Now Playing

Six Refreshing Low-ABV Cocktails to Try Right Now

Skip the speakeasy. The real innovations behind the bar are on the low-alcohol front.


Purple Fizz, Tartine Manufactory.

(1 of 6)

Izakaya Rintaro’s Matchu Chu-Hai.

(2 of 6)

Mr. Pink at AL's Place.

(3 of 6)

The Strawberry Juniper High Balla at Duna.

(4 of 6)

The Strawberry Beret at ‘āina.

Unbearable Lightness of Bing, Uma Casa.

(6 of 6)

Read about the rise of the low-alcohol cocktail here.

1. Tartine Manufactory
Though it’s become instantly famous for its everything-from-scratch baked goods, Tartine Manufactory extends its DIY approach to a low-proof cocktail program as well. To make the Purple Fizz ($12), bar manager Alex Palmer first macerates seasonal fruits—cherries from Zuckerman’s Farm during the summertime—with sugar and vinegar to make a shrub. That shrub gets shaken with a bitter quinquina-based aperitif from Tempus Fugit Spirits, Bonal (an herbal French aperitif), egg white, and lime juice. The result is frothy, fruity, and refreshing. 595 Alabama St. (at 18th St.), 415-757-0007

2. Izakaya Rintaro
Rintaro’s Matchu Chu-Hai ($11) is the ultimate in simplicity. It consists of just three ingredients: matcha powder, shochu, and simple syrup. The matcha comes from Japan, as does the Iichiko shochu, a 20 percent ABV, 100 percent barley-based spirit that adds a nutty note to complement the bitterness of the matcha. The drink is shaken until it’s frothy and served over ice, and, as it turns out, makes a rich but not too sweet dessert cocktail. 82 14th St. (near Folsom St.), 415-589-7022

3. AL’s Place
Like all of the cocktails at AL’s Place, the Mr. Pink ($11) is named after a character in the Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs. Chef-owner Aaron London mixes Pampleau, a bitter grapefruit aperitif from Portland; Byrrh, a French aperitif that adds viscosity and herbaceousness; and Cocchi Americano, a fortified wine that contributes a touch of spice. The drink is finished with soda water, garnished with a grapefruit peel, and served on the rocks. It tastes similar to a sparkling Negroni and goes down well with a side of AL’s brine-pickled french fries. 1499 Valencia St. (at 26th St.), 415-416-6136

4. Duna
Nick Balla and Cortney Burns recently refashioned Motze, their experimental, Japanese-inspired prix-fixe restaurant, into Duna, a Central European spot. What hasn’t changed is the restaurant’s lack of a full liquor license, which has spurred the couple to create inventive low-ABV cocktails like the Strawberry Juniper High Balla ($11). The drink consists of soju and a juniper-infused syrup made with Seascape strawberries—a combination akin to the tastiest gin and juice you’ll ever drink. 983 Valencia St. (near 21st St.), 415-484-1206

5. ‘āina
To make ‘āina’s Strawberry Beret ($9.50), you start with a whole lot of strawberries from Tomatero Farm. Juice them down and mix with lemon juice and simple syrup infused with lemongrass, sarsaparilla, and coarsely ground white pepper. Put the whole thing under a soda siphon to carbonate the drink, then serve it in a collins glass with ice. Cocchi Americano and Byrrh give the drink some kick, and a huge dollop of whipped cream infused with molasses and ginger juice adds a layer of richness. Insider tip: This cocktail is only listed on ‘āina’s brunch menu, but regulars know they can ask for it during dinner service, too. 900 22nd St. (at Minnesota St.), 415-814-3815

6. Uma Casa  
To make Uma Casa’s Unbearable Lightness of Bing ($10), co-owner Nora Furst pits fresh cherries and gently muddles them in a tin with cherry syrup until the skins just break. She adds Caperitif (a South African fortified wine), Seedlip Spice 94 (an earthy nonalcoholic “spirit”), and lime juice; shakes vigorously; and double-strains into an old-fashioned glass. A mint bouquet garnish is the crowning touch to a drink that, low ABV or not, tastes exactly like summer. 1550 Church St. (at Duncan St.), 415-829-2264 


Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

Have feedback? Email us at
Follow us on Twitter