As the owner of famed Edinburgh bar Le Bon Vivant, Stuart McCluskey witnesses the ebb and flow of his customers’ tastes first-hand. One thing he’s noticing lately is that less is more.

“Nowadays, people are definitely conscious about the amount of alcohol they consume,” says McCluskey. “Lower alcohol drinks are becoming more popular in bars.” With a lower alcohol volume, some cocktails like spritzes have established themselves as great aperitifs to enjoy before a meal – a welcome drink.

But what makes a great welcome drink?

The key is to use full-flavoured but lower alcohol ingredients. A good quality gin like Tanqueray no. TEN or vodka such as Ketel One are both excellent choices – neither require a full standard measure (30mls) to be effective. Similarly, the robust flavour of sherry has a puckering dryness, which is perfect for an aperitif. For McCluskey, vermouth is “a bit of a hero”, while for mixers he recommends a sparkling wine instead of soda, tonic or lemonade.

Another champion of the welcome drink is former World Class winning bartender Luke Ashton. His Sydney bar This Must Be The Place is built around well crafted, perfectly composed low alcohol drinks.

“We put so much effort into cooking for our guests, why aren’t we doing the same with our drinks?” he says. For Ashton, that means making some of your own welcome drink ingredients rather than using store bought alternatives. Shrubs, homemade cordials, and—as in the recipe below—oleo-saccarhum, (oil-sugar) are all useful.

With the welcome drink presenting so many low alcohol apertifs, we asked McCluskey and Ashton to share their favourites. For McCluskey, it’s a simple mixture of Johnnie Walker Black Label, sherry and apple juice. Ashton on the other hand likes the Coltrane. It uses a premium single malt whisky like Talisker 10 as the key ingredient, is complemented by a dry nutty Sherry called Amontillado. The full flavour is then balanced with citrus for acidity and sugar, and prosecco as a mixer.

The Welcome Drink by Stuart McCluskey

Approximately 1.25 standard drinks

35ml Johnnie Walker Black Label
15ml Manzanilla or Fino sherry
10ml fresh lemon
30ml cloudy apple juice
30ml ginger ale
A sprig of mint, lemon zest and a slice of green apple to garnish.

Place all ingredients in a tall glass. Add crushed ice, then swizzle to dilute and chill. Top with more crushed ice then garnish with mint, lemon zest and the slice of green apple.

The Coltrane by Luke Ashton

Approximately 1.25 standard drinks

20ml Talisker 10 whisky
15ml Mandarin Oleo Saccharum
15ml Lemon Juice
75ml Prosecco
5ml Amontillado Sherry
Fresh Nutmeg

For the oleo saccharum:
4 Mandarins
¾ cup of white sugar

To make the oleo saccharum, zest the mandarins. Do this carefully so you can juice the mandarins after. Combine the mandarin juice and sugar in a bowl, then add the zest. Allow the mixture to sit for at least an hour before using. Keep zest in mixture but strain it out before use.

Measure out all the Talisker, oleo saccharum, Lemon Juice, and Amontillado into a wine glass. Add ice so that the glass is two-thirds full. Top up with the prosecco and grate some fresh nutmeg over the drink to garnish.

World Class tip: the oleo saccharum mixture can be made in the days before an event. It will keep in the fridge for 7 days.