Cheers to low ABV cocktails

The Loco Group's beverage director Ajay Parag with a fruit mocktail. (Left) One-Ninety's head bartender Joseph Haywood with The Artist's Special cocktail. (Above) Catchfly's bartender Liam Baer making a low ABV cocktail.
(Above) One-Ninety's head bartender Joseph Haywood with The Artist's Special cocktail.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, TIMOTHY DAVID
The Loco Group's beverage director Ajay Parag with a fruit mocktail. (Left) One-Ninety's head bartender Joseph Haywood with The Artist's Special cocktail. (Above) Catchfly's bartender Liam Baer making a low ABV cocktail.
(Above) Catchfly's bartender Liam Baer making a low ABV cocktail.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, TIMOTHY DAVID
The Loco Group's beverage director Ajay Parag with a fruit mocktail. (Left) One-Ninety's head bartender Joseph Haywood with The Artist's Special cocktail. (Above) Catchfly's bartender Liam Baer making a low ABV cocktail.
The Loco Group's beverage director Ajay Parag with a fruit mocktail. PHOTO: THE LOCO GROUP

Low alcohol by volume (ABV) cocktails are now more readily available in Singapore bars for those who do not want a full-strength drink

The next time you are at a bar and do not feel like a full-strength cocktail, try asking for a low alcohol by volume (ABV) cocktail instead of a wine or beer.

Sitting between cocktails and mocktails, such drinks typically substitute the spirit - be it gin, vodka, rum, whisky or otherwise - with vermouths, aperitifs, fortified wines and herbal liqueurs, or use them in lower volumes.

Joseph Haywood, 32, head bartender at One-Ninety at the Four Seasons Singapore, says: "Low ABV options at the bar have always been around, but you probably haven't noticed it - be it with beer and wine or cocktails from the 1800s like the bamboo (made with half sherry and half vermouth) or the grasshopper (made with creme de menthe, creme de cacao and cream).

"With the rise of craft cocktails, it was only natural that low ABV cocktails would follow," he adds.

Then there are the "healthier" versions of cocktails, which use fresh juices and alternative sugars that are a step up from refined sugar.

In Singapore's ever evolving bar scene, such cocktails are now more readily available.

Besides One-Ninety, you can also find them at Catchfly in Ann Siang Hill and at all of The Loco Group's establishments, including Lucha Loco and Super Loco.

Catchfly has four dedicated low ABV cocktails on its menu with ingredients such as Bianco vermouth, Becherovka and Campari, instead of spirits.

And The Loco Group has been using agave nectar instead of sugar syrup at all its restaurants for the past three years.

Using cocktail modifiers instead of spirits means that low ABV cocktails are usually cheaper than their regular counterparts. At Catchfly, for instance, they are $5 to $6 cheaper than other cocktails.

"I think it's too early to tell if it'll be a trend here, but I hope it takes off," says Liam Baer, Catchfly's head bartender.


Great for hot weather

ONE-NINETY BAR, FOUR SEASONS HOTEL

You do not have to compromise when it comes to low alcohol by volume (ABV) or low proof cocktails, says Joseph Haywood, 32, head bartender at One-Ninety at the Four Seasons.

"You can still have a cocktail that has all the flavour and complexity, but that's a little bit lower in alcohol."

Half his cocktail menu is dedicated to aperitif style - or what would be considered pre-dinner drinks - including a riff on a classic sherry cobbler ($24, made with sherry, Cointreau, berries and tonic).

But he does not shy away from using full-proof spirits. Instead of swopping them, the American uses them in much lower quantities in some drinks such as The Artist's Special ($24).

The classic version of The Artist's Special is a boozy, whisky sour-style cocktail for which he typically uses 60ml of whisky. But in the low ABV version, he uses only 20ml of a heavily peated Scotch and has sherry as the base to build the cocktail.

"Using bourbon or gin is just like using sherry or vermouth, just that the flavour profiles are different," he says. "Either way, you have to dial into the flavour profiles to make the cocktail work."

As a native of Atlanta, Georgia, which has its own share of hot, sticky summers, he says low ABV cocktails work great for the weather here, especially during the day.

"The days of the three-martini lunch are over," he says. "When it's hot, you sip your drink more often, but with low ABV cocktails, you don't have to worry about over-consuming alcohol."


Using agave nectar in drinks

THE LOCO GROUP RESTAURANTS (LUCHA LOCO, SUPER LOCO, SUPER LOCO CUSTOMS HOUSE)

The Loco Group's beverage director Ajay Parag, 42, wanted to incorporate his health-focused lifestyle into the drinks menu at its Mexican restaurants, which already feature an extensive tequila and mezcal list.

He noticed more multiple orders of agave-sweetened drinks at the establishments, such as the popular Tommy's Margarita.

"After a bit of experimenting, I realised that using agave nectar brought out the flavours of the fruit and vegetables in our cocktails much more and it also paired much better with the tequila and mezcals because they come from the same plant," says Parag.

He started researching agave nectar, which has a lower glycemic index (GI) than refined sugar.

"Often after two or three cocktails, you get that sickly feeling, but we see customers easily going through two or three drinks since agave nectar is much better for you," he says.

As a result, the restaurants have used only low GI organic agave nectar in their drinks for the past three years. "Weight for weight, it's about 40 per cent sweeter, which means we can use much less sugar syrup," he adds.

The cocktails could be considered "healthier" or as healthy as anything with alcohol in it can be. To sample them, look to the Agua Fresca section on the restaurants' menu, which lists fresh fruit and vegetable mocktails at $9 each.


Making liqueurs the star

CATCHFLY

While low ABV cocktails have caught on in cities such as London and New York, they have yet to gain prominence here.

But American bartender Liam Baer, who is with Catchfly, a basement cocktail bar in Ann Siang Hill, wanted to try them out here. He serves four low ABV cocktails on his drinks menu.

"It takes products that are typically considered to be more of a supporting cast to the cocktail - things like modifiers and liqueurs - and pushes them upfront and makes them the star of the cocktail," he says.

For instance, vermouth, essentially a fortified wine, which is typically used to build cocktails such as the Martini and Manhattan, is the hero in the drinks 30/30 and Plum Luck (both $17).

Sometimes, low ABV cocktails are a riff on classic cocktails.

Baer has a take on a mule, a cocktail that uses ginger beer, with a drink called Bitter Candy ($18), where the housemade ginger beer is the star.

He says: "I'd take one ingredient and figure out what flavours go well with it. In this case, it is strawberries, Becherovka (a Czech aperitif) that has some nice spice notes and a bitter aftertaste, and Peychaud's bitters."

Classic cocktails such as the Americano, made of only Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda, are already low ABV, but he wanted to amp it up by paying tribute to the coffee equivalent of an Americano.

"We wanted to do something that highlighted both versions of the Americano," he says.

Hence his version of the Americano Squared ($18) has cold-brew coffee, Campari and Chinato (both Italian liquers), Pedro Ximenez Sherry and tonic.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 19, 2017, with the headline 'Cheers to low ABV cocktails '. Print Edition | Subscribe