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More and more drinkers are switching up their consumption patterns, be it full-on teetotalling or taking more breaks from boozy nights. 

This shift in consumer behavior has fueled massive growth in the low- and no-alcohol categories, beckoning in new brands and drumming up exciting category innovation. Beverage analysis firm IWSR expects the category to increase 31% by 2024.

The IWSR just released a report assessing the performance of both categories in ten key markets (Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Spain, UK and US). Collectively, those countries make up 75% of the global consumption of no- and low-alcohol beverages, according to IWSR data.

Overall, no-alcohol is outpacing the low-alcohol segment. In these ten key markets, the no-alcohol category increased +4.5% over 2019 and 2020, while the low-ABV segment declined -5.5%. IWSR cites the decline is caused by the poor performance of low-alcohol beer in Western Europe.

IWSR defines non-alcoholic beer, cider, wine, spirits, RTDs and alcohol replacements as products that contain less than 0.5% ABV. Low-alcohol beers and ciders contain between 0.5% ABV and 3.5% ABV, while low-alcohol wines check-in under 7.5% ABV.

Though both categories are driven by overarching health and wellness trends, the no-alcohol category is showing more impressive growth globally. The IWSR’s findings note consumers are largely looking to take an entire break from alcohol, switching between regular drinking nights with full-strength alcohol and ‘nights off,’ where they opt for non-alcoholic options.

“Consumers are able to moderate their alcohol intake by enjoying sophisticated products while still having the occasional full-strength drink. Moreover, consumers who choose to abstain from alcohol, or moderate their alcohol consumption, are still able to remain part of the drinking occasion,” remarks Sophia Shaw-Brown, senior insights manager at IWSR.

When it comes to low-alcohol propositions, consumers seem confused; unsure of how to serve low-alcohol spirits or wary about how many drinks they can consume before, say, operating a motor vehicle. They’re largely lacking that educational outreach and experience.

“Consumers don’t necessarily know that an alcoholic spirit brand normally sits at 30-40% ABV, so they don’t always know what a 20% ABV spirit means for a gin brand, or how a 20% ABV spirit might relate to a 5% ABV wine or a 1% ABV beer,” explains Shaw-Brown. 

Diageo-backed Distill Ventures noted similar feedback in a report released in January, finding that without the educational teachings of bars and events, the sober-curious are not being indoctrinated into the low-ABV world as quickly as in the pre-pandemic times. “As these brands become more visible and well established and the quality improves, there is a real opportunity for growth in low-alcohol,” describes Shaw-Brown.

Nonetheless, spirits giants are starting to offer lower-alcohol offerings of familiar favorites. Smirnoff, Ballantine’s and Beefeater all sell lower-ABV alternatives to their flagship bottles. 

It’s not just the Dry January partakers, the sober or the designated drivers that are reaching for no- and low-alcohol beverages: it’s a new slate of health-minded millennials. According to IWSR consumer research, 58% of no- and low-alcohol consumers report they still drink but in moderation. 58% of consumers are drinking more non-alcoholic beverages than last year while 61% of consumers want better choices when it comes to NA drinks.

So why aren’t these health-conscious drinkers opting for low-alcohol beverages?

Shaw-Brown points out that much of the confusion is because low-alcohol brands focus on health rather than moderation. “Brands in the low-alcohol space tend to have a healthier, ‘better for you’ premise, rather than being completely about moderation,” explains Shaw-Brown. Low-alcohol brands that target consumers looking for that moderation have the opportunity to recapture attention.

While the no-alcohol segment is performing strongly overall, individual markets are interacting with both categories differently. American consumers prefer low-ABV products over no-alcohol proxies. Specifically, low-alcohol wine has captured 86.8% of market share compared to its no-alcohol counterpoint. The ‘clean’ wine trend, one that originated in the US, is fueling this performance.

On the flip side, the UK heavily favors no-alcohol spirits. The market share of low- and no-spirits in Australia and Germany is evenly split. 

One promising new avenue for the no- and low-alcohol segments? RTDs. 

