Time to Imbibe: Reduced-Alcohol Cocktails

Raise a glass filled with this mixed drink trend that’s here to stay.

Call it moderation, mindful drinking, or simply wanting to relax without going into party mode: Consumers are being more careful about their alcohol intakes. In fact, a quarter of consumers in the U.S. and the United Kingdom reported that they planned to drink cocktails with lower alcohol content, along with more nonalcoholic beverages. On the flip side, after limited face-to-face interaction over the last two years, some of your attendees may be ready to celebrate, drink in hand. 

Talk to Me About ABV

Before diving into reduced-alcohol cocktail options, familiarize yourself with the landscape by taking a quick look at what alcohol by volume (ABV) looks like across several types of beverages. Typical beers such as lagers and pilsners have about 5% ABV, as do hard seltzers; wine tends to range from 11% to 15% ABV. But cocktails have a broader ABV range—a Manhattan can reach as high as 30% ABV, while a wine spritzer clocks in at around 6% ABV.

By adjusting classic cocktail recipes and creating new concoctions with lower ABV ingredients, such as aperitifs, you can keep your meetings as festive as ever while helping protect attendees from accidental overindulgence.

Sip Sip Hooray

Now that you have a basic understanding of what ABV looks like in cocktails and bar drinks, here are some tools, tricks, and methods to shake up bold yet slightly less boozy cocktails for your next event.

Spritzers: Add carbonated water or club soda to a drink, and voilà—you’ve just created a spritzer cocktail. This easy trick brings the fizzy, celebratory vibe of Champagne, with the added bonus of bringing a little extra H2O into your attendees’ glasses. You’re probably already familiar with white wine spritzers, but don’t stop there—a whole slew of drinks can be turned into spritzers. Aperitifs (see below) are a popular choice for spritzers, including Campari, Lillet, and the ever-present Aperol.

Aperitifs: Light, refreshing, and frequently lower in ABV than spirits such as vodka, aperitifs are refreshing drinks often served before eating. Examples of aperitifs include vermouth, dry sherry, Aperol, and champagne. For planners seeking a simple reduced-ABV cocktail, serve an aperitif with a mixer—think pairing champagne and orange juice to make mimosas. Another trick is to take a cocktail recipe that involves both an aperitif and a higher-ABV liquor and reverse the ratio so the aperitif makes up more volume. For example, instead of serving Manhattans at your next event, consider stirring things up with Reverse Manhattans—a simple twist on this classic recipe that reverses the ratio of whiskey to vermouth. In this variation of the drink, the lower ABV aperitif (vermouth) becomes the main event, with the higher-proof alcohol (whiskey) taking second stage.

Beer and wine cocktails: Another trick of the trade is to use lower ABV options such as wine or beer as substitutes for higher-proof alcohols when creating your cocktail list. Want to serve margaritas for a networking session? Make reduced-alcohol versions of this crowd-pleaser by subbing in wine for tequila. Love a good bloody mary but worry that vodka might be too strong for your group? Consider micheladas—bloody mary mix paired with Mexican lager.

Floats and frozens: “Reduced-alcohol” can be as playful as more robust drinks—especially when they come in the form of floats and frozens, the perfect pour of fun for summer socials. Help your attendees cool off with mojito pops made on-site, or by ordering pre-made cocktail popsicles. Another frozen-adjacent option is to serve floats made with sparkling wine, a scoop of sorbet, and lower-proof liquors such as limoncello.

Mocktails: In the spirit of mindful drinking and moderation, mocktails—also known as nonalcoholic cocktails—provide something festive for attendees who prefer not to imbibe. With the no- and low-alcohol market predicted to grow 400% by 2024, plan to save a menu spot (or two) for mocktails at your meetings going forward.

Give Them a Name to Remember

Everyone loves a clever name. No matter what your meeting is about, spend a couple of minutes chatting with your on-site bartender to brand a reduced-alcohol cocktail with a moniker that will get (and keep) people talking. Event about gaming? Your guests might enjoy a “Riddle Me This.” Meeting with metal experts? Consider naming your drink “Platinum Power.”

What are you waiting for? It’s time to imbibe.