It sort of started as a joke. Austin, Texas, bartender Tacy Rowland was in a group text with other industry pros talking about the ads for non-alcoholic spirits they were seeing on social media — it was as if the algorithm was commenting on their pandemic drinking habits. But then she and future business partner Sam Abdelfattah got to thinking: What if they made a non-alcoholic spirit that would actually appeal to bartenders? That eventually led to the creation of Slow Luck, their new spirit that is showing up in non-alcoholic cocktails all over Austin.
“We’d tried a couple of non-alcoholic options at Midnight Cowboy where we had worked and hadn’t found them to be the most successful,” says Rowland. “We had a couple of things that concerned us — one being mouthfeel. Then the flavor tended to disappear as soon as we tried to mix it into a mocktail. At that point, as bartenders, we were looking at the cost and going like, well, why are we paying this for something that’s adding dilution and not a lot of flavor?”
From the very beginning, creating a non-alcoholic spirit that could work as an actual one-to-one substitute for liquor in cocktails was the aim of Slow Luck. As noted previously at InsideHook, it’s much harder to do this with a water-based spirit than with ethanol. Alcohol is supremely good at extracting flavors. If alcohol is a capacious semi-truck delivering flavors from the distillery to your mouth, water is a Volkswagen Beetle. Non-alcoholic distillers have to get creative, cramming flavor in wherever it will fit and strapping a little extra to the roof.
Rowland and Abdelfattah teamed up with Austin distiller Mike Groener of Genius Gin to figure out how to make it work. Initially just lending space, Groener’s curiosity about the process eventually brought him on as a full partner. To make Slow Luck, they layer on flavor at three different points: maceration, distillation, and post-distillation.
The first step is what Rowland describes as making a “really deep citrus tea,” macerating dried citrus and botanicals for two to three days. The next step is distillation, where even more citrus flavor is added by suspending fresh peels from oranges, lemons, limes, and Texas grapefruits in the column of the still where the vapor passes through it. Finally, like many makers of non-alcoholic spirits, they finish with an addition of fresh extracts that they make in-house. Some of these provide additional notes of citrus; another is a secret proprietary blend of botanicals and chilies to help replicate the burn of a high-proof spirit.
Tasting Slow Luck neat, subtle citrus notes and a distinct peppery bite come through on the palate. It’s not a replica of any traditional spirits category, and it’s not meant to be. “It’s not going to be vodka or whiskey just by definition,” says Rowland. “So, I think setting people’s expectation for something that it’s not gets a little confusing as well.” Instead, she focuses on how the spirit can be used in a cocktail.
“The puzzle piece that’s missing is how do you get bartenders to reach for this instinctively and to know how to use it,” she says. “What we wanted to do was have it be something very usable for bartenders and people at home, but especially within bars.” My sample bottle came with a few recommended recipes, including the “No Rush,” an alcohol-free take on the Gold Rush or Bee’s Knees using Slow Luck, fresh lemon juice, and honey syrup. It turned out great, with a significant flavor presence from the spirit and enough complexity to be a satisfying cocktail. Swapping out the honey for almondy orgeat led to equally pleasing results.
Bars in Austin are taking Slow Luck cocktails in even more creative directions. “It’s been received really well — I think better than I would’ve expected from my career in bartending,” says Rowland. “I feel like the mocktail section has been kind of this inconvenience or this like joke for a long time, or it’s that part of the menu that the bar rolled their eyes at … but I really feel like the bartending community, at least in Austin is really coming around to this idea of being able to create a valued experience for every guest that walks through the door and to have something that they feel like they can get behind.”
Slow Luck is keeping their initial rollout focused on Austin, but they do offer it for sale periodically on their website. In the meantime, here are four Austin bars where you can find it in a well-crafted non-alcoholic cocktail.
Brittany McMillan integrates matcha, citrus, and egg white in this fluffy cocktail, the Moonlight: Slow Luck, lemon juice, vanilla bean syrup, matcha, and egg white, garnished with crushed almonds and chocolate.
At Cavalier, Chadwick Leger uses Slow Luck in two non-alcoholic cocktails on the menu. The Lucky Devil mixes Slow Luck, pineapple, grapefruit, lemon, cinnamon, and Rambler sparkling water. The No Sex in the City channels Cosmo vibes with Slow Luck, grenadine, orange, lemon, and Rambler sparkling water.
At Olamaie, beverage director J Endress serves the refreshing Lucky You: Slow Luck, watermelon juice, lime juice, and simple syrup, served tall with sparkling water and garnished with a mint sprig.
Elena Abete complements Slow Luck with passion fruit at Canje in the Washed Up: Slow Luck, passion fruit syrup, coconut water, and lime juice.
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