Sweet Solutions

Oisin Davis, founder of Great Irish Beverages says: “Stevia is actually pretty nice when added to something that has natural fruit juice, but it doesn’t work on its own.” Davis made a pink grapefruit stevia syrup but says the solution was very thin and didn’t have the sucrose viscosity.

Pat Thomas, head bartender at Vintage Cocktail Club in Dublin, has experienced similar frustrations: “I’m starting to do a bit with stevia plant extract as a sweetener instead of sugar to offer drinks that are diabetic friendly, but with mixed results. Mouthfeel and shelf life differ drastically.”

So, that’s a bartender take on artificial sugars.

Dr Duane Mellor, lecturer in dietetics at the University of Nottingham in the UK, says: “Many people seem to like the idea that stevia is naturally derived – it is still processed, however. In Europe, because of its aftertaste it needs combining with sugar or other sweeteners to suit our palates.”

It possibly defeats the object then. “If it is combined with sugar this means these syrups are only half sugar, which can mean a typical drink will still contain around four teaspoons of sugar.”


Agave syrup has been a popular choice for cocktails. Pernod Ricard’s Absolut has an entire webpage dedicated to cocktail recipes with the syrup. Agave syrup is not sugar-free – instead of being based on sucrose it is fructose. Its popularity has waned somewhat following studies that questioned whether good marketing masked the pitfalls of working with and using the sugar substitute.

Michael D Callahan of 28 Hongkong Street says: “The use of alternative sweeteners is exciting but also problematic. The major issue in regards to cocktail production is that alcohol, by nature is a flavour enhancer, thus any undesirable traits, no matter how subtle, tend to be amplified when combined with sweeteners and citrus.”

For Callahan, sweeteners present a three-pronged problem. He explains: “I have had loads of difficulty in eliminating the ‘something is not right’ taste from these drinks during production, no matter how hard I try to balance them. The human palate, especially that of a trained professional, just can’t ignore that something is not right when you use alternative sweeteners.”

Pricing is also a concern. “These boutique alternative sweeteners are generally marketed toward health and lifestyle industries and come with a higher price tag. The fitness community is less concerned with flavour and more concerned with GI rating, while the lifestyle people are often more concerned with the impact on the planet. As it is, both of these market segments hold flavour second.”

For something that needs to be balanced – such as a cocktail – Callahan says these products are just not there yet.

A final concern is sustainability. “Some sweeteners, such as agave, are currently not being sustainably produced and add to socio-economic issues.”

Hardly a positive assessment of the alternative sugar situation. In terms of the sugar-free syrups that are on the market, Monin offers three in the UK – vanilla, caramel and hazelnut. James Coston, Monin UK brand ambassador, says Monin is developing up to five new flavours a year across its portfolio and always looks at the market demand for sugar-free options. “Although syrups are obviously high in sugar content – generally Monin syrups are around 58-65° brix – the higher concentration and superior quality of flavour within Monin syrups means less syrup is required to get the desired flavour,” says Coston.