I’ve always avoided Dry January for some reason. Mainly because I do love a drink, but also some bizarre “rationale” in my head that I wouldn’t be “able” to because of social media posts and events.
I’ll get to the real reason I am doing it another time, but one big reason was December seemed like a bit of a blur. I over indulged (in food and drink!) as usual, but being honest, I was starting to think drinking had become a bit of a habit. I always used to ensure I had alcohol-free days, however they were becoming more and more infrequent.
So using Dry January as a platform, I’ve ditched the booze for a month and using this time to explore the ‘No-Lo’ market (or no and low alcohol) to see if there is actually a suitable, tasty alternative.
My initial observations were price. Particularly in the “spirit” side of things. With a bottle of non-alcoholic “spirit” costing in some cases as much as a premium gin or rum! Given the spirits duty that’s paid on booze, I couldn’t quite get my head around why zero-alcohol alternatives carried such a high price point.
But the most important thing I wanted to find was – a tasty beverage. So I went across the whole market and included beer and wine in this too. I’ve also enlisted a couple of Booze Buddies to share their experiences of not drinking too!
Firstly, Johdi told me –“I’m a fan of good old H2O but when that gets a bit dull, I love Mr Fitzpatrick’s cordials. They make some childhood flavours like sasparilla and Dandelion & Burdock, but also some more sophisticated flavours. If I feel like I want an ‘adult’ drink I’ll have it with soda and garnish like I would if I was drinking a G&T” – these sound awesome so I definitely will be checking them out!!!
My first stop in Dry January was the beer market. I started with the usual suspects – San Miguel, Budweiser, Becks Blue and Bitburger Drive. A few pubs and bars I went to stocked these (I did worry how long they’d been in the fridge for…!) but every supermarket had a fair few on offer. I found the vast majority lacked flavour and were a bit water-y.
I then moved on to some other brands I know and love. BrewDogs Nanny State I’d had before, but their newer Punk AF had a decent amount of hoppy flavour to almost convince me I was drinking a beer. It’s worth noting, I do LOVE the taste of beer and ales, I’m not just trying to trick my brain to thinking I’m drinking!
Next up was Adnams Ghostship 0.5% – amazing flavour! Was certainly one of the best alternatives I’ve tasted! Interestingly, most supermarkets had sold out where I am, so clearly a favourite for people this month!
Last beer stop was with Big Drop Brewery. I picked up a few bottles at Morrison’s, but quickly realised they were VERY local to me, and I had no idea they even existed! Their Pale Ale was out of this world. I’d happily drink this on any occasion, driving or not. The depth of flavour is really spot on. I’ve stocked the fridge up with these as a go to tipple in an evening. Really worth checking them out.
When I reached out to you guys on recommendations, I was warned about the zero alcohol wine options. Pam from Sipping and Styling said -“avoid non alcohol wine at all costs”…
She wasn’t wrong. I really struggled with this market. I wasn’t lucky enough to find something that was that nice – I guess if you think about it, remove the booze and it’s grape juice – which you may as well buy and drink when labelled as such, rather than a “wine”.
With wine, much of the experience and taste comes from the process and in some cases, the storage, not just the grape. I’ve really really missed wine. Get me a glass of Malbec please.
Not as disappointing as wine – but still lacking a decent selection.
Nosecco was my first stop. It’s ok-ish, it serves the purpose. The Bee’s Knee’s range available from Adnams is better. I also found this better when mixing up some mocktails. Well worth checking out!
Before I hit the next category, I wanted to catch up with a couple of Social Media pals to get their take on the market.
Natalie from GinObsessions has recently had a little baby boy, so I was keen to find out what she did during pregnancy.
“A pregnant gin blogger is about as big an oxymoron as you can find, but I figured I would use it as an opportunity to embrace the low and no ABV market. Nowadays there seems to be a replacement for pretty much everything. Being one of those veggie types I’m pretty well versed and rehearsed in finding good “realistic” alternatives so I accepted the challenge my body had set and began my journey.
