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Popularity of non-alcoholic drinks in the UAE on the rise in 2023

Understanding the buzz behind the increasing consumption of alcohol-free beers, wines and spirits in the region and worldwide

The packaging of non-alcoholic beverages often mirrors a real bottle of spirit. Photo: Lyre's ME

One Carlo Diaz | Jan 09, 2023 for The National News

Non-alcoholic beers and bubbles have been around for decades, but have you ever tried a zero-alcohol whiskey or gin? Both drinks have the bite and warmth reminiscent of their alcoholic counterparts, but neither comes attached with the horrors of consuming ethanol nor a hangover.

A drink or two on a Saturday night doesn't need to involve real alcohol, while mocktails need not be sugary, calorie-packed concoctions any more, thanks to a growing market of sophisticated non-alcoholic options.

Who's drinking non-alcoholic beverages?

The rise of alcohol-free wines, beers and spirits feels like an obvious fit in a region such as the Middle East, where a significant segment of the population are natural non-drinkers. Rather than choosing between a soda or sugar-laden mocktail, the alcohol-free revolution ushers in a smorgasboard of flavours for those who have never tried a sip of booze.

“We are unlocking a new palate for non-drinkers,” says Sudera Fernando, a mixologist and brand ambassador for Lyre's Spirit Co. Those who have never tasted alcohol before will not have the same experience as people who have, he explains, because “it will be new for them.”

These fancy cocktails, which the team describes as an “elevated version” of typically sugar-loaded mocktails, create a warm and bittersweet sensation in the mouth because of the natural spices they use to imitate the flavour of alcoholic drinks. A sampling of the zero-alcohol passion fruit martini at La Maison Ani in Dubai, for example, delivers a similar taste profile, but without the buzz of booze.

Meanwhile, for alcohol drinkers, this means giving up booze does not have to come at the cost of a thriving social life.

The end game, says Karl Fielding, Lyre's vice president for the Middle East and Africa, is “not about differentiating between drinkers or non-drinkers, but rather having a delicious and different option to raise a glass to during special occasions. We're not going to segment the market and talk to people in different ways because the occasion, for most people, is the same.”

Raising a toast to a new lifestyle

As non-alcoholic drinks make their way to restaurants across the Emirates, the popular activity of pairing dishes with liquor is becoming more accessible. Lyre's, which originates from Australia, has forged hundreds of restaurant and hotel partnerships across the country to offer its bespoke spirits, as have companies such as French Bloom and Wild Idol, both of which made their UAE debut this month.

“If someone doesn't drink for religious reasons and they are in a beautiful Italian restaurant, we want them to be able to order an aperitif or an Amalfi spritz or an espresso martini with their dessert,” says Fielding.

“The aperitif hour is the ritual of having a drink with your antipasto and before your main course, and it's something we are bringing to people who don't drink alcohol. Now they can experience that full, beloved Italian ritual.”

Such beverages also allow people to take part in social and professional gatherings without the fear of feeling indisposed the next day or, indeed, driving back home the same evening.

Champagne or sparkling wine has become symbolic with celebratory moments, but now people have an alternative to include in that moment for those who are driving, not drinking or don’t want to drink,” says Paul Beavis, chief executive of Wild Idol, which serves its alcohol-free sparkling wines at Amazonico, Nammos, Mandarin Oriental Jumeirah and Caesars Palace.

“The occasion moment has just become a lot easier for non-drinkers with the addition of premium non-alcoholic spirits, beers and alcohol-free bubbles.

The whole experience, he says, complements the UAE's grand gastronomic ambitions, and breeds a set of drinkers who are more flavour-conscious when it comes to their beverages.

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