After an indulgent festive season, a lot of us like to take it easier and drier in the New Year. I say “drier” as this time of year is bleak enough without too much self-denial.
However, as time goes by, the options are getting much more imaginative, so it’s easier to avoid alcohol or go a little lighter/drier. What’s also helping is that more people are writing about alcohol-free drinks and sharing experiences and ideas on social media and even opening “sober” bars.
One of the best resources is Fiona Beckett’s recently published “How to Drink Without Drinking: Celebratory alcohol-free drinks for any time of the day”. Fiona is the wine correspondent for the Guardian – you might have read her columns in the Feast supplement on Saturdays. She’s an award-winning food and drink writer who I did a lot of work with back in my book publishing days and she really is one of the best.
The useful book touches on all types of alcohol-free drinks, with many tempting recipes to use at home, as well as broader recommendations so you needn’t miss out on flavour. Chapters cover cordials and shrubs (fruit or vinegar-based drinks), “mocktails”, alcohol-free wines, beers and ciders, fermented drinks like kombucha and kefir, milk-based drinks, juices and smoothies and, finally, teas, tisanes and coffee. The book is also beautifully illustrated throughout.
Inspired by the book, I’ve been busy trying out new drinks such as T&T (yes, tea and tonic made with cold-brewed leaves*), NG&T (not gin and tonic – in this case, home-made juniper syrup and tonic) and a spicy, warming ginger, honey, lemon and vinegar-based shrub called Switchel served diluted with still or sparkling water. Ideal for winter drinking and keeping the bugs at bay.
There are also handy tips like adding balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar (ideally verjus) to red or white grape juice to make them more suited to food as fruit juices are often too sweet to be drunk in place of wine. Fiona also suggests ways of making standard things more interesting like flavouring water with herbs or using particular cordials or bitters with tonic or soda (like my favourite, Angostura Orange Bitters). Decent glasses, garnishes and ice cubes also boost the sense of occasion.
I’ve also been inspired to explore the world of tea-based kombucha (and perhaps start fermenting my own – I already regularly make yoghurt) as well as trying more of the excellent alcohol-free or low alcohol beers on offer (Waitrose has a good selection, but specialist website The Dry Drinker is well worth checking out).
How To Drink Without Drinking is available on order from Waterstones either online or in store (I’m avoiding Amazon as a New Year’s resolution and supporting one of our key local businesses).
*The range of loose leaf tea stocked by Hopscotch continues to expand and is always a satisfying alternative to booze.
Here’s wishing you a happy and healthy 2020!
Photograph of Apple and Saffron Sharbat by Nassima Rothacker courtesy of Kyle Books.