Photo by Levi Miller
Last year was incomparable — and weird and sad and challenging — in so many ways. So it’s no wonder that alcohol consumption rates increased across the board. (Remember that feeling of anxiety and uncertainty around mid-to-late March of 2020? Yeah, online alcohol sales spiked 262% during that time.) But, while booze purchases were up, interest in mocktails also grew dramatically. No longer satisfied with Shirley Temples and club soda, teetotalers have raised their standards and demanded the same care go into crafting cocktails regardless of their booze levels.
However, there’s also a middle ground. One in which you don’t have to give up drinking entirely, but also don’t need to drink to get drunk. This is where low-alcohol cocktails — also called low proof and low ABV (alcohol by volume) — come in. It’s an area that has been quietly on the rise for some years but is now gaining mainstream traction. According to Bacardi’s 2020 trend report, 83% of bartenders say low-alcohol cocktails are hot and the brand expects 400% growth in Western Europe by 2024.
Read on to learn all about low-proof cocktails, or skip straight to the recipes.
Low-proof cocktails are just what they sound like: cocktails that contain less alcohol. As Maureen Petrosky, author of the just released book “ZERO PROOF drinks & more 100 Recipes for Mocktails & Low-Alcohol Cocktails” points out, “this category is a little tricky because you know, there's no hard and fast rules about what makes a drink low alcohol. It's just that they're lower in alcohol than traditional drinks.”
There are plenty of occasions when a low-alcohol cocktail is the perfect tipple. They are ideal for day drinking or happy hour because you can relax but still be functional for the rest of the day. “I love day drinking,” says Petrosky. “I think it's super fun. But is it realistic to do all the time? No. But can you have an Aperol spritz at lunch outside? Of course you can. Can you replicate some of those feelings that you got when you could travel? Yes. Using that low ABV category is perfect for that. Treat yourself.”
Less boozy beverages are also a great choice after indulging over the holidays — or perhaps overdoing it these past bajillion months. “I think the low ABV category is the perfect place for people that don't want to give up their booze, but maybe just want to take it a little easier,” says Petrosky. It’s a great option for folks who want to be more mindful and healthy when it comes to their drinking.
Plus, says Petrosky, low-proof drinks can be really fun. “If you consider yourself a foodie or are someone that wants to learn about different flavors, this category is amazing. And it's so approachable. Most of those cocktails have very few components to them. They're really easy to whip up.”
Whether you are mixing up a cocktail with a lot, a little, or no alcohol, the basic premise is the same. “There’s a real craft to creating a drink that is worthwhile enough to put the time in that delivers something interesting and layered and complex, and isn't too difficult, but is also a treat, Petrosky says.
She says that wine and Champagne can be a great place to start playing around with low-proof cocktails since they are already lower proof than most spirits. “If someone already knows they like Champagne, they're going to like a Champagne cocktail, which is going to be less alcohol,” Petrosky says. Try adding an aperitif, bitters or a vinegary shrub, and you’ve got yourself a bar-worthy cocktail that pairs well with dinner. It'll knock your socks off, without knocking you on your feet.
If you’re a fan of classic cocktails but find them too strong, try the Reverse Manhattan. It swaps the proportions of bourbon and vermouth, resulting in a lower proof and slightly sweeter drink.
Elderflower liqueur like St. Germain brings a flirty, floral vibe when mixed with Champagne and club soda. It’s a great low-alcohol spirit to experiment with.
Sherry, a fortified wine that is common in Spain, is another excellent ingredient to have on hand for low-ABV cocktails. Here, it is mixed with lemon and orange slices, mint and simple syrup for a bright, sunshiny flavor.
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