In the mix: is virgin the new vegetarian?

In the mix: is virgin the new vegetarian?

by Rich Woods 14 July 2016

Great British Chefs' cocktail columnist Rich Woods turns his expert eye to the rising demand for alcohol-free cocktails and shows how they can taste just as delicious as their boozy counterparts.

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Rich Woods (aka The Cocktail Guy) is an award-winning bartender known for his unique creations and is at the forefront of bridging the gap between the worlds of food and liquid.

Rich Woods (aka The Cocktail Guy) is an award-winning bartender known for his unique creations and is at the forefront of bridging the gap between the worlds of food and liquid.

With the ever increasing war on sugar, teetotalism on the up and with more than one in five young adults abstaining from alcohol, the very best in the business are adapting their appreciation for the creative and distilling, blending, stirring and mixing up some seriously epic creations to supply demand from the more conscious drinker. Thankfully, like so many other movements in the bar world, much inspiration is taken from our chef compatriots.

Fifteen years ago you would be hard pushed to find a decent vegetarian dish on an à la carte menu, leaving anyone who didn't want to eat something that had been killed having to ask the waiter for the veggie option.

It was a similar scenario in bars and pubs not so long ago – only a few years, in fact. If you were abstaining from alcohol for health, religious or just personal reasons, you were left to choose between a very limited offering of what looked like an afterthought, often found at the end or at the back of a cocktail menu.

These sad excuses for creative expressions were often simply misrepresented as fruity ‘mocktails’ with the alcohol replaced by a juice, tropical purées, tea syrups or cordials, mixed with a citrus and often lengthened with a form of soda. The most creative of these looked like more thought had gone into the garnish than the ingredients sat below.

Like the culinary world, the bar movement has matured and realised terms like 'craft' and 'innovative' apply to a trade that embodies all that it is to be a professional, and inject the same care, attentive thought and energy that we now see in so many great vegetarian dishes.

In just the last few years, we’ve started to see more and more great non-alcoholic serves appear on cocktail lists – some bars dedicating space to an entire section of sophisticated ‘mature mocktails’, made up of superior ingredients and employing techniques usually reserved for their alcoholic siblings.

I myself released a limited menu at the beginning of this year, entitled ‘Anti-resolution vs As Good As It Gets’. A complete list, highlighting two sides of the same coin. Whilst the ‘Anti-resolution’ section speaks for its self, ‘As Good as it Gets’ was a selection of temperance-style drinks, showcasing all that cocktails should be. The result? Two of the non-alcoholic cocktails were among the biggest sellers that month, showing that the appreciation for this style of cocktail is growing every day.

Butternut Squash & Clementine Bellini
Rich's Butternut Squash & Clementine Bellini has all the elegance of the traditional cocktail but with a more complex flavour and no alcohol
Exported Americano
His Exported Americano, meanwhile, is lightly carbonated and includes cold-brew coffee and pineapple


There has been no greater testament in recent months to the galactic rise for this style of drink than Seedlip. Launched at the end of last year by Ben Branson, Seedlip is the world’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirit. Having stocked it myself since the beginning of the year, I can see its huge appeal. Catching up with Ben, I could see his drive and passion in what he had created.

Ben, who wants to change the way the world drinks, found inspiration for Seedlip in a book published in 1651 called The Art of Distillation. ‘Why, when the world of cocktails is so exciting and global cuisine so dynamic and diverse are we still only offered sweet, fruity, childish or plain non-alcoholic options?’ asks Ben.

In Seedlip, he has created a product that answers that age-old conundrum of what to drink when you’re not drinking alcohol. It works as a direct replacement for gin in a G&T and a substitute base ingredient in a non-alcoholic cocktail. In today’s market, which is saturated by numerous variants of the same idea, Seedlip can boast to be the first of its kind – but I doubt the last. It has pioneered an approach to adult non-alcoholic drinking whilst showing what is possible.

Does Ben think other products will follow suit? He says yes, but if that means the world moves one step closer to solving a previously unanswerable question, that can only be an overdue and much needed thing.

Whether you appreciate the craft of non-alcoholic drinks or not. Bartenders, producers and distillers are embracing this growing need and culture. This is not a trend but a conscience movement – long may it continue.