revival from the Prohibition era given a modern, seasonal twist, is served in a high ball, garnished with dried rose petals, with a little pipette jar of house “acids” (mallic, citric and tannic) to add to taste on the side. It looks to all intents and purposes like an elegant cocktail and has a distinctive sharp, sour tang with a touch of wintry fruit and floral that cuts through the richness of a Fortnum's Welsh Rarebit admirably.
Non-drinkers and drivers rejoice – we are living through a new era of creative, non-alcoholic drinks that go way beyond a coke or sweet mocktail. As the wonderfully named head bartender Myles Davies says: “We want to make not drinking fun, yet not stand out and we're getting ever more creative about it.”
The world is becoming more health conscious. There's the war on sugar, and teetotalism is on the rise, with more than one in five not drinking at all (especially young adults), according to The National Statistics for Adult Drinking Habits. This abstinence is even more pronounced in London, with almost one in three turning away from alcohol. An increasing number of mixologists are applying their talents to the creation of non-alcoholic drinks that taste as good as their boozy alternatives.
Is “going virgin” the new vegetarianism? For Richard Woods, the award-winning head of spirits and cocktail development at London restaurant Duck and Waffle, it's certainly a new part of the creative challenge. He points to the rise of savoury, vegetable and tea-based cocktails, “shrubs” (made of fruit, sugar and vinegar, shubs are born of an 18th-century method of preserving fruits and vegetables out of season in vinegar with a little honey to sweeten), raw vinegar drinks and kombucha, a fermented sweet tea that's massive in LA made with a Scoby (bacteria and yeast culture) with probiotic properties. Yet, what he is most excited about is a new way of distilling the alcohol out of popular spirits while keeping the flavour. “Imagine if I served you a Campari soda – but without the alcohol? We evaporate the water from it, so that we're left with a syrup that has the classic bitter, orange notes. We've even created a non-alcoholic champagne with the tannins and acids put back to give its dry, toasty texture.”
Food and drink news
Food and drink news
1/20 You can now get a job as a professional chocolate eater
The company responsible for some of your favourite chocolate brands – think Cadbury, Milks, Prince and Oreo – have officially announced an opening to join their team as a professional chocolate taster. The successful candidate will help them to test, perfect and launch new products all over the world.
2/20 MSG additive used in Chinese food is actually good for you, scientist claims
For years, we’ve been told MSG (the sodium salt of glutamic acid) - often associated with cheap Chinese takeaways - is awful for our health and to be avoided at all costs. But one scientist argues it should be used as a “supersalt” and encourages adding it to food.
3/20 Lettuce prices are rising
Not only are lettuces becoming an increasingly rare commodity in supermarkets, but prices for the leafy vegetables seem to be rising too. According to the weekly report from the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, a pair of Little Gem lettuces had an average market price of £0.86 in the week that ended on Friday, up from an average of £0.56 in the previous week – that’s an almost 54 per cent increase.
4/20 Food School
Kids celebrate Food School graduation with James Martin – a campaign launched by Asda to educate young people on where food comes from. New research has revealed that children across the UK just aren’t stepping up to the plate when it comes to simple facts about the food they eat – with almost half of children under eight not knowing that eggs come from chickens
5/20 ‘Do-It-Yourself’ restaurant
To encourage more people to cook and eat together, IKEA has launched The Dining Club in Shoreditch – a fully immersive ‘Do-It-Yourself’ restaurant . Members of the public can book to host a brunch, lunch or dinner party for up to 20 friends and family. Supported by their very own sous chef and maître de, the host and their guests will orchestrate an intimate dining experience where cooking together is celebrated and eating together is inspirational
Mikael Buck / IKEA
6/20 Ping Pong menu with a twist
Gatwick Airport has teamed up with London dim sum restaurant Ping Pong to create a limited edition menu with a distinctly British twist; including a Full English Bao and Beef Wellington Puff, to celebrate the launch of the airport’s new route to Hong Kong
7/20 Zizzi unveil the Ma’amgharita
Unique pizza art has been created by Zizzi in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday. The pizza features the queen in an iconic pose illustrated with fresh and tasty Italian ingredients on a backdrop of the Union Jack
8/20 Blue potatoes make a comeback
Blue potatoes, once a staple part of British potato crops, are back on the menu thanks to a Cambridge scientist turned-organic farmer and Farmdrop, an online marketplace that lets people buy direct from local farms. Cambridge PhD graduate-turned farmer, Adrian Izzard has used traditional growing techniques at Wild Country Organics to produce the colourful spuds, packed with healthy cell-protecting anthocyanin, which had previously disappeared from UK plates when post-war farmers were pushed towards higher-yielding varieties
9/20 France plans to usurp Scotland as the home of the world's best whisky
France is planning to usurp Scotland’s reputation as the home of the world’s best whisky, fired by a growing national obsession with the drink. According to a study by retail consultants Bonial, the French drink more whisky than any other country – an average of 2.15 litres a year, compared to 1.8 litres in second-placed Uruguay and the US in third on 1.4 litres
Bloomberg via Getty Images
10/20 The price of an avocado is set to rise
