Advice on alcohol-free drinking is normally dispensed at the beginning of January, but it strikes me that it might be more useful at the end of the month. After all, if you have experienced the benefits of Dry January, you may want to continue, at least part-time. And if you didn’t, you may well be wondering if you should have done. Either way, you could probably do with a bit of inspiration.
There’s no shortage of products on the market these days, and the main problem with them is they don’t come cheap. Sipsmith’s excellent Freeglider, for example, which has been on promotion for £20 at Waitrose, has reverted to £22.50, while Seedlip’s orangey Grove 42, to which I’ve been converted thanks to my 12-year-old grandson, who used it to make a most impressive cocktail over Christmas (a G&T with Fentiman’s Valencian orange tonic and a wedge of lime), is back up at £26.50, having been on offer recently at £18.
That’s a lot to pay for an alcohol-free product that doesn’t incur tax (or not as much as a full-strength gin, anyway). Producers often argue that, because alcohol is a more efficient solvent than water, they have to use additional, expensive ingredients to give their products complexity and flavour, but it’s hard not to be left with the impression that they charge a premium mainly because they can. Against that is the argument that you’re more likely not to drink booze if you have something non-alcoholic that you regard as a treat, rather than something you don’t actually enjoy.
There is also the additional problem that some people who are trying to cut back in the longer term find that products that resemble their alcoholic equivalents too closely may lead them back into drinking again, so if you’re buying a bottle for a friend who’s not drinking, don’t assume that the closer it is to its non-alcoholic equivalent, the better (kombucha may be a better option than an alcohol-free beer, for example).
Despite the number of new products on the market, many pubs and restaurants still offer limited options. It would be helpful to see a much wider range for non-drinkers, but the good news is that more dedicated, alcohol-free bars and shops are opening up. The campaigning group Club Soda, for example, now has a tasting room in Covent Garden where you can taste a wide range of alcohol-free drinks (there’s a longer list on the drinkaware websitedrinkaware.co.uk).
My tip? Even if you’re cutting back rather than cutting out, start the evening with an alcohol-free drink or cocktail. At the very least, this will cut down your overall intake. And at best, you may find you end up having a night out without booze.
Five drinks to help you have a damp February
Gunner The Saint £1.95 (330ml) alcoholfreedrinks.co.uk, £22.99 for a case of 12 originalgunner.com. A refreshingly citrussy drink with a hint of ginger (basically a sexed-up Sprite). Serve with ice and a twist of lime.
Momo Turmeric Kombucha £3.90 (330ml) Ocado, £3.99 Planet Organic. The turmeric is actually quite subtle, and the dominant note is citrus. Probiotic, raw and unfiltered. You could almost certainly make yourself a cheaper kombucha, but it’s quite a faff.
Wiper And True Tomorrow Lager £15 for 6 x 440ml cans. Really good, characterful, German-style helles from one of Bristol’s best breweries. A boon for any beer drinker who’s trying to cut back.
Highball Classic G&T £1.99 (250ml) drinknolow.co.uk, £4.49 Laithwaites. A pre-mixed “gin” and tonic based on juniper and other botanicals to serve over ice with a wedge of lemon or lime. A useful bottle to take to a party.
Lyre’s Classico £9.99 (or £53 by the case). Handsomely bottled, pleasantly appley, alcohol-free fizz that would do duty for prosecco. Maybe one to lay in for Valentine’s Day if you or your partner isn’t drinking.
For more by Fiona Beckett, go to fionabeckett.substack.com