Non-alcoholic beer has been around for ages, but non-alcoholic canned cocktails have been slow to grow. While it’s a small segment of the RTD sector, the category shows promise, particularly as the NA shift and hard seltzer crazes algin.

Of the 10 key markets studied, the US is the low-alcohol RTD market leader, with low-alcohol RTDs making up approximately 70% of the country’s no/low RTD segment.

With major brand funneling money into both the RTD and the NA category (Canadian-owned non-alcoholic brewery Partake drummed up $4 million in funding while CleanCo secured $12 million. Diageo recently acquired a minority stake in Ritual Zero Proof), it will be exciting to see what the next year of releases brings.

“Did you know that Filipino slaves—the ones brought to Mexico by the Galleon Trade—taught Mexicans to distill?”

No. No, I did not.

That was how my first phone call with Rebecca Quiñonez, a longtime spirits educator, started. In that moment, I felt massive shame that I had zero clue that the agave spirits I enjoy today were in fact a product of a clandestine Mexican and Filipino collaboration while both nations were under hundreds of years of Spanish rule. The sharing of knowledge and skills were basically a show of brotherhood, if you will. After all, Mexico and the Philippines are colonial cousins.

“In fact, if you really want to take a deep dive, tequila was birthed out of colonialism because the Spanish-Mexicans owned the land they grew agave on,” Quiñonez explained further. “While mezcal is truly ancestral, because it’s made by the indigenous communities of Mexico, who own their own land and the agaves they cultivate in it.”

It was heady stuff to digest for sure. But it’s no secret that Quiñonez certainly knows much more than the usual spirits professional. And I’m glad she brought up all this historical information, while many others often hesitate to go that far back and shy away from inconvenient facts. In that sense, she’s fearless—talking about heritage, culture, and people without any of the usual marketing jargon. Instead, she used her 20-year career working in the spirits industry—15 of which was spent as a global brand ambassador for Diageo—shedding light and dispensing valuable intel that go way past what’s trending at any given time.

“My romance with agave and Aztec culture began as a teenager in the ’90s while growing up in Eastside San Jose, California—where I enrolled in Mexican and Aztec studies at local colleges to understand the history, language, and mythology,” Quiñonez says. “I’m a first-generation Nicaragüense and I was raised in a diverse and culturally rich community dominated by hard working Mexicanos from Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Michoacán. My first experiences with tequila were mainly during celebratory and joyful occasions: family gatherings, weddings, and holidays. And the brands that resonated with my early years were Chinaco, Siete Leguas, and Tres Magueyes, because they had always represented quality and tradition.”

Today, Quiñones is still in the spirits industry, but she’s made the leap to become her own boss: She’s now the CEO and founder of her own boutique consulting firm, which specializes in global route-to-market strategies—focusing on agave-based beverages, cannabis, and the multi-cultural luxury world at large, where she works only on projects and clients she truly believes in.

“I can proudly say that I’ve had a unique front row seat into the world of tequila, not only within my own career and extensive travels throughout Mexico but through my mother’s as well,” Quiñonez says. “She ignited a new and early passion for the industry—as she was an amazing bartender and cocktail waitress for 25 years. I was learning about tequila, rum, Cognac, and fine Scotches from the age of 14, so my early love for history, culture, and hospitality created the perfect foundation to an illustrious path into the world of fine spirits.”

Here, Quiñonez listed some of her favorite tequilas and mezcals—many of which are not part of the “Big Boys” club she had previously worked with: Beyond that she’s also worked with the the “Big Boys” of tequila—Don Julio, Jose Cuervo, Herradura, Cazadores, and DeLeon. Instead, she wanted to highlight more offbeat distilleries than aren’t going to be in every single big box store or retailer. These picks are more artisanal in nature, and in its own way, truer to the way locals—not Americans—drink.

