With alcohol sales on the decline globally, Los Angeles is in the forefront as the low- and no-ABV cocktail revolution flourishes in the United States. Angelenos are seeking alternatives to spirits-forward, high-ABV (alcohol by volume) cocktails and turning to lighter, easier to drink libations. The reasons behind this shift vary — from health-minded consumption to responsible drinking to self-proclaimed “food and beverage aficionados” with more discerning palates.

Even Los Angeles’ most popular mixology bars and Michelin-rated restaurants are taking notice and featuring low-ABV drinks on their cocktail menus. L.A.’s top beverage directors are also advocating to add no-ABV drinks to their lists — offering customers a more elevated “mocktail” than simply a soda water with a splash of cranberry juice. Overall, the Los Angeles hospitality world is shifting its focus into health and wellness, with addiction rates at an all-time high.

Between spiked seltzers like White Claw ruling the summer of 2019 and the countless number of aperol spritzes ordered in Los Angeles over the past few years, Angelenos are big proponents of sipping low-ABV drinks. But what are the parameters behind crafting a low-ABV cocktail? Brynn Smith, the bar manager of the newly opened Allbright says, “Defining a low-ABV drink to me is using more aperitifs and digestifs that have a lower alcohol content and adjusting the amount you put in the beverage. Rather than the normal 2-oz. pour, you would put 1 and 1/2 oz. of a lower-ABV spirit.”

“We define low-ABV as a cocktail comprised of a melody of ingredients where the alcohol plays a role, but not a defining role in the drink,”  Josh Kopel, proprietor of the Michelin Guide-recognized Preux and Proper in downtown L.A. tells L.A. Weekly.

The shift toward low-ABV cocktails allows people to drink longer, explore a variety of new liqueurs, fortified wines and amari and even supports more socially conscious sipping. An important function of low-ABV cocktails is to allow the palette more harmony with flavors of food.

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Kim Stodel at Providence

Providence’s beverage director, Kim Stodel, says, “low-ABV cocktails are more crushable and generally pair more successfully with food. The lower the alcohol, the less stress on the palate. Plus, the lighter alcohol components like fortified wines and liqueurs allow for interesting creative choices.” The alcohol takes a back seat so the culinary craftsmanship can shine.

Angelenos interested in bypassing booze all together are also being provided with a variety of drink options with a number of restaurants and bars adding no-ABV drinks to their cocktail menu. Millennials are drinking less, and it is reflecting in the L.A. cocktail world.

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Low Carb “Winter Spritz” (Kim Stodel)

“The newer generation is looking for value and artistry in consumables, not the shortest route to intoxication,” explains Kopel. “They want to have a perfectly executed cocktail utilizing world class ingredients without the drawback of a hangover the next day. This is the evolution of our culture at large.”

Preux & Proper’s beverage director, Kassady Wiggins, created the no-ABV Preux & Proper Palmer drink for the cocktail list and it also happens to be a fully sustainable drink.

“I try to run a zero-landfill program here,” Wiggins says from behind the bar while squeezing limes. “Everything that comes in here produce-wise has to be used from root to leaf. When stuff is going bad out back, we try to get it out and use as fast as possible. Sometimes that means dehydrating citrus, dehydrating herb — whatever it takes.” The signature no-ABV drink is made with lemon juice, housemade lavender syrup, proprietary black tea, a dehydrated lemon wheel and a nature straw, which comes from the dill plant. Kopel, who championed for an onsite composting program at Preux & Proper boasts, “it’s about being socially responsible.”

Additionally,  non-alcoholic bars have begun opening in Los Angeles. Adam Fleischman, founder and creator of Umami Burger and co-founder of 800 Degrees Pizza, is opening Sourtooth in the iconic Yamashiro in Hollywood.

“We wanted to create a new nightlife experience that wasn’t centered around alcohol, which the rest often space is doing.” Fleischman tells L.A. Weekly.  The alcohol-free drink list will include craft mimosas using house-made orange — sage potions, gin and tonics using non-alcoholic spirits, and the Japanese Tea Ceremony — a ceremonial-grade matcha and yuzu cocktail. Fleischman’s team created a drink menu to pair with planet-based comfort food and will feature a wide variety of options for his customers.

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Seedlip’s Grove and Gingerale

The spirits industry is taking the no-ABV drinks trend one step further by marketing and selling zeros proof spirits. Seedlip is a U.K. brand described as “the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit.” The zero alcohol, zero sugar and gluten-free liquid is made over a six-week period using a variety of produce, cold macerations and distilled in copper pot stills. Then, the alcohol is actually removed. Seedlip’s motto is “what to drink when you’re not drinking,” and founder Ben Branson noticed L.A. embracing the brand immediately. Branson, who started Seedlip in his kitchen three years ago offers “the cocktail world has really embraced that hospitality means offering guests who aren’t drinking something more exciting than sodas or water.”

Branson, like Kopel, has noticed a shift in how Angelenos are approaching the cocktail experience. “We are seeing a significant shift in people drinking less alcohol as well as favoring the actual experience itself over just the drinks in L.A. I’ve really noticed a surge in the past two years,”  he says. “Seedlip is offered at around 100 bars and restaurants with “about half of those with dedicated cocktails made with Seedlip on their menus.”  The accounts include mixology focused venues like The Spare Room, Eveleigh, Otium and Apotheke.

As the trend of lower octane cocktails grows in Los Angeles, the hospitality world is shifting toward focusing more on health and wellness for the people in the kitchen and behind the bar. Kopel reveals that working in hospitality is less about excessive alcohol consumption. Now, it is more about work life/balance. It’s a reflection of the progression of the industry at large.

Groups like Healthy Hospo are supporting people in the hospitality world in living healthier, happier lives. Kristine Bocchino, former beverage director at Hotel Figueroa and Four Seasons Westlake Village, oversees Healthy Hospo in L.A.  “Workers in the hospitality industry frequently work grueling hours,” she tells L.A. Weekly. “Whether it be 12 to14 hours in a day or working until 3 or 4 a.m., many wake up feeling too exhausted to exercise or prepare their own healthy meals.” Healthy Hospo partners with brands like Seedlip to focus on mental and physical wellness. “We’ve focused on getting bartenders out into nature with kayaking trips, hikes, outdoor yoga and paddle boarding,” Branson says.

Trends like “skinny” cocktails, flavored vodka drinks and cinnamon whiskey come and go within the food and beverage world. Will Angelenos at large embrace paying over $10 for a drink containing no alcohol or over $40 for a bottle of no-ABV spirit? Only time will tell but for now, low- and no-ABV drinks are definitely at top of our minds in Los

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