Free Spirit – The Shift to a No-Alcohol ‘Cool’.

Ringing in the weekend

It’s great to be included in the no-alcohol ‘Cool’.

Sip your tipple and you will sense it evolve, elaborate and linger as the liquid moves from lip to tongue to palate, warming and mellowing. The cool sharpness of chilled white wine, the ripened solace of red, or the reassuring vapours of a whisky or brandy, quickly afford a sense of pleasurable wellbeing.   I jumped on-the-wagon six years ago and like many a convert immediately, and zealously, developed a righteous aversion to the stuff. I didn’t miss the side effects but there were previously unnoticed aspects that I did. Imbibers consume the stuff for all manner of reasons – or excuses. We drink to unwind after a stressful day – or simply to blot out the world for moment; We drink to be happy; We drink to fit in with peers, social groups or events, and, because in our alcohol-centric Nation, its ‘Cool’ to drink, symbolically signifying discernment, maturity and adulthood. But we also drink because we like the complexity, of smell, flavour and mouthfeel. Zero-proof beverages, to date, have failed to emulate alcohols unique web of intricacies.

If ‘Cool’ people drink, then people who don’t are ‘not Cool’. The choices of non-alcoholic beverage send you promptly to the children’s corner – squash, fruit juice, Coke, water, – definitely ‘not Cool’, and often plain boring, even non-existent. Ergo – symbolically at least – you are plain boring or………well it can certainly feel that way. Teetotal palates have variously and ignominiously been insulted by the likes of Aqua Vitae, bubble-gum pink Russian Tonic, flavoured, saccharine sweet and artificial tasting Waters. Insipid low-alcohol beers and wines, akin to their de-caffeinated cousins are shadows of their former selves. Mojo-less they fail to satisfy physically, emotionally and socially, reinforcing the idea that not to imbibe is to be something of an outcast.

Finding myself in this ‘desert-of-drinks’ with no ‘oasis’ in sight I rolled up my sleeves to research and experiment. I wanted a soft drink that would emulate those qualities that I now missed. Many happy hours were spent stirring, and dreaming up delicious ideas for Cordials, Infused Waters and Bitters. What I learned is that it’s a very difficult business. Just as I hit the sweet spot with cordial development, sugar became demonized. Waters infused with herbs, spices and fruits are delicious, thirst quenchers, not savoured ‘slow-sippers’. Bitters, tiny drops of infused botanical’s that pack a powerful punch, rely on high proof alcohol to leach flavour from bark, roots and herbs (glycol, the flavour carrier in vaping products, or glycerine, can be substituted but have their own issues).

Luckily, life is looking up, and times-they-are- a-changing. In the last decade, according to The Office of National Statistics, 8% more people became teetotal. It’s a generational shift led by 16-24-year-olds. Minimum pricing policies and reinvigorated Drink Drive legislation have been supported by national campaigns and events such as the now, de-rigueur, ‘Dry January’ (Drink Aware), and the UK’s first Mindful Drinking Festival (Club Soda), a one day alcohol-free fest.

It’s no surprise that the move to alcohol-free is popular with aspirational young professionals, they have grown up with ‘Clean-eating’ and fermented food trends, Nordic Cuisine with its foraging culture and Heston’s molecular gastronomy. There is a demand for intense flavour extraction, unique taste combinations and botanicals, which translate well into the new demand for no-and low-alcohol beverages, of which there is now a good range with drinks for all occasions. Sophisticated sodas, vinegar-based ‘shrubs’ (vinegar syrups popular in the USA during Prohibition), virgin G&T’s, and zero proof Campari’s made bitter with rowanberry and bark. Hip restaurants serve alcohol-free drinks flights with tasting menus, cold brew speciality teas, infusions, kombuchas and wood aged waters, complementing dishes.