“The curated list is a tribute to the legacy, art, and craft of the unsung heroes in the industry: the agaveros, los jimadores, tequileros, and mezcaleros. For centuries they have honored a past that connects tradition, the magic of the land, and its people,” Quiñonez emphasizes. “The tequilas and mezcales that I selected are the finest representation of Mexican heritage, in my opinion…not only for their exceptional taste but in the manner with which they’re produced. All use mindful and sustainable cultivations practices. Several continue to use pre-Hispanic milling methods such as the tahona—an art and rarity in the 21st century. There’s the fractional aging of reposado and añejo tequilas; techniques seen in aging fine Sherry wines; and the hand selecting of the most mature agaves to deliver the most remarkable profiles, styles, and flavor combinations. And although Cinco de Mayo is not traditionally celebrated in Mexico, it does represent the most important holiday for tequila and mezcal sales in the United States. I only hope that whatever agave-based spirit that you choose to celebrate with, you appreciate not only its great taste but its unique origins.”

The Best Tequilas and the Best Mezcals for Cinco de Mayo—and Beyond


“El Tequileño Reposado Gran Reserva is a favorite among tequila drinkers, judges, and connoisseurs. El Tequileño, located in the heart of el Valle de Tequila with its 60-year-old tradition and legacy, has created one of the best-tasting reposado tequilas in the market,” Quiñonez says. “This blend of eight-month-old reposados and reserve 18-month añejos create absolute perfection from start to finish. Bold notes of vanilla, nuts, dried fruit and spice. I really enjoy sipping on this with a large cube of ice and great company.”


“This expression comes from an incredible distillery with heritage, using tradition and artisanal methods with five generations of production and history,” Quiñonez says. “‘SS’ is a very special sipping-style blanco at 46% ABV. A must have for any tequila lover, it boasts of beautiful earthy notes combined with bright fruit and cooked ripe agave. I like to sip SS on the rocks or with tonic and a lemon peel.” 


“Terroir plays a vital role in tequila production, as it does in most fine spirits and winemaking—and the single estate grown agaves yield some of the sweetest piñas from the highland region,” says Quiñonez. “A wonderful bouquet of herbal, citrus, and floral aromas deliver balance and elegance with every sip. I really enjoy drinking this plata style on the rocks. You’ve got crisp notes of green apple, fresh herbs like basil, and yerba buena and sweet tropical fruit.”


“Cascahuin Tahona Blanco is a true display of harmony, ancestry, and balance,” Quiñonez says. “There are powerful notes of cooked agave, herbal, sweet fruit, and mineral essence. It’s my favorite tequila among the ‘tahona-style’ tequilas for its purity and elegance.” 


“I highly recommend that you record the day and time you taste this,” Quiñonez insists. “This is yet another masterpiece from destilería La Tequileña, where only the finest most mature agaves are able to make the cut. Their use of fractional aging, combined with the different styles of barrels used for maturation, such as French Limousin oak, American white oak, and wine casks deliver an exceptional liquid with an even more exceptional finish. Notes of cooked agave, dried fruit, spice and caramel offer a sensational añejo style for any agave connoisseur.”


“This expression, from destilería La Tequileña in the heart of el Valle de Tequila, only utilizes hand-selected estate-grown Highland agaves to produce Don Fulano Blanco, which provides exquisite beauty and elegance. Blanco tequilas—to be properly classified—are typically unaged. So to sample a six-month-aged tequila reinforces the bounty of the land and the maguey. The aging creates more delicate fruit, herb, and spice notes to deliver one of the best tasting blanco tequilas in the market.”


“Fortaleza Blanco is another beauty from NOM 1493. You can pour Fortaleza Blanco in a mixed drink, neat, or on the rocks—and it will not disappoint,” Quiñonez says. “It’s all sophisticated and refined sweet notes—with hints of citrus, butter, and white pepper. Copper pot distilled, alongside the use of the traditional tahona milling method, adds mineral notes—making it a standout tequila for me.”


“This is a true beauty,” Quiñonez says. “This reposado is aged for six to eight months and it’s everything that you would want in a classic ‘valley-style’ reposado. Notes of cooked agave, honey, and vanilla produce depth and body with a silky rich finish. I prefer to sip on this reposado with orange wedges to enhance the spice and honey notes.”


“El Tequileño Reposado Rare is absolutely unique, not only for its aging method—as they blend añejo tequilas that have been aged for over six years in a ‘pipon,’ which is a wooden oak tank that’s able to hold more than 23,000 liters of tequila—but for its depth of flavor and deep finish,” Quiñonez says. “With its elegant notes of dried fruit, ripe pineapple, honey and cooked agave, I recommend using a tequila glass or a champagne flute to truly take in the expression’s bold flavors and luxurious taste.”


