Aimsir’s alcohol-free drinks: Champagne, beer, wine and schnapps, reinvented

Majken Bech-Bailey of the Michelin two-star restaurant brings soft drinks to a new level

Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

I was able to drive away from one of the best tastings so far this year, because I hadn’t consumed a drop of alcohol all morning. Majken Bech-Bailey is in charge of the alcoholic-free-drinks menu at Aimsir. It is a revelation, a series of fascinating, complex, grown-up nonalcoholic drinks that make going dry a pleasure.

“We don’t do peach or coconut juice,” she says. Everything here is produced in Ireland. “If you look at wine, it smells and tastes one way on its own, another with food. I asked myself how can I re-create this in a juice. We never serve just one juice, like an apple juice; there is always more. Each juice has different flavours, colours and textures; it has to be the same experience as having a good glass of wine.

“At the moment I do a lot of home-made kombuchas, fruit juices and home-made teas, but you cannot just make a simple tea and cool it down; you need to add something more to create something new. I try not to limit myself; I walk around the garden and ask myself what crazy thing can I try now.”

Aimsir: ‘I walk around the garden and ask myself what crazy thing can I try now,’ says Majken Bech-Bailey. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Aimsir: ‘I walk around the garden and ask myself what crazy thing can I try now,’ says Majken Bech-Bailey. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Bech-Bailey never commits exact recipes to paper, as each ingredient changes during the growing season. She starts from scratch each time, as she knows exactly how each drink should taste. “Customer reaction has been amazing. People walk away thinking this is as good as a wine pairing; that is what I want to create with it.”

When guests arrive they are served a glass of “champagne”, based on Highbank Orchards’ nonalcoholic Driver’s Cider. Next we try the “beer”, which is served from a soda siphon to create a head, and comes with the bread course. It is made from hawthorn, rose hips, nettles and fresh hops.

“Normally we serve a very caramelised beer from Lock 13, a lighter version of red ale, with the soda bread. The brewer brought some fresh hops in, and we really liked the effect; you really get that fresh, hoppy taste, almost like a beer. The rose hips bring acidity; the hops lift it and give acidity; so it is not too sweet, more beery and fruity.”

Next up is a nonalcoholic aquavit, or schnapps. “Jordan” – Jordan Bailey, Bech-Bailey’s husband, who is Aimsir’s head chef – “came up with a dish of smoked mackerel with green strawberries and nasturtiums and a little bit of fresh apple juice. In Denmark it is very traditional to have aquavit with smoked fish, so I wanted to create a drink that tasted a little bit like a good schnapps.” It is very refreshing and herby, with a little bit of pickle juice, then some green strawberry, heather, marigold and dill.

I am then handed a large wine glass, filled with what looks like white wine. “I wanted to create a nice glass of white wine with soft acidity, a sweetness, like if you get a soft, lightly oaked Chardonnay. It has fresh peas, water-mint kombucha and a little gooseberry juice. We serve it in a Burgundy glass; it reminds me a little of a skin-contact wine.”

Bech-Bailey then brings out the “port”, to have with cheese. This is made from bilberry juice – very, very small bilberries the couple pick in the Wicklow Mountains – and a little bit of elderberry juice, to add some sweetness, and sometimes a little honey. It tastes not unlike a good ruby port, with light tannins from the berry skins.

Nondrinkers have long felt short-changed when eating out. A few restaurants have made an effort in recent years, but Aimsir has brought soft drinks to a whole new level.

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