Britain’s avocado coulovers are facing a significant increase in the cost of their favourite salad food because the so-called superfood is becoming too popular. High demand from health-conscious consumers has led Peru to triple its avocado exports since 2010, with exports to the UK up 58% over the past year
11/20 Eating cereal may not be the healthiest way to start the day
The old saying goes that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so many of us do as we are told and grab a bowl of cereal before we head out the door. But an expert has warned that while many cereals boxes claim their contents are the perfect start to the day, many are packed full of sugar and carbohydrates with little nutritional value. Even some seemingly-health muesli cereals have a lot of added sugar in the form of honey, malt, molasses, dried fruit or “even fruit juice”
12/20 Crisps made with real ingredients
Michelin starred chef, Simon Rogan in action cooking a menu inspired by the provenance ingredients in the new Chef’s Signature range from Kettle Chips. Kettle Chips, the nation’s favourite premium crisp brand, has launched the new range of crisps with exciting new seasonings, made with the highest quality food ingredients rather than chemicals or artificial flavours
13/20 Japanese whisky crisis
Suntory’s chief blender Mr. Fukuyo San blends component whiskies to create Suntory Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve, a blend of young and old single malts. Japan’s warm climate and varied seasons makes it perfect environment to age and blend whiskies, creating subtle, refined and complex expressions.The recent trend for Japanese whisky has put the spirit on the verge of a global shortage
14/20 Non-alcoholic cocktails are seriously chic
We are living through a new era of creative, non-alcoholic drinks that go way beyond a coke or sweet mocktail. The world is becoming more health conscious. There's the war on sugar, and teetotalism is on the rise, with more than one in five not drinking at all (especially young adults), according to The National Statistics for Adult Drinking Habits. This abstinence is even more pronounced in London, with almost one in three turning away from alcohol. An increasing number of mixologists are applying their talents to the creation of non-alcoholic drinks that taste as good as their boozy alternatives
15/20 'Heat map' shows which areas of Britain enjoy the spiciest curries
After Bradford was named the Curry Capital of Britain for the fifth year running, a map has been released showing which regions of Britain enjoy a spicy curry and which prefer the milder variants. According to the map developed by Hari Ghotra, Kent, Essex, West Yorkshire and Lancashire are the heat-handling kings of Britain, while Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all prefer milder curries. The data was collected by monitoring the location of social media posts that mentioned names of curries. These were then given a spice rating and were then collated to give each area a score out of 1000
16/20 Guinness to become vegan-friendly
Guinness is set to become vegan friendly for the first time in its 256-year history, as the company announced its plan to stop using fish bladders in its filters
17/20 Why the salmon on your plate might not actually be salmon
Salmon that ends up on the dinner table may not be salmon at all, a study has suggested. The problem of salmon mislabelling has become an increasing issue in the US in the winter months, according to American research published by Oceana. The findings show that 43 per cent of the salmon tested was mislabelled – the most common instance of this being when farmed Atlantic salmon was sold as wild salmon
18/20 How dangerous is a bacon sandwich
A recent WHO report warning that processed and red meats can cause cancer may have left you thinking a little harder about whether to pick up that bacon butty for breakfast or ditch a beef-filled Bolognese for dinner - but how worried should we be? The review of 800 studies for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) prompted global health experts to cast processed meats - including bacon, ham and sausages - into the ominous-sounding list of group 1 carcinogens, where they joined formaldehyde, gamma radiation and cigarettes. Eating just a 50g portion of processed meat – or two rashers of bacon - a day increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent, the experts concluded
19/20 New Zealanders are behind a lot of the interesting food and drink stuff happening in the UK
Dark beers are more suited to cold months, so the thinking goes, but in one part of the world they're always popular. "Lots of breweries in New Zealand have got stouts and porters among their best sellers," says Stu McKinlay, one half of the duo behind Wellington brewing company Yeastie Boys. McKinlay recently swapped Wellington for west Kent in order to launch Yeastie Boys in the UK, and he's joined forces with four other breweries (8 Wired, Renaissance, Three Boys, Tuatara) as part of the New Zealand Craft Beer Collective, to promote his country's finest over here
20/20 Additives in popular chicken nuggets
Ingredients, a new book co-created by photographer Dwight Eschliman and food writer Steve Ettlinger distils 25 products, including popcorn, Red Bull and chicken soup, focusing on 75 of the most common food additives and revealing what each one looks like, where it comes from and why it is used. McDonald’s chicken nuggets were found to contain 40 different ingredients. These included dextrose, a sugar also used by shoe makers to make leather more pliable, and corn starch, used for thickening food as well as also being a substitute for petrol
Matt Whiley, founder of East London's Peg and Patriot, has been experimenting along similar lines in his own distillery and talks me through the making of alcohol-free gin. It has a water distillate as the base, which is infused with the classic juniper and botanicals. It means that the bar can offer sophisticated cocktails to non-drinkers.