“This is the perfect daytime drinking style reposado of the bunch! This reposado is rested for a little over eight weeks in ex-bourbon barrels. It’s got a rich fruit-forward nose with notes of honey cooked agave, tropical fruit, mango, and apricot—the perfect reposado to have neat or in my favorite cocktail, the Paloma.” 


“La Gritona reposado is such a special tequila from Distillery NOM 1533, not only for its great taste but for their standout master distiller, Melly Barajas,” Quiñonez says. “Only a small number of female master distillers produce tequila—and an even smaller number have an entirely female production team! La Gritona utilizes nine- to ten-year-old mature agave from the highlands region of Jalisco—so these agaves yield more sugar and tend to be sweeter and more aromatic. This reposado is incredible: so many exploding flavors such as cooked tropical fruit, honey, spice, hints of clove, and aniseed deliver a wonderful reposado style tequila from start to finish.” 

G4 AÑEJO ($65)

“Master distiller Felipe Camarena has created such a refined, elegantly crafted, rich sipping style añejo,” says Quiñonez. “It’s incredibly expressive on the nose with hints of cooked pear, apple, vanilla, cinnamon, and clove spice. It’s a stunning representation of flavor, complexity, and harmony—with elegant hints of oak, honey cooked fruit, and spice on the palate. Certainly one of my favorite añejos on the market.” 


“This is the perfect dessert-style reposado, to sip neat or with a large cube of ice,” says Quiñonez. “It has a velvety feel with notes of chocolate vanilla, cinnamon, and butterscotch with complex spices such as chile de arbol and clove. Expressive from nose to finish. The pretty bottles make for interesting conversation as well.” 


“I absolutely enjoy the bold earthy, smoky, and herbal notes that this reposado delivers. The honey and white pepper notes carry forward along with hints of fresh cut herb, wood, and citrus peel—creating a rich long dry finish,” says Quiñonez. “I recommend pairing this with oysters or ceviche, on the rocks or in a long drink.” 


“Such a great classic añejo style from the incredible state of Guanajuato. This añejo is aged for 12 months in oak barrels, is bottled at 38% ABV, and delivers bold flavors of charred wood, herbs, nuts, and sweet piloncillo. Such rustic classic flavors from beginning to end.” 


“Founded in 1873, the Santa Rita factory has been producing tequila for 15 generations,” says Quiñonez.  “This jewel of a blanco offers complexity, harmony, and depth. It delivers a range of rich flavors—from wild honey, cooked agave, fresh cut grass, tropical fruit, citrus, and smoke. As a higher-proof blanco at 45% ABV, it creates a long rich finish, one of the best tasting blanco tequilas on the market!”


“I absolutely love this añejo: so expressive on the nose with notes of bourbon, butterscotch, dried fruit, figs, and raisins,” says Quiñonez. “Beautifully rich on the palate with a silky finish. I recommend enjoying this añejo with a dessert or cigar pairing.” 


“This expression is the perfect link to bridge the old world to the new. This joven mezcal delivers a well-rounded body and a sophisticated finish,” Quiñonez says. “The floral hints of cooked fruit, smoke, and spice create the ideal introduction to a traditional-style mezcal made in the fashion of tequila. Produced in the small village of Huitzila, Zacatecas, near the Valley of Tequila, master distiller Jaime Bañuelos continues the tradition of pre-hispanic artisanal production methods, while maintaining complexity and balance with every sip.”


“What an incredible treat to have gotten my hands on this beauty,” says Quiñonez. “San Bartolo is produced in the gorgeous village of Yautepec by award-winning mezcalero Valentín Martínez López, who was recently recognized by the CRM (Consejo Regulador del Mezcal) for his historic 50-year contribution to the production of mezcal! So much harmony and balance: a fine blend of floral, citrus, and tropical fruit notes such as pineapple and mango—with light pepper and smoke flavors that deliver a refined and elevated liquid. This made me smile from ear to ear. A wonderfully refined representation of the category.” 


