Healthy F&B

Low-ABV, Gluten-free & More

Consumers are more health conscious than they have been ever before. Organic food is experiencing a boom, and many people are choosing diets that feature less meat, more vegetables, and are completely free of gluten, additives, and artificial preservatives. It was just a matter of time until exotic alcoholic drinks came under scrutiny from those customers who want to moderate their intake.

Pubs across BC have been ever-vigilant in ensuring that their customers drink responsibly, and the Serving It Right program, mandatory for licensees, managers and servers, has done much to support them. Part of enjoying alcohol is taking responsibility; in other words, being aware of the volume we consume. Cocktails are notorious for packing a powerful alcoholic punch, but some pubs are showing that we can enjoy them without having to deal with the hangover.

Why Low-ABV?

The challenge that bartenders face when creating a low-ABV drink is bringing depth and a full flavour without resorting to fruit juices or spirits high in alcohol content. This is where vermouth and other modifiers are important; the former is able to carry flavour wonderfully, which brings body—but not alcohol—to the cocktail.

If anyone is an expert on low-ABV cocktails, it’s Sabrine Dhaliwal. Bar Manager at UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar in Vancouver, she’s a Certified Spirit Specialist and has attained level three qualifications with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. She’s been an avid supporter of low- and zero-proof cocktails for a long time, and sees an increasing awareness about health as one of the reasons driving their surge in popularity.

She says, “I think striving to live a more balanced lifestyle could be a factor, especially in a health-conscious city like Vancouver. We also see a lot of out-of-town visitors at UVA and when people travel to new cities they likely want to visit as many spots as possible within a short timeframe. Ordering an Old Fashioned or Manhattan at every bar and restaurant you visit could make for a very short evening, or an unpleasant morning after!”

The origin of low alcohol cocktails has its roots in the craft movement. Consumer knowledge is always growing, and with that, there’s a demand for higher quality products. The drinks industry is responding to the challenge admirably, and many pubs are responding to the sober trend. It’s all part of giving customers options, and that includes choices for those who do not want to drink a lot. Bartenders are getting past an obligation to vodkas, rums, whiskeys, and other high proof spirits. Instead, Dhaliwal says, they’re embracing a new class of drinks. “I want to provide a full range of options to all our guests at UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar, and the increase in European imports of amaros, vermouths, and sherries has given bartenders many more options to be creative. The power of social media is a big player; just because a cocktail has low or no alcohol content doesn’t mean it has to be boring or lackluster. They are just like standard cocktails, as they’re beautiful, colourful, and come in all shapes, sizes, and types of glassware.

Just because a cocktail has low or no alcohol content doesn’t mean it has to be boring or lackluster.

Is the Gluten-Free Trend Finished?

Customers don’t only want to know what is in their food, but also what isn’t. Over the past few years, they’ve sent a clear message that they want menu choices that avoid artificial preservatives, flavours, and colours, but there’s one trend that’s showing no signs of slowing down: gluten-free.

The demand for gluten-free products is something that has affected not only pubs, but also all foodservice sectors. According to market researcher Statista, gluten-free foods along with other “free-from” dietary options accounted for $0.9 billion in sales, but by 2020, it forecasts that this figure will rise to $23.9 billion in the US alone.

A factor that has driven pubs to offer gluten-free foods is the quality and taste of the food itself. Consumers are making a demand for better ingredients, even with go-to pub food such as pizza. In the past, pizza purists would avoid gluten-free dough like the plague while people with dietary restrictions had to make do with what was on offer. Now, there is a rich assortment of healthier options made from ingredients such as amaranth and rice.

The demand for vegetarian food continues to increase.

Gluten-free is far from being the only emerging trend that publicans should take seriously. The demand for vegetarian food continues to increase, given the number of customers who are more aware of meat’s impact on health, environmental sustainability, and the industry’s ethical treatment of livestock. In 2017, the Canadian Centre of the Plate Consumer Trend Report, carried out by Technomics, found that two in every five consumers asked said that they were eating vegetarian more often than in the previous two years. This is challenging pubs to up their game; rather than offer standard vegetarian fare, the increasingly multicultural population of Canada is inspiring chefs to look to other cultures that have a rich history of vegetable-based cuisine.

What to Watch in 2018

Diet and health have always been at the mercy of fashion and the emergence of new information and research. This can make it difficult to make long-term predictions, but with gluten-free foods being firmly established in pub menus, the industry has its eye on up and coming trends for 2018. Ones to watch include carb cycling, which involves increasing carb intake on physically active days and cutting back on others, and the ketogenic diet, which limits carbs to around 5% of total calorie intake. Both approaches exclude processed food, grains and certain fruits, but promote vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats.

Low-proof drinks, on the other hand, are here to stay. Don’t expect them to take over completely, though. Reflecting on what the industry can expect, Dhaliwal says, “There will always be a demand for full strength cocktails. However, guests now expect to have many different options available. And bartenders are having a lot of fun with this new category of drinks. It keeps us on our toes, and that’s fun and truly exciting.”

Cocktail created by Sabrine Dhaliwal, Bar Manager at UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar. Cocktail photos courtesy of Amy Ho.