At Stovell's in Chobham, meanwhile, Geyin Surendran is using a rotary evaporator, a £10,000 piece of kit, to produce non-alcoholic rum. The aged rum is drawn into an evaporating flask (a spherical piece of lab glassware). The flask is gently heated by a water bath and the alcohol evaporated into a separate vessel leaving a non-alcoholic, concentrated oaky “rum”. This is then spiced with a little ginger, pepper and a touch of chilli.
Ben Branson, a farmer and drinks expert, has invented the first distilled non-alcoholic spirit, called Seedlip, which is being adopted by many of the UK's top bartenders and clamoured for by someof the bars around the world. Seedlip (the name comes from the basket used to sow seed) is a clear liquid with each botanical separately distilled. It is a blend of American oak, Guatemalan cardamom, Jamaican allspice, Bahamian cascarilla bark (used in vermouth), Turkish grapefruit and lemon peel. There's deliberately no juniper, so it doesn't replicate gin. It tastes slightly tannic, bitter even, with plenty of bold, warm flavours – a fabulous wintry alternative to a G&T. It makes a brilliant “dirty martini” with olive brine or a non-alcoholic flip with orange juice, cinnamon and rose syrup and egg white. “I think it works because people are after flavour, not alcohol, and are prepared to pay more now to drink something more interesting,” says Ben. It is on sale exclusively at Selfridges for £29.99.
Seedlip features on the Minders & Drivers (non-alcoholic) list at London celebrity haunt Sexy Fish. Xaviar Landais, Caprice Holdings' group bar director, points out the trend for other home-made ingredients such as their own cardamom soda or toasted coconut cordial (combined with pineapple, grapefruit, yuzu and coconut water in a drink named Fit as a Fiddle). “We are constantly exploring new flavours and textures to push the boundaries of traditional mocktails, such as adding herbal and spice notes in the form of infusions or teas to add more complex layers to the drink usually created by spirits.”
The newest non-alcoholic cocktails are composed to match the seasons and the food on offer. At Brixton's Shrub & Shutter, co-owner Chris Edwards explains that the emphasis is on home-made shrubs, which add some acidity, sharpness and a point of difference and dimension to the palate. Among the most interesting are passion fruit and avocado shrubs served with sodas, which round off a tangy salad or fish dish. Edwards also serves non-alcoholic cocktails with sizeable edible garnishes, such as a mix of clarified tomato juice, ackee purée, chilli droplets, fresh lemon, salt, pepper and tomato and shallot shrub, with mixed peppers and a salt-fish fritter accompaniment.
Pairing food with non-alcoholic drinks prepared in-house is still an unusual, but evolving, trend. At Flat Three in Holland Park, where chef Pavel Kanja's cuisine is British and veg-centric with Japanese technique, menu pairings include scallop with sardine velouté and pea shoots served with a drink of birch sap and douglas fir, and kabocha squash coated in nattō (fermented soybeans), buttermilk sauce and almond, accompanied by a tipple of meadowsweet and Cox's apple. At Bristol's Ethicurean, co-owner Jack Bevan likes to consider the non-alcoholic drinks just as he would wines, thinking about whether they should have body, spice, acidity, complexity or fruit. He's added fennel to apple juice, leaving it to ferment before mixing with tonic water so that it tastes rather like a sauvignon with lots of minerality and goes well with fish. Foraged blackcurrant and chipotle soda works well with desserts.
Henrietta Lovell of The Rare Tea Company has just returned from compiling a non-alcoholic tea-infused drinks pairing menu for Copenhagen's Noma, to be released shortly. “These are beautiful, elegant beverages without much sugar. A mixture of hot and cold infused teas with herbal extractions, foraged ingredients for syrups and other more radical methods I'm not at liberty to reveal yet,” she says. Next, she is off to Chateau Marmont in LA to prepare a similar repertoire. Meanwhile, Claridge's bar serves her recipe of cold infused Earl Grey with tongues of cucumber. “The combination of bergamot with light and clean flavours is so marvellously reviving. Though it has to be made very precisely with not too much tannin to give the desirable aromatic, complex flavour.”
The Jarr Bar, run by siblings Tom and Jess Seaton, is making its own kombucha at Crate's new opening, Mick's Garage, in East London. The bar sits alongside a BBQ shack run by the team behind Berber & Q .
Jess explains: “I think our palates are shifting to sharper, cleaner and more acidic tastes. No one likes to drink too much that is fizzy and sweet any more. Kombucha is natural and raw, it is more a 'conscious' drinker's choice and quite similar in its flavour profile to sour beers and ciders, with the same refreshing qualities. It works brilliantly with barbecued foods”. For maximum tartness and zing, kombucha can be enjoyed straight up, though Jarr Bar is also mixing it with passion fruit or ginger for the newly initiated. “Mostly, we find those new to kombucha find it so puzzling and intriguing that they are eager to try more.” The plan is to offer a bottled version soon too.
The watchwords are variety, flavour and creativity. A new generation of mixologists and bartenders are discovering that deciding not to drink is a positive decision for many and are trail-blazing the way this Christmas. Make mine a mojito – just hold the booze. µ
- More about:
- Non-alcoholic cocktails