Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks

Adjust Your Spirit Levels – a New Era of Low-ABV Cocktails

Low alcohol by volume cocktails are having a moment.

Top mixologists share their tips and perspectives on the trend shaking up the mixology scene, from appetising aperitivos, to their favourite Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks flavours and creative tricks.

Spirit-forward serves are undoubtedly the sexy classics of the cocktail world. James Bond never asked for a low ABV version of his Martini, that’s for sure. But over the last few years the cocktail world has been shaken up by a new wave of consumers. Health conscious (or simply desiring to enjoy multiple cocktails without having the need to arrange for a taxi back home), they are spearheading the rise in popularity of creative low-alcohol-by-volume cocktails – hence summer-sipping, fresh and breezy aperitivos and spritzers suddenly have drink appeal too. It’s led to a demand for flavour-packed non or low-alcoholic bitter, herbal, and fruit-forward mixers, such as Sanpellegrino’s line of citrus fruit Italian Sparkling Drinks, and craft-savvy mixologists are getting creative to meet this new demand.

The low-ABV cocktail wave comes to South Africa

“I noticed the low- and no-ABV cocktail trend growing rapidly overseas, so it was only a matter of time until our local cocktail community began embracing it,” says Matthew Cox of The Queens invitation-only whisky and cocktail lounge in Cape Town. “As mixologists, we have to adapt to global trends, and it’s been incredible to witness the development of low ABV drinks – I’ve seen some interesting and exciting recipes from mixologists locally and internationally.”

The trend has snow-balled since 2020’s pandemic restrictions. Ryan Ontong of The Drinkery, which recently featured on the latest World’s 50 Best Discovery List, says, “Both brands and bars are pushing this side of drinks categories, especially after the pandemic. They’ve become more mindful of catering to the non-alcoholic drinkers as well as the low-ABV drinkers.”

And being inclusive is a big part of designing a cocktail menu these days.  “When you’re creating a cocktail menu it’s not just about trends,” says Charl Albertus of Nightcap, a Gatsbyesque secret speakeasy-come-lounge bar hidden away behind a restaurant in the neighbourhood of Sea Point. “It’s a big part of a mixologist’s responsibility to cater for everyone. Just like a chef, you must have a menu that’s well balanced, and mixologists are now giving more focus to low alcohol cocktails.”

A balanced cocktail menu

So, what does that balance look like? “At Queens, we are inspired by spirit-forward drinks and vintage cocktails, however, low ABV cocktails can’t be ignored,” says Cox. “I enjoy aperitivo-style drinks, so when it comes to low-ABV cocktails I tend to play with drier, delicate flavours. We have some Spritz and Highball cocktails on the current menu and will mix low ABV drinks on request.”

In fact, personalising a cocktail to individual taste is all part of the service in high-end cocktail bars like these. We maybe only have a small section of 3 or 4 low-ABVs on the menu, but we’ll make according to what the guest wants,” says Albertus. “Maybe we take a classic and adapt it. We’ll ask if they want something sweet, bitter, sour, and tailor it to their needs.”

Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks

Mixing it up with low ABV cocktails

The starting base for low ABVs, says Dalu Mahlangu-Dube, bar manager of the Burger and Lobster group on buzzy Bree Street, is key. “I use vermouth, aperitivos like Aperol, and even non-alcoholic brands. These drinks are usually easy drinking and refreshing.”

But it takes a certain amount of skill to get it right. “A low ABV cocktail’s main purpose is to carry great flavour without delivering too much alcohol content, which can be challenging to develop, depending on what you’re working with,” says Cox. “I use low ABV serves as an excuse to play around with and learn more about sherries, amaro, vermouth, and liqueurs, these are all easier to work with when developing low ABV drinks.”

And you need to draw on all your skill as a mixologist to achieve greatness without relying on excellent spirits to make the running. ”Make sure the cocktail is balanced”, says Albertus. “People see a non-alcoholic cocktail and think it will be doused with syrup and juices, but it doesn’t have to be. We’re very fortunate, nowadays there are a lot of non-alcoholic options that cater to different flavour profiles, some sweet, sour, herbaceous.”

Sanpellegrino Sparkling Italian Drinks in low ABV cocktails

The citrus fruit profiles of the Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks range as well as the zero calorie, flavoured sparkling water offering of S.Pellegrino Essenza, have proved a natural match for the new breed of low- and no-ABV cocktails. “I enjoy using vermouths when playing around with the Sanpellegrino range,” says Ontong. “My all-time favourite is: 50ml Bianco, fresh lime, Sanpellegrino Aranciata Rossa; or 50ml St Germain, fresh lime, Sanpellegrino Limonata.”

Mahlangu-Dube has three cocktails that he makes with Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks, two of which are zero ABV, “and a Paloma made with Sanpellegrino Pompelmo, which is world class!”. The two zero ABV cocktails are namely Passionada, featuring elements of granadilla, ginger, lemon, Sanpellegrino Aranciata, and chocolate bitters. The other called Mango No.5, with ingredients such as mango, lime, pecan, demerara, Sanpellegrino Aranciata Rossa, and ginger.

And you can go way beyond using them just for topping up drinks. Albertus says, “I’ve turned Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks into some really nice well-balanced syrups, I’ve made foams with them and it’s such a high-quality product, you can use it in different forms.” His favourite is the Sanpellegrino Melograno and Arancia. “I usually turn it into a foam, it’s not too sweet and has that natural fruit flavour. I’ll use a low ABV product like Campari which is a nice bitter element, then add some rosso vermouth for sweetness, balanced with lemon, a foaming agent to change the texture then top up with my Melograno foam.”

Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks

The last word in low-ABV cocktails

“Low ABV drinks are the future,” says Mahlangu-Dube. “People can enjoy them every day, there’s a lower calorie intake, less alcohol, and better for overall health.”

Ontong agrees that it’s something that all mixologists should be aware of. “It’s important for all bars to have a small selection of low ABVs, and for the employees to have some knowledge of this, so they can make guests a low ABV cocktail on request.”

Cox welcomes it as another challenge to spark creativity, “Let’s use the low ABV trend to learn some new tricks!”

To try some Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks easy to make recipes at home please visit – www.sanpellegrino.com/sparkling-drinks/mixart