Starting on the beer, Brew Dog’s Nanny State was most definitely the best ale alternative I came across and made me feel like I was actually drinking beer! I was also very impressed with Heineken Zero as an alternative to larger and I particularly liked their driver drinks free initiative which was running over the Christmas period.
When it came to wines and their sparkling counterparts, I’m sorry to say I wasn’t actually taken by any, nothing ever quite lived up to the dryness of those prosecco bubbles and as for the still stuff, grape juice just isn’t the same if it’s not fermented.
After trying to break myself in gently I knew there was always going to come a time where I had to take the plunge and try some low or no spirits as an alternative to gin. Having tried a few, including Ceders and Seedlip the main critique I would give is that none of the alcohol free spirits had the right juniper hit to make me feel like I was still drinking gin, particularly when mixed with tonic. A friend kindly bought me the Belvoir Botanical Juniper and Tonic Presse which made me especially sad, more so because I probably had unrealistically high hopes which it didn’t live up to, it just wasn’t gin and tonic.
Maybe I was being too harsh and critical, but if you’re going to make an alternative it really should be comparable. In actual fact the best non-alcoholic cocktails I found to drink were Morrisons own brand ones. They have a selection of RTD mocktails including mojito, cosmopolitan and my absolute favourite, summer punch which tasted exactly like Pimms, so much so that even friends couldn’t actually taste the difference between the two.
I’m absolutely fascinated to see how this market changes and develops over time and I am fully appreciative of the effort that is going into the creation of some of these low and no products, however, I think it’s fair to say that this gin lover is now firmly off the wagon and loving it!”
This was always going tough. Before I even get to the taste of some of these – I’m instantly annoyed at the use of Spirit or non-alcoholic Gin. Because by definition that’s completely wrong.
In an attempt to forget that – I then became frustrated with the aforementioned pricing of such products. Given a large percentage of the overall cost of a spirit goes straight to HMRC in duty, I struggled to come to terms with paying the same amount of money.
Putting both these things aside – it was time to taste.
Caleño was the standout one for me. A great alternative, mixing with tonic it was a bright and tasty beverage. It’s bold and striking branding catches the eye – and this is reflected in the taste – made up of Juniper, Inca berry mainly with citrus and spice supporting them both well.
Of course, you may have heard of Hayman’s Small Gin. Using just a thimble of gin means it’s massively reduced the ABV yet keeping the flavour!!! This was one of my Top 16 Gins of 2019 – be sure to check it out and look back on my Instagram for more on Small Gin!
Lastly, but by no means least – An Eden Mill care-package arrived at Gin Lord HQ. Their new premixed Rose Lemonade & Love Gin and Gin & Tonic cans – but with no alcohol. Continuing with their lovely branding across the premixed cocktail range – it’s quite easy to miss the “alcohol-free” at the top of the can. It’s also easy to miss due to the taste – I LOVED these! PROPER flavour, the G&T alt actually tasted GOOD and junipery?! Hurray! The Love Gin and Rose Lemonade was exactly what I was looking for too. Great job Eden Mill!!!
On a side note – I had a great aperitif from Everleaf – certainly a great addition to a mocktail! Check back through my Instragram posts for more on that little beauty!
My Dry January conclusion is – this is a market that will continue to grow…at quite a fast rate too given 1 of 4 pub visits are now alcohol-free. With existing brands offered a no and lo alternative such as Portobello Road Gin – with more brands joining the ranks later in 2020. There certainly needs to be a clear categorisation of these, and the use of the word “spirit” needs to be dropped…however I can’t see this happening just yet.
With some decent offerings, it’s a good start and given me a little hope that there can be a reasonable “middle-ground” between booze and soft drinks.
Big thanks to Natalie for her contribution to this article – check her out @ginobsessions on Instagram and Twitter or http://www.ginobsessions.com
Also big thank you to all the brands that reached out and showed me their offerings.
For now, thanks for reading – it’s great to be back.