A specialist in halal gastronomy, Zeehan Zahari is the first person whose advice we sought for this feature. After all, the CEO of Copper and relationship manager at Dropee has long analysed the art of pairing food with non-alcoholic beverages.
"I think people really need to explore drinks through a new lens," says Zahari. "Instead of focusing on how 'high' drinks can get you, why not look deeper, delving into their different characteristics? We should also look at how drinks can impact the dining experience."
So how do non-alcoholic beverages bring out the best in food?
"Similar to alcoholic beverages, the tannins in non-alcoholic drinks create a different mouthfeel, which will impact what comes next. It's just like if you have a lot of cream and eat more creamy things—it doesn't work," explains Zahari. According to her, a good non-alcoholic drink should provide a combination of sensations in your mouth and nose, which will impact the dining experience altogether.
Some may mock non-alcoholic beverages as being one and the same but there is a sharp skew between well-thought-out and poorly-made thirst quenchers.
"The thing about most non-alcoholic 'wines' is that they often have a very flat taste as well as an aftertaste," laments Zahari. "Most makers make their drinks super sweet as a substantial amount of sugar provides body. Otherwise, they come up with interesting flavours but end up with flat results. When it comes to non-alcoholic beverages, both producers and consumers need to be more attentive and creative, because without alcohol to provide a layering or a slow release of flavours, different mediums must fill that purpose."
At the end of the day, advices Zahari, just think of them all as drinks and what you'd look for in a glass. The following makers are Zahari's favourites, which are the "generally accepted and liked ones" during taste tests:
*Note that the following drinks may not be halal-approved in Malaysia, but are marketed as non-alcoholic beverages
1. Le Petit Beret
Based in Béziers, France, Le Petit Beret has been in the market for almost five years and is slowly expanding its presence in Asia.
"Le Petit Beret is interesting in that it was formulated with a French master sommelier but doesn't go through any form of fermentation, which is how a lot of non-alcoholic beverages are made," says Zahari. While she's partial towards their Pinot Noir and Muscat, we've sampled the Profil Cabernet Sauvignon; not only is the latter surprisingly dry, but it also boasts a well-rounded body.
In conclusion, we tip our hat to this French label for upending our impressions of what non-alcoholic 'wine' can be.
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