Hot, sober spring: How to master the art of booze-free socialising

·10-min read
Enjoy a sober summer with our tips to go alcohol-free  (comp)
Enjoy a sober summer with our tips to go alcohol-free (comp)

If you’re someone who clocks a single ray of sunshine breaking through a heavy cloud and immediately announces the arrival of hot girl summer while reaching for the rosé – you’re not alone. Warmer weather — a vibe shift that feels like a cause for celebration in itself— is synonymous with increased boozing, from weddings to festivals and lazy days in the park to pub gardens.

However, it appears that an increasing number of people are attempting to break that cycle and quitting drinking for an indefinite period. Supermodel Bella Hadid, 26, in April announced on Instagram that she was six months sober. She is the latest in a long line of celebrities to have embraced sobriety, including Lily Allen and Cara Delevingne.

Last year, Chrissie Teigen marked 50 days sober by saying: “This is my longest streak yet! I still dunno if I’ll never drink again but I do know it no longer serves me in any way.” Reality TV star Millie McIntosh has also taken a pause, telling her Instagram followers in March that “I didn’t want to admit it but [alcohol] is a huge trigger for my anxiety”.

Alcohol-free drinks at Club Soda in Covent Garden (Press handout)
Alcohol-free drinks at Club Soda in Covent Garden (Press handout)

Statistics show that, since 2004 annual alcohol consumption in the UK has fallen by 15 per cent. In early 2021, a study by the Portman Group found that 24 per cent of British drinkers were keen to cut back on booze. Alcohol Change UK, the charity behind Dry January, echoed this statistic by reporting that an estimated nine million people in the UK had planned to take a month off drinking in January 2023, up a million people from 2022. Alcohol Change UK also found that around 20 per cent of the population didn’t drink at all. This figure was increasing among young people in particular, a 2018 study found.

For a less extreme lifestyle gear shift, many people simply want to embrace ‘sober curiosity’, where you don’t swear off alcohol for ever but simply adopt a more mindful relationship with drinking. This can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including choosing to take extended breaks of sobriety or having only one drink per party or event.

Many sober-curious people want to reconcile alcohol with a sense of special occasion again. “I am not teetotal but I do want to just be more considered about what I drink and not just glug wine out of habit,” says Chloe, 33. “I’ve got what feels like thousands of weddings this summer and two big festivals but instead of it being a case of me missing out by not getting blackout drunk, I’m trying to think of it as a way to be more present and to avoid feeling mentally depleted all the time.”

The American Bar at The Savoy serves delicious booze-free cocktails (Handout)
The American Bar at The Savoy serves delicious booze-free cocktails (Handout)

Thinking of cutting back on booze this season or ditching it altogether? We’ve got you covered.

Supercharge your mocktails

This is the number one tip from Emily Syphas, a coach specialising in addictive behaviour and founder of Sober & Social (a community for people who want to lead an alcohol-free lifestyle). Syphas has been “hangover-free” for more than five years, after 16 in a destructive cycle with alcohol and a pattern of negative and damaging behaviours.

“People need to dive into the world of alcohol-free drinks and keep the ritual of summer drinking by changing what’s in the glass,” she says. She adds that the sun is quite triggering for people in terms of alcohol consumption because it is associated with holidays, not having to go to work and relaxing. “When I’ve gone to Ibiza or a festival, having a really nice alcohol-free beer or Crodino [a non-alcoholic aperitif] has helped me feel part of the social situation,” Syphas says. “I still have my own sunshine in a glass without having to drink.”

There’s a wealth of non-alcoholic drinks out there to try beyond a soda water and lime cordial, infused with delicious flavours and a sense of occasion. These include Sipsmith’s FreeGlider ‘gin’ and the strong, flavourful aperitifs by Mother Root and Citizen Spritz’ mixes.

Sipsmith’s FreeGlider is a popular non-alcoholic alternative to gin (Sipsmith)
Sipsmith’s FreeGlider is a popular non-alcoholic alternative to gin (Sipsmith)

Prepare a one-liner

According to one survey, British people get drunk more than any other nationality, so it can appear as though those who choose not to are the anomaly and are faced with many questions about why they are suddenly off the sauce. “A lot of time, people will ask because they are curious and it’s not malicious,” explains Syphas. “Have the mindset that people often inspired about what you’re doing.”

She also advises preparing a stock response for when you are asked about your abstinence. “Have a one-liner ready [such as] ‘hangovers don’t work for me’ or ‘I really enjoy being hangover-free’ — this is a very confident way of explaining without having to go deep.”

Emily Syphas of Sober & Social advocates making connections away from alcohol (Emily Syphas)
Emily Syphas of Sober & Social advocates making connections away from alcohol (Emily Syphas)

Janey Lee Grace, host of the Alcohol Free Life podcast and founder of The Sober Club community, has similar advice. “When friends ask more questions tell them, ‘I’ll report back when I’m 30 days or three months sober then change the subject.” She also explains how emotive alcohol is — and what the effect of this can be within friendship groups.

“The reason it’s hard [to explain abstinence] is that we’re often shining a light on our friends’ drinking, and if we are naturally a ‘people pleaser’ we don’t want them to feel bad.” Mindset coach Hattie Macandrews echoes this, saying that “if anyone finds you not drinking problematic, it’s likely that they have their own complicated relationship with alcohol”.

