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Low-alcohol cocktails: Did they ever happen?

Jane Ryan | 24/03/2016

Why have one delightful cocktail when you can have two or three?

Nearly three years ago we were all promised a new trend; drinks (or rather some drinks) were about get less boozy. Dubbed ‘shims’ they were touted as the new golden child, or as the Evening Standard put it “the happy medium between a whiskey sour and a lime and soda.”

As Londoners toured around their favourite bars they would have noticed...well nothing.  Cocktail bars around the world, and certainly in London, didn’t suddenly add low-alcohol sections. Despite the craze in the media, this revolutionary trend of drinking more AND drinking better had seemingly come to nothing.

However low-alcohol drinks did start to feature on most menus. You just wouldn’t know it. They’re often unlabelled, slotting in among their boozier friends, and often with good reason –  these drinks don’t pack any less flavour, in fact the combination of fortified wines, vermouths and citrus can be more delightful than some full-strength concoctions.

Just as the old argument for putting non-alcoholic cocktails within the menu to show that as much thought had gone into the recipes as the boozy drinks, the same is happening to our low-alcohol friends. And friends they are, if you’re planning on visiting more than two of London’s cocktail bars. Drink more, and drink better. Or as David Wondrich put it “Why have one delightful cocktail when you can have two or three?” And if you have a look, you’ll find low-abv cocktails are in fact all around us. 

London’s Best Low-Alcohol Cocktails

Bar: Pollen Street Social

This is not an Apple Martini

Rielsing Troken wine, Pisco, Granny Smith apple, quince cordial and lemon.

Don't mess with my Bellini,

Blackcurrant and cherry shrub, kaffir lime, Pedrino PX toni, paired with the restaurant's Eton Mess.

Bar: Little Social

Beautiful to me


Byrrh, Sauvelle vodka, fresh blackberries, cranberry juice,  lemon and sugar.

Bar: Happiness Forgets


Manzanilla sherry, amontillado sherry, sweet and dry vermouth, vanilla sugar, orange bitters.

Bar: Cocktail Trading Co

Neapolitan Disaster

Aperitif wine, guava-pink peppercorn syrup, lemon and oliver oil. 

Bar: Seven Tales


Amontillado sherry, Escubac, tonic syrup, topped with soda.



Cocchi Americano rosa, Campari, grapefruit, lemon, sugar and egg white.

Bar: Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar

Pastis St. Germain

St.Germain liqueur, Pastis, lemon verbena tea and tea pot bitters.

Bar: Berners Tavern

Bee Pollen Flip


Bee Pollen Amontillado, JW Black Label, tamarind honey, sugar, liquorice bitters, whole egg, nutmeg

Bar: Satan's Whiskers

Satan’s Americano

Campari, sweet vermouth, pink grapefruit juice, topped with sparkling pompelmo. 

Bar: White Lyan

High Street

A blend of vermouths, elderflower, blueberry vinegar and vitamin c all lightly carbonated.

Bar: Callooh Callay

The Half Hour Special


Manzanilla sherry, fino sherry, lemon, sugar, orange sherbet and Boston bittahs.

Bar: Social Wine & Tapas

Bitter & Twisted

Moscatel, amontillado, americano and calvados.

Big Smoke

Tawny port, Scotch whisky couvreur (aged in Burgundy barrels in Nuit St Georges) and bitters.  

Snap Apple and Pop

Chilled Pommeau de Normandie, Coeur du Breuil, calvados liqueur, topped with cava.  

Social Sangria

Friend of Sonoma County red wine, orange juice, clement creole shrub, Carton Gingembre and Teisseire cinnamon.

Cold Fashioned 

Coffee bean infused auricle, East India (oloroso and PX), sugar, water, and bitters.


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