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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Bartenders in the UAE share their tips on how to liven up mocktails 

With many people more aware of what they drink, we find out how bartenders are keeping it fresh

New Year’s Eve is the one night of the year where countries and cultures across the globe unite to ring in the arrival of a new year and bid adieu to the triumphs and trials of the one just gone.

What makes the year’s biggest party so memorable is, of course, what you do and who you spend it with. But don’t underestimate the importance of what you put on your plate or in your glass.

Milos Zekovic, operations director at Hakkasan Dubai, says:“In the Middle East, [many] people prefer to celebrate their New Year with specially created festive mocktails. These have been a big part of festive celebrations around the UAE [as well].”

“Mocktails are as important as food to the overall perception and enjoyment of the evening,” agrees Jhon Apriadi, bar manager at Sho Cho Abu Dhabi.

While mocktails are perhaps the most favoured in this part of the world, the non-alcoholic concoctions are becoming increasingly popular globally, and not just for the occasion of New Year’s Eve.

The trend reflects the demands of younger generations and a rising number of people adopting clean eating and healthier lifestyles. It is no longer acceptable to offer simple, uninspired juice combinations as the only non-alcoholic options on a menu.

Coco Passion from Hakkasan
A fusion of passionfruit, almond and coconut. A well balanced fruit blend of sweet and sour – a regular on the menu since Hakkasan opened. Courtesy Hakkasan

“Not just in the UAE, but globally, [people] are becoming more health-conscious,” says Csaba Henter, head bartender at La Petite Maison in Dubai. “We’re seeing this wave of evolution for non-alcoholic cocktails spreading all over the world.”

Marcos Garvin Rodriguez, bar manager at Blue Marlin Ibiza UAE in Abu Dhabi, says: “In my opinion, non-alcoholic drinks are becoming a preference of guests. They are becoming more interested in mocktails and healthy drinks … mocktails are so popular because you can enjoy the taste and take care of your health at the same time. Healthy ingredients such as chia, kale, açai, pomegranate, guanabana and ginger are currently trending.”

Adam Carr, general manager and mixologist from Masti, a new Indian-inspired restaurant and lounge in Dubai, says bartenders are looking for new ways to work healthier ingredients and superfoods into their creations.

“Health-conscious beverages are in high demand,” he adds. “I believe these healthy drinks will prevail as consumers are now more aware of their sugar intake. Bartenders are beginning to think outside of the box with mocktail creations to offer guests a new level of taste outside of generic fruit-based mocktails.”

With an increasing consumer demand for unique concoctions, there’s even more competition among the people who are making them.

To set their creations apart, bartenders are creating innovative drinks that are just as memorable as the meal with which they’re served.

In a search for the country’s most interesting mocktails, we found ingredients such as dark chocolate, chia seeds, coriander, dehydrated grapefruit, wild hibiscus, homemade ginger syrup and pistachio orgeat (a sweet syrup made from ground pistachios).

“It is no longer good enough to have a great tasting drink. We must assume that, with the skilled bartenders working at venues throughout the UAE, a great tasting drink is standard,” admits Brandon Grusd, operations manager at Fling Bar Services in Dubai.

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Read more about New Year's Eve 2017:

New Year's Eve in the UAE aims for record highs

Our food and party guide in the UAE

Our guide to the parties and festivals in the UAE

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Grusd has created the drinks menu at Four Seasons Abu Dhabi, Gold on 27 at Burj Al Arab and Ruya Dubai, among others. “[Mocktails] make up a greater market share in the UAE than other countries,” he explains. “That drives bartenders here to deliver greater choice and creativity in the same way they would with [other] cocktails.”

He says individual style and the use of homemade ingredients are also vital to the success of a mocktail. “The drink needs to suit the occasion and environment – from the vessel to the garnish and everything in between – which means bartenders need to translate the core concept into their drinks.”

Rodriguez agrees, saying “the drinks must be unique with a personality of their own. We need to find a great balance of ingredients.

At Blue Marlin, we always respect one rule – everything must be fresh with homemade ingredients and no additives. We also want to find a balance of flavour without sugar. This is the key to making a great drink.”

The shift toward healthy mocktails is what has driven the market this year. “It was all about healthy drinks,” says Apriadi. “Many veggies are being used as key ingredients in combination with fresh fruits to make light and refreshing drinks that pair well with the food. That’s what 2017 was all about.”

Bartenders across the country expect the trend toward healthy will continue into the next year, and that consumers can also expect more complexity and the use of superfoods and unexpected ingredients in the coming year. “We’ll see more drinks with infused teas, spices, vegetables, aloe vera and coconut water,” says Zekovic.

Datilada from Coya Abu Dhabi
Datilada at Coya Abu Dhabi, Dh75: Made with fresh dates, orange juice, maple syrup, pistachios and coconut water. An energy booster perfect for those with a sweet tooth. Courtesy Coya Abu Dhabi

There will be more innovation when it comes to presentation too. In this regard, Henter says, every drink at La Petite Maison first needs to look good. “People’s first reaction comes within three seconds of looking at our drinks. We want them to have a ‘wow’ impression, and that is even before they have even tasted it.”

He says competition has inspired bartenders across the country to become more even more inventive. “The key is to stay creative,” Henter says. “Sous-vide cooking, cold fusions, glasses and straws made of new materials with new designs, edible flowers, activated charcoal, smoking guns, the list is just endless. [We’ll soon see] handmade garnishes out of non-edible materials and 3D-printed garnishes. It’s hard to say how long that’s going to stay trendy, but they look cool and that never gets old.”

And, we all know that welcoming the new year with a festive drink in hand is always evergreen. “Celebration drinking is an ancient tradition,” explains Henter. “No celebration is ever complete without a signature mocktail.”