For the longest, the hospitality industry and us knew only of cocktails or mocktails. For, no other non-alcoholic spirit embodied high-end gastronomic flavours. Today, the bartenders are empowered to equalise cocktails (traditionally with alcohol), with a non-alcoholic spirit reflecting all the elements of the flavour palate: nose, mouth and aftertaste. And as for its patrons, we have choices to celebrate an occasion and experience a spirit whilst keeping our health in order and respecting our religious choices. In addition, the desire to reduce alcohol intake is at an all-time high, globally. As per Nielsen data, the No & Low ABV (alcohol by volume) sector has grown an impressive 506 per cent since 2015. Also, in dry markets, the rise of non-alcoholic drinks is increasing. This rise of a non-alcoholic revolution has led to the presence of high-quality beverage options available in the region. We speak to a few players to understand the numbers, trends and choices.
Reasons for the increasing popularity of non-alcoholic drinks in the region
“Alcohol does not fit in a healthy mental and physical lifestyle and more people are now aware of this,” says Timothy Peeters and Ina Simone, founders, Bôtan Distillery, who offer a 100 per cent natural non-alcoholic spirits. Another reason is that more religious people are open to Halal certified N/A cocktails. “As we are Halal certified, we’re delighted to bring new flavour experiences to the people. We’re partnering with many non-licensed venues in the UAE, and seeing that people who don’t consume alcohol for religious reasons are open to trying new flavours.” And the third reason is the snowball effect which is the result of many corporate giants entering the market. “The non-alcoholic spirits sector is a newborn market,” elaborates Bôtan’s founders. As per research analysis, the global non-alcoholic beverage market size was estimated to be worth $967.31 billion in 2021, and it is predicted to grow high up to $1.60 trillion by the end of 2027. During the projection period of 2022-2027, the global market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.3 per cent.
Before Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Spirits entered the UAE market, they too conducted a research. “From what we found some of the most interesting drivers were people having a sense of empowerment, a freedom of greater choice to control their experience, without feeling they needed to give something up or experience whatever event differently to others. Having the versatility to play with flavours without feeling it can be at the expense of one’s tomorrow, is something we often find globally,” says Mark Living, CEO and founder, Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Spirits.
Beers, wines and gin with zero per cent alcohol compatible with an adult palate
That’s correct! Bôtan Distillery, who took three years of research to create a N/A spirit with no synthetic ingredients, no preservatives (and a shelf life of two years) and no sugar, is focusing on the hospitality scene, offering a solution for restaurants and bars to upgrade their non-alcoholic menus. “Creating a N/A spirit from real ingredients is in stark contrast to competitors who’re only combining water and synthetic flavour additives and flavoured sugars. And most importantly, we’re there for everyone who’s willing to have a good time. Finally, you can enjoy cocktails sans alcohol. You won’t believe it until you’ve tasted it,” say Timothy and Ina. Thanks to their exclusively distilling real ingredients and fresh produce, Bôtan is adored by people who’re conscious about their health and the environment. Lyre’s offers non-alcoholic products as well as alcohol-free wines, all designed for an adult palate. “We offer a world of flavour never before seen in the beverage category — it’s exciting to think how we’re broadening the horizons of what’s possible in a non-alcoholic beverage,” adds Mark. Drink Dry has a huge range of zero alcohol beers and wines, catering to all palates and taste profiles, or even which kind of meal you are cooking up on an evening. “On top of that, our range of 0 per cent spirits, along with mixers and cocktail kits, can get you creating your own zero alcohol bar at home. All of our drinks are aimed at adults, with a focus on taste, quality and a cost that is accessible to all,” says Erika Doyle, founder and managing director, Drink Dry.
Why did it take so long for players to enter the UAE market?
Erika smiles when she says that she has asked this question to herself many times. “I am of a firm opinion that traditional F&B businesses in the region lacked foresight and did not believe the zero alcohol drinks will become such a mighty movement. It takes a disruptor to disrupt the status quo. I do not have a background in hospitality or F&B and hence I was not limited to doing things in a conventional way. We were able to be different, creative, and break the taboos in our own way.” Drink Dry was born out of a personal passion, they launched the business only 15 months ago. “Launching the business when we did was like the ‘perfect storm’ — right place, right time and, most importantly, right products. We never settle for second best in our carefully curated portfolio of drinks.” Lyre’s is just under three years old now, so it hasn’t been too much time until they launched in the UAE. “We’d have liked to have been here sooner, but we wanted to ensure we met the guidelines on compliance, aligned our labelling and brand with local expectations as well as respectfully explore through research how the population would react to the availability of these products,” adds Mark. Bôtan is served in Dubai exclusively at Hoseki at Bvlgari Resort Dubai and Amazonico Dubai, and in Saudi at Meraki, Momo, Villa Palma and Yauatcha, Riyadh.
It’s an occasion
Often, occasions are linked to alcohol. When you celebrate a birthday, you “pop” a bottle of champagne. Or you share cocktails to kick off a great night with friends. “Both drinkers and non-drinkers want to enjoy great experiences; often many non-alcoholic spirits and drinks have no story to tell. Or the ingredients are of subpar quality,” say Timothy and Ina. Erika could not agree more. “It is all about the experience and the ‘theatre’ of it all. As with food, consumers want to experience new ways of drinking, with a focus on quality and taste, and having the same craft and experience in non-alcoholic drinks.”
And who is cheering on?
The products are enjoyed by adults across all age groups. “We’ve also seen an adoption with a little higher frequency in the 24–40-year-old age bracket. People who appreciate fine food and drink will usually find their way to our brand,” says Mark. Lyre’s recent launch at Burj Al Arab was well-received by a diverse group of drinkers and non-drinkers. “I don’t like to think that Lyre’s is about a person being one or the other. As a society we’ve ended up with the polarised categories for what can only be described as a lack of a better alternative or availability of an alternative. We’re not trying to convert any person to become a non-drinker — that choice belongs to them. What we are, however, doing is giving them delicious alcohol-free alternatives. If they use our products to moderate their alcohol intake, or if they’re a tool for replacing alcohol, we’re equally happy with both,” adds Mark.
Drink Dry’s audience is super varied. “We look at all different types of consumers and the reasons they may want to consider zero alcohol drinks, whether for health and wellness, to focus the mind on business, to perform better in the gym, or simply to take a break from their weekly alcohol intake,” elaborates Erika. They’ve invested a great deal of time and effort into educating people as to how they can bring in alcohol-free drinks in order to elevate their dining experience. “Every month we are coming closer and closer to the 50/50 split of non-drinkers and drinkers in our customer database,” she adds.
What’s in the bottle, the can?
Unfortunately, many of the currently available options are made of chemical flavours or even worse, are premiuminised sugar waters; this turns many non-alcoholic drinks and spirits into unhealthy options. So, choose wisely. Interestingly, Bôtan grow their herbs and have invested in a state-of-the-art distillery and have created a new category of non-alcoholic cocktails. Lyre’s has a range of 17 non-alcoholics, with the popular items being Italian Spritz, American Malt and Dry London Spirit. All of Lyre’s products are made with naturally derived essences, extracts and dealcoholised distillates. Drink Dry’s bestseller month on month is Vintense Limited Edition Cuvee Prestige, an alcohol-free sparkling wine made with 100 per cent chardonnay grape. The most popular choice for meal accompaniments is Natureo Garnacha Syrah Red 0.0%, produced by Familia Torres, the most admired wine brand of 2022 (Drinks International). And their most popular drink with their Hospitality partners is Sea Arch Coastal Juniper — a non-alcoholic gin alternative.
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