One in three of us regularly buys no- and low-alcohol drinks, according to a recent YouGov poll – so thank goodness so many now actually taste nice.
Today’s non-alcoholic beers, wines, spirits and ciders are a far cry from the horrors of days gone by. Many now have decent body, almost identical flavour profiles to the full-blooded versions and, in some cases, even a little bit of alchemical wizardry to give you a little buzz without the booze.
The development of “lazy” yeasts, which can only be bothered to eat a very small amount of sugar and therefore produce about the same amount of alcohol as an overripe banana, has revolutionised how the beer and cider industry create booze-free booze. In wine, drinks have been developed with relaxing herbal extracts or stimulating ones, to mimic at least part of the alcoholic buzz.
And it’s not just non-alcoholic options that we’re after, there is a big move in the beer and cider world towards simply much lower ABV products as well (no doubt driven in part by the change in alcohol taxation brackets and breweries suddenly more eager to make them).
All of which makes the options for this Christmas far more palatable than years gone by. Even as a drinker I have no- and low-alcohol options in my house at this time of year and I urge you to do the same. I say this with feeling after my own one-too-many-mimosas goose disaster; if you’re the cook on Christmas Day, you can still join in with a glass of something and not drop the centrepiece of your celebratory lunch.
Whatever your reason for seeking them out, and whatever the festive occasion, I’ve got you covered with the recommendations below. Cheers!
How to cater for the office party
To the organiser: I know you already have a ton on with everyone complaining about why the Christmas bash isn’t starting earlier/later/on another day/in another place, but at least you can make sure there are a couple of decent non-alcohol options available (and if you want to try them at home, I’ve given you some stockists and prices too).
Most venues will stock at least one non-alcoholic gin; my preferred one is Sipsmith’s FreeGlider, which is a very decent approximation of a London Dry. I pop a couple of drops of hot sauce in mine to mimic the heat of the booze.
It’s also worth checking if yours stocks something better than an out-of-date bottle of warm Heineken 0.0 languishing on a shelf. Of all the big brands I think Guinness has best nailed its non-alcoholic option, so much so I prefer its flavour to the original. It’s booze-free draught is also served more widely on tap. Peroni Nastro Azzurro 0.0% is now also fairly true to the original and is the second bestselling no/low beer in the country.
If your venue will allow you to bring your own drinks, check out the other suggestions below to create an altogether more esoteric offering. And as Christmas is a time for giving, order in some Bristol Beer Factory Clear Head alcohol-free IPA, a delicious tropical ale which donates part of its profits to support mental health charities.
Guinness Draught 0.0%; Tesco, £4.50 for 4 x 440ml cans; Sipsmith’s FreeGlider, 0.5% abv; Waitrose, £18 for 70cl; Peroni Nastro Azzurro 0.0%, Sainsbury’s, £4.50 for 4 x 330ml bottles; Bristol Beer Factory Clear Head alcohol-free IPA, 0.5%, £30 for 12 x 330ml cans
How to impress impromptu arrivals
There’s nothing like being able to whisk up a quick cocktail when faced with unexpected visitors, and now there are so many amazing non-alcoholic spirits to be had it can be an absolute breeze.
Vermouth has become a staple in people’s drinking repertoire once again, and I am very impressed with Lyre’s Aperitif Rosso. It has all the bitter cola and herbal notes you could want. I recommend adding 25cl of that to 50cl of Crossip’s Fresh Citrus – a zesty number, inspired by botanical spirits – topped up with some decent tonic in a tall glass and you’ve got a delicious long cocktail for friends to enjoy.
If your crowd is into dark spirits, muddle a lime with a pinch of brown sugar and a little salt, plus a whisper of ground cloves, before shaking it with Three Spirit’s Nightcap, made with tree sap and valerian root. Strain into a tumbler with some ice and top it off with booze-free fiery ginger beer – a festive pleaser with bite.
How to sip through a post-panto party
The county’s dry bars are where to head if you want a fully alcohol-free menu to choose from. Club Soda, tucked away on Drury Lane, is an excellently welcoming and well-stocked venue to seek out if you are heading to the capital for the ballet or panto (and in January, the successful Brighton dry bar Torstig is planning to open an outpost in Hackney, east London). DrinkAware.co.uk has a list of bars where alcohol isn’t even an option, from Derby to Brighton and Rawtenstall to Winchester.
After shouting “they’re behind you” for a few hours, you may prefer instead some fresh air and an opportunity to enjoy the Christmas lights; Nio alcohol-free pouch cocktails are your friend here. Fill a reusable, watertight keep-cup with ice, pop a couple of pouches in your bag, and when the show is over open the pouches over the ice and meander to your heart’s content. My personal favourite of Nio’s non-alcohol versions (they do full-blooded versions) is Violet Vamp, starring Tanqueray 0.0%, lime cordial and Monin violet syrup.
Nio’s Violet Vamp, niococktails.co.uk, £19.50 for 3 x 100ml pouches
How to survive a sober Christmas
While everyone else is tucking into the mimosas, swerve the post-lunch slump with a probiotic powerhouse like kombucha. I wasn’t convinced until I tried the extremely refreshing Pure Booch. It is not only the first certified Fairtrade kombucha, but adds a festive feel with its cranberry-flavoured version.
Another option that’s good for your gut is a shrub; a vinegar-based drink to consume like a cordial that’s nowhere near as weird as it sounds. Nonsuch Crystallised Pineapple & Ginger Shrub is a belter, especially with a wedge of lime over ice; and with its bottle design, it’s about as sophisticated as soft drinks can get.
How to do a non-alcoholic New Year’s Eve
I have really tried to like non-alcoholic still wines but find most reds taste like fruit juice and many whites are too sweet for my taste. Fizz, perhaps due to the carbonic acid from the bubbles, seems to fare a lot better. Freixenet 0.0% is widely available and perfectly presentable.
However, the drink range I am most enamoured with as a wine “substitute” is Blurred Vines, from the same people who make Three Spirit. I say “substitute” because it really doesn’t taste like any wine I’ve ever had, but once you accept it for what it is – something totally different but able to fulfil a similar role – then you will hopefully enjoy it, too. Blurred Vines Spark, the fizzy “red”, is definitely my favourite: herbaceous, fruity and a little warming.
It would be very remiss of me as a beer specialist if I didn’t offer you some brews too. My personal favourite brand is Big Drop: a mixed case of 10 x 330ml cans (to keep all tastes happy, but my pick for the colder months is the Galactic Milk Stout, like a really good affogato) is available from drydrinker.com for £20.23. Adnams Ghost Ship 0.5% is a more traditional option, bitter with a citrus twist.
There are also incredible lower alcohol products out there if you, or your guests, don’t mind going up to 2.5%. Small Beer’s Stout is so well-made it’s almost hard not to believe it’s got more booze in it. But if you want to keep it even lower, I recommend the amazing High Sobriety by Hogan’s Cider. Dry, fruity and flirty on your palate; if you serve it in a champagne flute it will fool plenty of people and keep the party going for longer.