This advertising content was produced in collaboration with our partner, Sommarøy.
The low- and no-alcohol movement shows no sign of abating. After another breakout year for the category, beverage companies continue to innovate, debuting new and inventive products and brands—such as Sommarøy, which launched in December 2022. Sommarøy set out to address the limitations of non-alcoholic spirits’ flavor profile, as well as the drinking experience they offer, with a range of mid-strength products, starting with vodka and gin. By filling a gap between no- and low-alcohol beverages and full-strength spirits, they’ve created a new mid-strength category in the U.S.
Consumers continue to gravitate towards lower alcohol drinks for several reasons, though they most often cite health and wellness as critical factors. On average, Gen Z drinks 20 percent less than millennials, who also drink less than prior generations, due to increased awareness of the risks and deleterious effects of alcohol. However, many drinkers in the U.S. wish to curb consumption rather than abstain completely, a fact highlighted in a recent report from IWSR, which found that 82 percent of those that consume non-alcoholic beverages also drink alcohol. However, IWSR also found that more than 50 percent of U.S. consumers looking to moderate their consumption sometimes opt out of low- and no-alcohol options due to their quality and taste.
“Quality and taste,” says Michael Barkin, the president and cofounder of Sommarøy, is “what we’re trying to solve.” Barkin, along with drinks industry veteran and company CEO Jimmy Cosma, entered the business after a successful entrepreneurial career in men’s apparel. During the pandemic, a friend asked Barkin if he knew of any sippable or easy drinking, lower-proof spirits. Barkin set out to find one but came up empty-handed.
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From there, the Sommarøy founders started with a market research study to confirm if a mid-strength spirit had merit. “Data pointed to a significant change in the way consumers were drinking alcohol,” says Barkin. Six months later they embarked on creating a new beverage category.
What is a Mid-Strength Spirit?
Sommarøy’s mid-strength spirits serve consumers who like the flavor of vodka or gin but want a lower ABV alternative. Addressing the lack of taste or “bite” in non-alcoholic spirits, Sommarøy Vodka offers real alcohol at a modest 55 proof or 27.5% ABV. Made from corn, it’s also gluten-free and has lower carbs and a lower calorie count at 70 per serving. Sommarøy Gin boasts the same numbers, gaining flavor from double distillation in a copper pot still with botanicals of juniper, lemon peel, and coriander, among others. Like a full-proof vodka or gin, Sommarøy’s mid-strength spirits run off the still at 80 proof. The spirit is then proofed down with reverse osmosis water filtration.
“After we reduce the spirit to 55 proof, we use a proprietary process created with our distillation partners to identify what’s been lost regarding viscosity, weight, nose, burn rate, and flavor profile,” explains Barkin. “Then, we reintroduce those things naturally with our proprietary blends. What you’re left with is a product that tastes, smells, feels like, and is experienced just like a vodka or gin but with 32 percent less impact.”
Mid-strength spirits offer many benefits to drinkers. Cocktails made with Sommarøy mimic fuller-proof drinks, providing consumers with a more satisfying drinking experience. “One of our nonstarters for building this out was that the product itself had to be sippable on its own and taste like a beautiful craft spirit,” says Barkin.
With Sommarøy Spirits, consumers can avoid or reduce hangovers the next day while maintaining their social habits. Whether enjoyed neat or in cocktails, mid-strength spirits allow consumers to participate in rituals like happy hour and linger longer into the night. The name of the product addresses that latter point. Sommarøy, a small fishing village in Norway, experiences the midnight sun come summer. “Conceptually, you can drink these spirits from morning to night,” says Barkin.
The Market for Mid-Strength Spirits
From the name to the packaging, the product references Scandinavian style and sensibility, a region where health and wellness remain fundamental to lifestyle. Logically, Sommarøy’s first retail partner during its Dry January 2023 launch was Whole Foods, home to Sommarøy’s target demographic.
As Sommarøy expands nationally, the founders have looked to progressive markets and modern, bigger cities “where early adoption is a central thesis to the people who live there,” says Barkin. Those markets include California, Illinois, Texas, and Florida.
The advantage that Sommarøy offers drinkers—notably a longer, sessionable evening—is mutually beneficial to on-premise businesses, as it extends the number of drinks a consumer has on-site, typically adding 30 percent to their tab.
The key, of course, is helping bartenders and staff understand how to use the product. “I first tasted Sommarøy in early 2023, shortly after the brand launched,” says Natasha David, a 20-year veteran of the drinks industry, who has contributed to the success of notable New York bars such as Nitecap, Maison Premiere, and Mayahuel. “I was excited to try it, as there was a need in the industry for something beyond fully non-alcoholic or low-ABV that was still light and tasted the same as your go-to spirits. I found that Sommarøy Gin and Vodka tasted as good—or frankly, better—than traditional brands, and couldn’t wait to start experimenting with it in cocktails.”
Sommarøy Behind the Bar
David, the author of Drink Lightly, featuring over 100 recipes for low- and no-alcohol drinks, is a fan of the category. “Consumers want moderation, they don’t want all or nothing,” she says. “There simply hasn’t been a mid-strength option that tasted good enough to make the full switch until now.”
Whether for herself or her customers, David works Sommarøy Gin and Vodka into craft cocktails using a ratio of 1:1 to its full-strength counterpart. “With the Martini’s incredible resurgence these past few months, this is the perfect time to get to know Sommarøy,” says David. She turns classic cocktails like the Martini or Moscow Mule into mid-strength drinks by using Sommarøy, while retaining their original sophistication.
The net result is a new category of cocktails in which a mid-strength recipe tastes like a full-proof version but with a lower ABV. “Mid-strength spirits are the next non-alcoholic [option],” says David. “It’s becoming its own category with Sommarøy leading the charge.”
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