Ironically, it’s the burgeoning craft gin industry that has spawned the revival of botanical zero alcohol steam distillates. There’s a romance to the process that aids marketing, copper alembic stills, beautifully crafted masterpieces for perfume and flavour extraction, are still used. Seedlip is perhaps the most successful producing two iterations, Garden 108 (fresh green peas and herbal notes) and Spice 94 (allspice, cardamom, grapefruit). Their dryness, and complexity is decidedly gin like, vapors open out, curl delectably, filling your senses with interest and a long finish. Distillates are generally zero calorie and strongly flavoured, they need mixing with tonic or soda, but sparkling water is also a good choice. For those more inclined to a tantalizingly ice-cold lager, the craft beer industry has cleverly developed non-alcohol producing yeast strains. The results are varied, some lose intensity, leaving a watery parlour on the palate; but others are sublimely hoppy, full bodied, with all the length and breadth you would expect from the ‘real thing’.

Its early days and there are issues to be commuted such as admissible alcohol content in non-alcoholic drinks. ‘Non-alcoholic’ should mean just that, no-alcohol, zilch, zero; many products are but others contain the 0.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), allowable by law. The Department of Health is grappling with this one, but for people with alcohol allergies, or recovering from alcoholism, they should be avoided. Replacing alcoholic beverages with sugar laden drinks is a concern for those quitting as a healthy option. Many of the ‘new-wave’ Sodas with their enticingly modern flavours – use fructose rather than sugar –although its metabolised by the liver rather than the pancreas – it’s still sugar, I’m not convinced that it’s a ‘healthy sugar’, option. The point about this new wave of craft alcohol free drinks is that neatly accommodate non-imbibers in a social setting. If your socialising every day then the sugar could be problematic. For those of you who need a ‘taste’ hit’, treat all sodas, including drinks such as ginger beer, as you would a cordial, diluting it well – 1:3 – with your favourite sparkling water. When there is a new market demand there are always chancers hoping to cash in – some no-and low-alcohol products just don’t cut-the-mustard. I am told that no-alcohol wines aren’t great (but don’t take my word for it I haven’t tried any), and some of the sampled sodas were decidedly ‘soapy’, or pucker-up sharp with an overdose of citric acid. You will need to experiment with what’s out there and make your own choices.

This new wave of no-alcohol, spirit free drinks has sent my own free spirit soaring. The flavours of this new breed of tipple, like their alcoholic counterparts are many- faceted and decidedly adult. Whilst the criticisms are valid the take away should be that its the shift in attitude that matters. These hip no-and low-alcohol drinks are above all else inclusive, seamlessly crossing the boundaries between drinkers, occasional drinkers and non-drinkers; it is now as acceptable to drink these as it is to drink a sparkling water  – the choice is yours.  It’s great to be included in the no-alcohol ‘Cool’.

Stirring Stuff Recommendations:

Monte Rosso, Naturally non-alcoholic – similar in look and feel to drinking Campari or Aperol

Rocktails offers two blends of sparkling distillate – on order – I will report back soon.

Virgin G&T’s:

The duchess Virgin G&T

Square Root, London

Seelip Spice 94 makes a great substitute for gin, mix as you would a G&T with a good measure of Seedlip Spice over ice, tonic or sparkling water and a twist of lime. Its great in cooking too added to cakes and creams.

I have just ordered a bottle of Memento a delicious sounding Mediterranean distillate with Rosemary, lemon verbena and rose – I will report back.

Seriously cool No-alcohol beers:

NB – Do watch out for the 0.5% allowable ABV many do contain up to this measure of alcohol so if you are seriously teetotal for allergy or addiction reasons it is recommended that you avoid them.

Stiegl Wheat Beer (0.0% ABV)

Carlsberg 0.0. %

Where to buy:

You can purchase many of the drinks from supermarkets alternatively on-line from

Links you may enjoy:

Virgin G&T Lemon Drizzle Cake with Syllabub.

Support in mindful drinking is available from Club Soda. If you want to quit completely but need support I can vouch for the Allen Carr Easy Way. 

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