23 April 2021

Sober & Spirited: Going beyond the mocktail, hotel bars offer teas, tonics and other booze-free beverages

Regent Singapore
"I think alcohol is kind of boring now."

It's an almost audacious statement, but Guido Piccinni has been in the food and beverage industry for more than 20 years. If there is anything he's become an expert at – it's having his finger on the pulse of what people are thirsty for and why.

Piccinni, the Corporate Director of F&B Performance for Chesapeake Hospitality, began noticing a growing number of guests gravitating towards non-alcoholic offerings at the restaurants and bars he manages, including those at some IHG properties like Hotel Indigo in Downtown St. Louis, MO.

“We put a cold brew [coffee] on draft and people were curious about it, so we tried more of these cold brews, kombuchas, and non-alcoholic drinks. We couldn’t believe there was a real market for this, and guests wanted it.”

Low or no-alcohol drinks are more commonly referred to as zero-proof cocktails these days and those in the business say this past year alone has cemented their place on the bar counter. The beverage industry now has more than a dozen brands specializing in a non-alcoholic drinking experience that is leaps and bounds ahead of the era of basic, sugary mocktails.

"It was already a trend, but I think the pandemic pushed people towards the brink of thinking whatever I put in my body should have a strong functional element," says Alex Valencia, Manager, Global Upscale F&B Solutions for IHG Hotels & Resorts.

Valencia has been working to infuse this growing consumer trend across the IHG brand portfolio. He's especially excited by a tea partnership for Hotel Indigo, the upscale boutique brand that draws inspiration from its surrounding neighborhood. Launched in January, Hotel Indigo properties are offering adaptogenic (healthy herbs, roots and spices) teas from Steven Smith Teamaker. The teas incorporate ingredients like ashwagandha, turmeric, ginger, and other functional, high-immunity ingredients.

"Right now, a handful of Hotel Indigo properties in the United States offer this tea program, but our goal is to expand around the globe," says Valencia. "The teas also come in beautiful, sustainable packaging that is biodegradable, so it aligns with our values as a company.”

While coffee and tea are standard fare at most hotels and restaurants, guests and diners are craving elevated versions.

“You hear about 3rd and 4th wave coffee more often, but craft tea has really made its mark in the last year,” says Valencia. “And even in the space of coffee – it's not enough to just offer standard drip coffee anymore – people want a more curated experience, locally roasted coffee and alternative kinds of milk."

From flirting with sobriety to becoming a fully active teetotaler, the buzz for abstaining from drinking can't be ignored. Books like "Quit Like a Woman," "Sober Curious" and "The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober" are fueling a movement of people examining their relationship with alcohol. Podcasts such as Edit and Seltzer Squad chronicle journeys towards sobriety and drive conversations about the sober curious lifestyle, and this year, Google searches for "Dry January" was the highest it's ever been in the last three years.*

"At the end of the day, and this is global, the pandemic level-set how everyone thinks about health and sustainability," says Valencia.

This is a discovery chapter for the beverage world.

At Regent Singapore, Head Bartender Sophia Kang works hard to create a bar menu that offers dynamic alcohol-free options. Consistently ranked as a top hotel and bar in the region, Regent Singapore is a slice of serenity in the island metropolis.** The hotel’s Manhattan Bar has poured drinks for people from all over the world.

"Guests are now driven less by the spirit base and more by flavor and appearance. When we opened in 2014, non-alcoholic drinks were mostly composed of juices, syrups, cordials, and soda which resulted in drinks that were just laden with sugar," says Kang.

“Naturally, customers were skeptical, but as we began using high-quality ingredients such as freshly-pressed juices, steeped infusions and rare teas, we could confidently assure them that we made their drinks with the same considerations as building a balanced cocktail.”

Kang says the appetite for zero-proof is here to stay and will continue to expand. “As bartenders, we also firmly believe in everyone’s right to a celebratory drink – alcoholic or not,” says Kang.

Piccinni echoes that sentiment and says it's now time to step it up even more. "This is a discovery chapter for the beverage world."

But what about the classic cocktail? Has it become, as Piccinni suggests, boring?

"Of course, we'll always have cocktails and wines or beer, but people know what that drinking experience is like, and they know how they feel when they drink. Now, maybe they want to try something else," says Piccinni. "People – on average – tend to have about three drinks at the bar. So now, they try a couple of the infused waters and then maybe have just one cocktail.” When Switch List, the restaurant inside Hotel Indigo in downtown St. Louis reopens in May, Piccinni says he will have two bar taps dedicated to cold brew coffee. In addition, the restaurant plans to enhance other no-alcohol or low-alcohol items like infused waters and kombuchas.

“There is a greater shift towards plant-based diets and wellness-driven experiences around the world,” says Valencia. “This includes more guests who will want to explore non-alcoholic or lower-alcohol beverage options, and we need to be prepared."


*Searches for “Dry January” between December 25, 2018 and January 5, 2021.
**Regent Singapore Accolades , Manhattan Bar ranked in World’s 50 Best Bars


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