There’s a nightlife trend that’s been picking up steam in major cities across the globe. From NYC, to London, to Austin, TX, to Melbourne, entire bars dedicated to non-alcoholic or low-alcoholic drinks have opened to a delighted clientele. And at the same time, changing consumption habits after the pandemic are causing sales of so-called NOLO (no- or low-alcohol) drinks to skyrocket.
In true fashion, trend-resistant Switzerland is late to the party. In Romandie, where apéro is a sacred ritual and local wines weave through social occasions from the 11am pre-lunch drink to the after dinner digestif, the idea of alcohol-free beverages is a hard sell. Even post-pandemic, Switzerland’s drinking habits remain stubbornly above the OECD average.
But as we reenter the social scene, there’s something we’re noticing – NOLO options seem to finally be breaking through. We’re not just talking about the fruit juice you offer to the kids. We mean real, enjoyable, grownup drinks that make you think twice before you reach for your usual chasselas.
Hello to Placebo
The first clue that the winds of change were afoot was an announcement from our old friends at Dr. Gab’s.
We’ve loved this local beer company since we first started this publication. At the time, they were one of the very only craft beer brands disrupting the industrial beer complex with local, authentic craft brew.
In April they announced that they’d be breaking ground once again, this time with the first alcohol-free local craft beer, Placebo. Aptly named, this beer is so legitimately good, you might start dancing on the tables anyway.
“It took two years of research to create Placebo,” explains Reto Engler, one of the brand’s founders. “We didn’t want to use the de-alcoholization method or an arrested fermentation, so we had to take a third (and secret) route that gives Placebo those balanced, fruity aromas you’d expect from a high quality, craft IPA.”
Expand Your Bar with NOLO Options
Whether it’s beer or spirits – or even an almost “champagne” – that you’d like to replace, the market of options abounds in Switzerland.
Château de la Crau: Is it champagne or is it kombucha? Okay, it’s definitely kombucha. But it’s not just a regular kombucha. We love this dry, complex drink so much that we served it as the non-alcoholic option at our Solstice in the Park picnic in June. It’s a beautiful option when you want to serve something elevated.
Crodino: Serve this sweet bitter orange liqueur-like drink from the north of Italy over ice and top it off with sparkling water and you’ll have an alcohol-free, less sweet version of an aperol spritz. You can find Crodino at all the local grocery stores.
Martini Floreale Vermouth: For something equally simple but more botanical, Martini has released an alcohol-free vermouth that pairs beautifully with tonic water. We’ve heard you can take it up a notch with flavored tonic water and citrus zest. But as far as we’re concerned, simple is best.
We’ve all heard of virgin mojitos, but can non-alcoholic cocktails be more than flavored water? For us, the verdict is still out. We’ve given a couple of alcohol-free gins a try, but we haven’t been convinced that the flavor justifies the price. G’nuine Zero, however, could be the silver bullet. The price is right, it’s Swiss, and it was recommended to us by one of our favorite local barmen, Victor Topart. According to Victor, G’unine Zero with JSotta Rosso Senza and a bit of San Pellegrino Bitters makes a “kick-ass negroni.”
Getting into the Spirit(-free)
As the options proliferate in Switzerland, we still wonder what sort of staying power they will have in a culture whose seasonal ebbs and flows are largely defined by the growth stages of the vineyards. But for those of us who have aged out of the ability to endure a Friday morning headache or who simply want to give their bodies a break from time to time, options are empowering.
We’re definitely keeping our fridges and bars stocked with alcohol-free options from here on out. Because what we’re learning is that sometimes the most “adult” drink is one that knows how to respect the limits.