NoLo (no and low alcohol) has been the big drinks trend of 2019, but it’s been much more about the no than the low. However, there have been some product launches lately, such as Whyte & Mackay’s Light and Trinity 25, that offer a more moderate version of full-strength spirits.
To be honest, I’m not totally convinced. You can, after all, easily dilute a full-strength drink or make it a single measure rather than a double, while still enjoying the full flavour of the original. Gin and tonic, whisky and soda and rum and Coke are still popular long drinks.
There is, of course, the financial pay-off. A 21% whisky-like spirit (you can’t call it whisky if it’s under 40%) attracts half the tax of a 40% one, but if you have to drink twice as much of it to enjoy the full taste, there doesn’t seem much point. Unlike alcohol-free “spirits”, you’re still drinking alcohol, after all.
And not all of these lower alcohol products are cheap. Trinity 25 (25%), for example, is a perfectly nice gin-type product with an attractively spicy hit, but at £31.99, it’s a good deal more than full-strength 40% Opihr (£23.99 Asda, Waitrose), which has a similarly peppery character. And they recommend you dilute it 50/50 with tonic water instead of the more normal one to three or four, tempting you to pour more.
The other problem I have is that these are not products that are naturally low – or lowish – in alcohol, such as vermouth and sherry. Staples of the 1970s drinks cupboard, such as Cinzano, Martini and Dubonnet, were typically drunk long with soda or bitter lemon, rather than made into even more alcoholic cocktails.
There are also lower-alcohol versions of brandies, which are not a pale imitation of the full-strength drink but a derivation of it – for instance, pineau de charentes from the cognac region; and pommeau, a mixture of apple juice and calvados. They’re quite sweet, which goes against the trend for drier aperitifs, yet actually rather delicious and keep your overall alcohol intake down.
Meanwhile, the almost-alcohol-free products (most list a token 0.05%) keep on coming: my new favourite is Atopia Citrus (£24 Sainsbury’s, £25 Ocado), which is, interestingly, made by giant distiller William Grant. Its expertise shows in a really sophisticated bitter orange flavour. Served with tonic and a slice of orange, it’s a convincing substitute for a gin and tonic.
Four bevvies with a lower ABV
The Somerset Cider Brandy Company Kingston Black Apple Aperitif
£10 Master of Malt, 18%.
Delicious mixture of cider, brandy, apple juice at less than half the ABV of the full-strength spirit. Serve on the rocks.
Martini Fiero L’aperitivo
£12 Asda,Sainsbury’s, £11.95 at The Whisky Exchange 14.9%.
Less bitter Campari alternative with an appealing bitter orange twist. Serve with tonic and a slice of orange.
Domaine Gardrat Pineau de Charentes Réserve
£21 Yapp, 17%.
Wickedly good mixture of cognac and grape juice.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Fino Sherry, Lustau
£8 for 50cl, 15%.
Fino typically tends to be 15% rather than the 18-20% of an amontillado or oloroso. Add tonic for a ‘she and T’ and an even lower ABV.
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