At Drake & Morgan, one of a small chain of London bars, I watch my cocktail being made. Into the copper shaker go apple-and-chilli shrub, lemon, agave, egg white – and a measure of clear liquid from a bottle with a lovely label. A neighbouring barfly looks quizzical, but impressed; this is her first introduction to Seedlip, the “world’s first non-alcoholic spirit”.
My Spiced Orchid Sour has a rich peppery taste, tinged with a subtle sweetness and underlined by cleansing citrusy notes. It’s complex enough to be sipped rather than slurped and, having watched the theatre of its concoction, I’m convinced it’s the best mockery of a cocktail I have tasted.
Teetotalism is on the rise. In Britain, a quarter of 16- to 24-year olds say they don’t drink at all, and the trend is replicated across the Western world. This creates an enticing gap in the market for drinks companies. Seedlip – pricey, at £27.99 ($38.95) a bottle, but spreading fast – is leading the charge. Made using an old-fashioned process of distilling plant extracts and spices, it has a delicate flavour, like a flowery, fumeless gin. Crucially, it lacks sweetness. After seeing its success in Britain, Diageo, the drinks giant, invested in the company and it is now on sale in America.
More options range from booze-free wines and “near beers” to spirit substitutes. Brands like Diferente from Italy are removing the alcohol from traditional spirits before bottling. Hailing from South Carolina, Bittermilk’s pre-mixed cocktails are made with aromatics and bitters to create a convincing Old Fashioned – without the bourbon. They won’t satisfy serious drinkers, but cocktails that leave you with a clear head are beginning to earn their place at the bar.