Choosing low and no alcohol gin alternatives for a cocktail doesn’t mean you have to compromise on taste
Written by David T. Smith
Trends come and go in the drinks industry just like many others, but one trend that seems to be in the ascendency and has been for some time is the no and low alcohol sector. Individuals might choose a no or low alcohol option for a multitude of reasons: they might be teetotal, the designated driver, or might simply fancy a non-alcoholic drink between boozy alternatives. Whatever the reason, the days of your only choice being between a cola, orange juice or lemonade and lime look like they may be numbered.
Up until now, one of the main problems with non-alcoholic drinks served both at home or in bars and restaurants is that the attention to detail, glassware and garnish does not compare to the love given to alcoholic variations. One simple but effective tip for improving your serves at home is to serve a soft drink in a gin and tonic balloon glass with plenty of ice and a fun garnish. It not only looks better, but provides the drinker with a more enjoyable experience, especially if their companions are happily enjoying elaborate cocktails.
There are also lots of new products on the market that move beyond simple sparkling soft drinks, including some that get close to classic gin drinks, meaning that low/no alcohol no longer means no or low taste.
Hayman’s Small Gin
Released in summer 2019, Hayman’s Small Gin is a unique innovation in the no and low sector. The gin comes in a 200ml bottle and is 43% ABV, so it meets the required alcoholic strength for a gin, but through a special, slow distilling process, the boffins at Hayman’s have turbocharged the flavour. As a result, you only need to use 5ml of the spirit to produce a typical gin and tonic. Each bottle also comes with its own metal thimble to use as a measure – it is recommended to use one thimbleful with 100ml of tonic, but as I usually use a 150ml can of tonic, I used a thimble and a half.
1.5 thimbles (7.5ml) Hayman’s Small Gin
150ml tonic water
A typical gin and tonic of a 43% ABV gin would usually work out at just under 11% ABV; in comparison, the Hayman’s Small Gin and tonic works out at about 2% ABV. The 200ml bottle will make 40 drinks based on 5ml for 100ml of tonic. For such a small amount of gin it is surprising how much flavour comes through, in particular flavours of juniper, angelica, and citrus. This is a well-balanced product and definitely one worth seeking out and trying.
From the creators of Portobello Road Gin, Temperance is bottled at 4.2% ABV and is described as “a lower alcohol spirit for gin lovers”. It is made using the same nine botanicals as Portobello Road Gin, including cassia, nutmeg and orange. Directions on the bottle suggest using it as you would a gin.
50ml Temperance Lower Alcoholic Spirit
150ml tonic water
Temperance produces a particularly fresh and leafy drink with notable hints of juniper and citrus. It is refreshing, with a slight crunchiness and a sprinkle of spiced notes.
Gordon’s Gin & Tonic Flavoured Drinks
The well-known gin brand makes two “ultra-low” products bottled at under 0.5% ABV: one with a hint of lime and another with a hint of grapefruit. They can be enjoyed straight from the bottle, but I think they are best appreciated in a big glass with plenty of ice and an attractive garnish.
The grapefruit version is slightly floral and I thought it worked well with grapefruit peel and – if I’m feeling decadent – a thin slice of vanilla pod, which helps to bring out some delicious chocolatey notes. The lime version is brighter and zestier; I like to garnish it with orange or lemon to add a little sweetness.
Seedlip Spice & Grapefruit Tonic
This drink is pre-mixed and sold in 250ml cans. It has a crisp flavour – woody and spiced with zesty grapefruit and a good level of fizz. When served over ice, the drink really opens up and the flavours become more complex with a lingering fruitiness.
This recipe is courtesy of Seedlip and also uses their sister brand, Aecorn, a range of non-alcoholic vermouth-like products.
25ml Seedlip Spice
25ml Aecorn Bitter
25ml Aecorn Aromatic
Seedlip Spice has woody and spiced flavours with a fair dose of clove, while the bright red Aecorn Bitter has a complex, earthy bitterness that is similar to Italian aperitifs like Campari. The Aecorn Aromatic is sweet and herbal with a lingering flavour of woody spice, similar to sweet or red vermouth. The combination of all three ingredients has the distinctive intense bitterness that is the trademark of a Negroni, along with a lingering finish. This drink is weighted towards woody, baking spice flavours, but this would change if you swapped out the Seedlip for another non-alcoholic spirit.
A pre-bottled version of Nogroni containing two servings is readily available from the Seedlip website.
50ml Temperance (ideally pre-chilled)
10ml Aecorn Dry
I am fond of an extremely cold Martini, so one concern I had about stirring this variation was that the Temperance would be over-diluted. I’ve taken to keeping it in the fridge to add to the drink’s chill factor (in fact, this is recommended by the producers).
A low-alcohol variation on a Martini was always going to be a real test, because so much of a Martini’s character comes from its alcoholic potency. While none of that is here, the other characteristics are – notably the dry crispness, light earthy bitterness from the wormwood and the over-smooth elegance of the cocktail. Even the desired silky texture is evident, thanks largely to the attention to detail from the team behind
Temperance, who have prioritised flavour, aroma and mouthfeel.
Juice of half a lime
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a chilled Martini glass and garnish with a twist of
This is probably one of the best low/no cocktails (as opposed to just combining with a mixer) that I have had: bright and complex with a delightful balance of sweet and sour, delicate hints of juniper and spice and a floral character that adds depth to the drink.
Fruit Cup alternatives
Pimm’s and other fruit cups are popular in the summer months and, while a fully mixed fruit cup may only be 8-10% ABV, the following version is completely alcohol-free. It uses Borrago Non-Alcoholic Spirit, which is made from borage flowers – the original go-to garnish for fruit cups. The bright purple flowers are star-shaped and the leaves have a cucumber-like flavour.
100ml Borrago #47 Paloma Blend
50ml Aecorn Aromatic
450ml sparkling lemonade
Fill a jug with ice and add a cucumber slice, mint, lemon and lime – add the first two ingredients and stir before topping up with lemonade. Serve in ice-filled glasses.
15ml Caleno Non-Alcoholic Spirit
1 sugar cube
2-3 dashes of rose flower water (optional)
75ml of low or non-alcoholic sparkling wine (such as Rawson’s Retreat from Australia)
Add the Caleno to a champagne flute along with the sugar cube and rose water. Top up with the sparkling wine and garnish with a lemon twist.
I used Caleno in this cocktail as it has a rich, fruity and jammy character that contrasts neatly with the dryness of the wine. The drink is complex and refreshing with a delicate balance of floral and fruity flavours.
Other botanical drinks
Kolibri is a range of British sparkling waters that are free from artificial flavours, colours or sweeteners and are blended with flavours often found in gin drinks, such as strawberry and basil, elderflower and lime, and chilli and cardamom. The recommended serve is in a large gin and tonic glass, filled with ice and suitably garnished. While the liquid itself is unsweetened, each bottle comes with a small container of agave syrup that you can use to sweeten your drink to taste.