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Is a sober shift transforming India’s drinking culture?

What was a fine dining restaurant, yet to acquire its alcohol licence, doing in a national bar competition? Renuka Kennedy explores the state of non-alcoholic beverages in India’s drinks scene.

Is a sober shift transforming India's drinking culture?
Manoj Padmanaban with all of Pandan Club’s mocktails

India’s drinks industry recently witnessed the modern Peranakan restaurant Pandan Club win an award at 30BestBarsIndia, taking home the Best Non-Alcoholic Cocktail Menu award for its 0% ABV drinks and proving that zero-proof cocktails are entering the mainstream.

Manoj Padmanaban – the co-founder and the brains behind the eatery’s seven specially crafted drinks – believes that the non-alcoholic cocktail trend is here to stay.

People are becoming more aware of non-alcoholic options, he says, and are specifically requesting them. Such demand is encouraging mixologists to enhance their drinks range and serve more zero-proof options.

That is why Padmanaban thinks it is important to approach 0% ABV drinks as an entity in their own right, rather than viewing them as mocktails. This approach has allowed him to curate drinks which not only complement the different flavours of dishes on the menus, he argues, but also offers something for people of varying taste preferences and age groups.

Is a sober shift transforming India's drinking culture?
Club Pandan’s Little Nyonya

For instance, Pandan Club’s Little Nyonya with lychee, basil seeds and rose fizz is popular among kids. Another drink named the Holy Berry, consisting of Indian gooseberry, holy basil, kumquat and honey, is recommended for restaurantgoers who prefer no ice.

A trend in health-consciousness has encouraged many to cut down on booze. Such attempts to stay away from wine and spirits even had the dating app Bumble include ‘dry dating’ in its dating predictions in 2022.

With this increasing demand, more beverage companies are now focused on providing their customers with non-alcoholic options. Take soft drinks brand Jade Forest — while its products can be used as mixers, the brand’s co-founder Shuchir Suri says that they can also be consumed straight out of the bottle.

Is a sober shift transforming India's drinking culture?

In addition to the health benefits, Pandan Club’s Padmanaban adds that there are numerous advantages to having these non-alcoholic choices, and argues it is a guilt-free way to drink, especially on weekdays.

There remain some barriers limiting the growth of non-alcoholic drinks in India. Low ABV drinks like wine and beer are subject to a higher duty rate than soft drinks. Experts have argued that changing that by taxing the beverages according to the alcohol by volume percentage so that consumers would be inclined to choose zero to low-ABV options, allowing the category to flourish.

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