“Tosba mezcal from the remote village of San Cristóbal Lachirioag in Oaxaca embodies passion, heritage, and an outstanding commitment to community and the land,” Quiñonez says. “Bold and expressive, its earthy, herbal, vegetal, and smoky notes deliver an outstanding full body and perfectly balanced espadín mezcal. I recommend sampling this neat in a Champagne flute to truly appreciate its rich complexity and elegance.” 


“This expression is made with wild agave that naturally grows in the high plateau of San Luis Potosí. From the village of Charcas, the mezcal cultivated in the desert delivers a more sweet, floral, and herbaceous mezcal—unlike in any other place in Mexico,” Quiñonez says. “Maestro mezcalero Manuel Perez showcases the expression’s beauty, balance, and intensity by foraging for dry salmiana leaves and quiotes to use as fuel during the cooking process.”

Among the wine producers affected by France’s Gelée Noir (“Black Frost”), dampened spirits along with the icy vineyards 

As most wine lovers know, several regions in Europe were affected by severe frosts, when temperatures dropped to -7°C (19°F) and stayed there for several days. The cold snap damaged vines in large parts of Italy and France with some estimating at least 50% crop loss and in many areas, 80%.

“The devastation across France is greater than anything I can remember, but most growers will tell you they need a few more weeks to really understand the complete level of devastation,” says David Hinkle, who leads the French wine portfolio at Skurnik Wines & Spirits in New York City.

Generally, producers are prepared with warming systems that can help mitigate frost damage, but this year was particularly troublesome as many vineyards were in bloom after a spurt of unseasonably warm temperatures in March. In some areas of Burgundy, the frost hit both high and low-lying regions—an unusual circumstance—forcing farmers to make decisions on which vineyards to focus their limited resources. While most producers have equipment for dealing with limited frost conditions, most are not equipped for a full-estate disaster.

Hinkle has been reporting on the situations on a week-by-week basis this month. We spoke for a summary of on-the-ground conditions as producers continue to assess the damage and strategize their efforts as frost risks remain until mid May. He said growers are walking the vineyard to assess damage, but it’s a waiting game to see if the buds are damaged beyond repair, if they will recover or if a second growth will appear.

“Most of the experienced growers who have been through this many times say it’s an impression the vines are damaged beyond repair, but they have been able to recover more than what was previewed in the midst of the initial debacle,” Hinkle says.

“Producers are incredibly resilient and farming has improved so much in the last 10 years that I do think the vineyards are healthier than ever—the farming has never been at a higher level with organic [cultivation] and the vines are probably more resilient than they would have been 30 years ago when more industrial farming was the norm,” he said.

Thibaud Boudignon in the La Possonnière commune in western Loire Valley is one such producer Hinkle spoke with.

“Despite the devastation to most of my vineyards in Anjou, my morale is better this year. In some ways it’s sad, but my vines have known frost for many years now: 2016, 2017, 2019 and now 2021 has put frost into their DNA,” he said. “In many ways our vines are finding ways to adapt under the most extreme circumstances. I also believe strongly that because my team and I have been in the vineyards so many of these nights of extreme cold, fighting Mother Nature with candles and everything we could to help protect them, that it is has helped. Organic farming, biodynamic treatments, whatever it is, I have more hope that despite the devastation this April we will continue to improve how we work in this new normal and our vines will continue to persevere and get stronger.” 

Reports from Skurnik’s French wine team:

The week of April 4

Depending on the area, wine farmers across Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Mâconnais, Chablis, and beyond, have been looking at vines that are seven to eight days advanced with bud-break. The week of April 4 brought three consecutive days of rare severe cold—earlier than the typical frost season, which is more focused in late April. The regions affected were broad and very few growers have enough candles, hay bales, and/or fans to protect all of their vineyards and have adopted strategies about where and what to protect.

To complicate things further, there has been a lot of wind that made it hard to even light the candles or effectively situate them in some areas. Many growers are outside all night waiting for the wind to calm down or deciding whether to light candles or save them for the battles to come over the next days and weeks. For now, growers are focusing on protecting their vines and not getting discouraged.