She says: “You don’t owe anyone an explanation, and shouldn’t feel the need to defend yourself.”

Explore no or low-alcohol venues and menus

London has — as anyone who has been in Soho on a balmy Friday evening or Victoria Park on a sunny Saturday can attest — an energetic drinking culture. However, plenty of bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants have got the memo that mocktails and booze-free beer are high in demand and have started catering for a sober clientele. Even super-swanky, old-school establishments such as The American Bar at The Savoy, the longest-serving cocktail bar in London, include deluxe mocktails on their menus (the celebratory French Fizz is the ideal alternative to a champagne).

Inside the Lucky Saint in Marylebone, where a third of the drinks menu is alcohol free (Lucky Saint)
Inside the Lucky Saint in Marylebone, where a third of the drinks menu is alcohol free (Lucky Saint)

For somewhere more low-key? Try The Lucky Saint in Marylebone — a beautifully furnished traditional London pub with a drinks menu which is one third alcohol-free. One of the biggest draws is surely the Lucky Saint beer — an alcohol-free brew whose founder spent years perfecting. Another bonus is the outdoor seating: who doesn’t want to soak up a London summer while perched at a barrel sipping (zero-per cent) beer?

Elsewhere, mindful drinking movement Club Soda recently opened a tasting room in Covent Garden where visitors can sample some of the 150 booze-free tipples they stock there. Aside from being essentially a library of chic drinks, it is also a great place to meet others in the sober community.

Hit the apps 

There is an app for everything and sobriety is no exception. In fact, Hadid’s announcement was via a screengrab of I Am Sober, one of the most popular apps designed to support anyone wanting to banish booze. It shows you to the second how long you’ve stayed off alcohol, as well as allowing you to make a daily pledge in order to refocus. This might feel quite intense for people who don’t consider themselves addicts.

A great app to try if you are simply sober-curious is Sunnyside; the focus here is instead on mindful drinking and moderation with help and guidance in the form of coaching. “We started this company because we believe there’s power in finding balance,” explain the app’s founders, Nick Allen and Ian Andersen. “Science tells us that becoming aware of our habits, and having a partner who can nudge us in the right direction, can make a huge difference.”

Just the tonic: Club Soda in Covent Garden is a refreshingly alcohol-free alternative to London’s off-licences (Press handout)
Just the tonic: Club Soda in Covent Garden is a refreshingly alcohol-free alternative to London’s off-licences (Press handout)

Find a no-booze crew

“Being around like-minded people is key if you are looking at cutting down on or stopping drinking,” says Syphas, who warns you will need to be proactive. “People aren’t going to hand you sober friends; it will take time just like when you are trying anything new.” She recommends Instagram as a great place to start looking for inspiring sober-curious content and event details.

Her community, Sober & Social, is launching a monthly event at Mortimer House (starting on May 2) in London aiming to help people build community and connection. “It’s for people who might want a different night out away from alcohol or a supportive network — in a nice space with fabulous drinks which will help enhance peope’s socialite and give them the confidence that they don’t need to drink to have a good time and that alcohol doesn’t define the evening.”

Date sober 

The early days of dating can be daunting — it’s no wonder so many people choose to meet in the pub where nerves can be quickly calmed with a gin and tonic or two. However,  according to dating app Bumble, 34 per cent of UK users are more likely to go on a sober date now than before the pandemic, with 62 per cent believing it will help form more genuine connections.

But also, when booze is off the table, there is a huge sense of freedom. London is one of the most culturally exciting cities in the world, so meet your date in a gallery or for a walk in the park. Lean in to morning swims followed by breakfast, or make like 1950s teenagers and go to an open-air cinema. Book Go Ape or a pedalo on the Serpentine (in other words, do all the stuff hungover people are missing out on). There are sober dating apps too, such as Loosid, which not only plays Cupid, but also offers advice and support for those who have quit drinking.

A Morning Gloryville sober rave in full swing (Reuters/Toby Melville)
A Morning Gloryville sober rave in full swing (Reuters/Toby Melville)

If in doubt? Dance!

Festivals, clubs and raves are not traditionally populated by sober folk but there are an increasing number of music-based events which cater specifically to those who want the dancing minus the boozing. Morning Gloryville are famous for their early morning raves, with party-goers fuelled by nothing stronger than organic coffee or smoothies. Dubbed ‘conscious clubbing’, with the emphasis on wellbeing and community, there are regular events across London and beyond — with details posted to the website.

There’s also Dry Disco at Ministry of Sound coming up (on Saturday, May 20), a day-long, alcohol-free festival for women boasting an empowering dance workshop to instil confidence in anyone unused to throwing shapes without having thrown shots down their throats first (plus a compulsory Zen Den for relaxing with a mocktail).

Know it will get easier 

Non-alcoholic beer brand Lucky Saint (PA)
Non-alcoholic beer brand Lucky Saint (PA)

Melissa, 38, who is sober-curious — she spends months at a time without drinking and is mindful when she does indulge — says she didn’t believe people who told her that socialising when others were drinking would get easier. However, she can confirm it does. “One of the best bits of advice someone gave me is to drink something that children don’t have even if it’s not alcoholic because that feels like a treat — something different to what you drink in the day... the key is to try to forget that you’re not drinking,” she says.

More pleasingly, you can “leave when everyone is s**tfaced and annoying — you don’t need to say goodbye!”