Jean-Philippe Blot in the Loire: Really difficult to focus on the destruction to date. Probably looking at something like 50% loss as of now. We just purchased more candles and hay bales. April will be long and difficult. The frost season is just getting started. I don’t have time or energy to look at the destruction as of today, I’m just doing as much as I can to keep protecting the vines moving forward. —

Frantz Chagnoleau in the Mâconnais: Catastrophic despite all of the protections that were in place with our candles. Every single one of our parcels was frosted. We’re barely able to estimate the damage at this point.

Vincent Dampt in Chablis: Another day of lots of destruction. The snow complicated things because when it melted it filled the buds with humidity. The cold then finished the job, burning the buds. I already have fears that the crop is going to be virtually nothing in 2021. In talking to friends elsewhere, it could be the same in much of France. On top of that, it’s just the beginning of April. I can’t say that we’re not a bit discouraged as of today.

Thibaud Clerget in the Volnay: [It is] very, very complicated. I’m guessing about 50% loss in many of our more advanced vineyards.

In the second week, Hinkle reported, “Everywhere in France there is fatigue and discouragement both over the frost of the last seven days and the potential for more damage for weeks to come. Global warming is real. These growers are adapting as fast as they can and throwing as many different ideas at this evolving challenge.”

“Vines can surprise us with unexpected recovery and find ways to put a little bit of fruit out despite the extremes mother nature throws at them. There are signs of courage and extraordinary resilience during this spring onslaught of winter cold from mother nature.”

Monday, April 12

Thierry Pillot of Domaine Paul Pillot in Chassagne-Montrachet: [It is a] very tough moment to take your temperature in the heart of disappointment. It seems to get more and more difficult every day. 2021, especially for whites, has been a spring that nobody has ever seen. My father and I just got through walking through the vineyards. We are so fortunate to have some of the greatest premier cru in Chassagne-Montrachet. Late yesterday afternoon there’s almost 0 buds left, it’s absolutely crazy. Everything burnt. 100%. I have a tiny concern about this being a two-year problem. And it’s not just our village: It’s a nightmare everywhere. The best-case scenario is that we finish with a very small harvest. 

Vincent Dureuil in Rully: Yesterday when I was walking through the vineyards, I saw nobody. Everybody is demoralized at the moment. I let my team go home and take a break. There’s really not much to protect at the moment. My father who is now in his 80s has never seen anything like this; he said he has rarely seen any issues on the slope higher up like what happened this year. It was almost like you didn’t know what to try to protect. Mother nature can be cruel.

Tuesday, April 13

Jacky Blot of Domaine de la Taille Aux Loups & Domaine de la Butte in Montlouis-sur-Loire & Bourgeuil: I have a glass half-full outlook and am hoping for the best. Economically this is so discouraging for our friends across the Loire and beyond. We are battling and last night we won with our fans and candles saving the day. The team is exhausted.

Joseph Colin in St. Aubin: Since I started working the vineyards in 1992, I’ve never seen anything like this. My father was talking to friends who all have many vintages between them and they concluded that to see this kind of frost damage across the villages and different slopes, you have to go back to the 1921 vintage. There were so many nights last week with no sleep and we tried everything – nothing worked. There are places like en Remilly and Roche Dumay in Gamay that never frost and yet, this year virtually 100% is lost. Even if a few buds come back it’s going to be very little production.

Marc Bachelet of Bachelet-Monnot in Dezizes-les-Maranges: We are looking at such complete destruction as of today in many of our best vineyards and hoping for something positive. The premier crus in Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and our Batard look to be zero at this point. Easily one of the most devastating weeks ever for my family. We hope to have a small harvest and will recover, but this has been very hard to swallow.

Laurent Fayolle in Crozes-Hermitage: Our vines in the villages of Crozes-Hermitage and Gervans we’re hit harder than anything I’ve ever seen. Maybe 60 to 70% of our white vineyards are lost for 2021 and 40% and of our red vineyards in this northern sector. For our top site, it looks even worse, maybe around 70% loss. I always hope for surprises and miracles, but the frost season is not over for us yet.