Trying your hand at going alcohol-free with Dry January this year? Here’s our expert guide to the best alternative drinks available…
For choice and quality, beer drinkers will have the most fun. Alcohol free beers (generally considered to be less than 0.5% ABV) have been available for years.
Although usually restricted to lagers or German wheat beers, new specialist alcohol-free breweries and some of the more established brewing names are now innovating all manner of styles and quality has increased hugely.
Scottish craft brewers BrewDog have been leading the way with their excellent pale ale Nanny State, while Dutch outfit vandeStreek have raised the bar with Playground, an alcohol-free IPA that, unlike most alternatives, even has a beery mouthfeel (rather than the thin, watery texture of rival brews).
For the latest innovation Danish experimenters Mikkeller have even come up with a special yeast that adds so much flavour to the beers that they can cut back on the other ingredients, making the alcohol a much less important part of the drinking experience.
Wine drinkers will struggle to find drinks that match up to their alcohol-fueled equivalents with as much success as beer, and any fans of full-bodied reds are going to be particularly frustrated.
Sometimes when cutting back on alcohol the look of the alternative drink is just as important as the taste—being the only one sat with a soft drink while surrounded by friends wielding wine glasses brimming with red liquid can exaggerate the feeling of missing out—so some drop in taste quality may be a worthwhile sacrifice.
Torres Natureo Syrah certainly looks the part and makes a decent fist of pairing up with red wine-friendly foods.
Light white wines make a much more successful transition to alcohol-free status, but the best alternatives lie in the sparkling category, where the fizzy fun and fresh grape juice flavours can in part compensate for missing out on the booze. We rather like The Bees Knees sparkling rosé [which has green tea blended with the grape juice to give it a light tannic dryness akin to its boozier cousins.
Of all the types of booze, spirits would seem the least likely candidates for alcohol free alternatives. And when it comes to taste, many of them offer the least authentic translation from a boozy to boozeless drinking experience. But for most of them, drinking them neat isn’t really the point—the majority are designed to be alternatives to spirits in cocktail mixing.
The brand currently making the biggest strides on the market is Seedlip who produce gin alternatives that have been flavoured with the kind of botanicals you would expect to see lining the shelves of a hipster’s gin distillery, flavours that really come alive when paired with a decent tonic.
A new brand, Stryyk, has even brought out alcohol free rum and vodka, and although it takes quite a lot of imagination to think of them as genuine taste substitutes for the real things, they have some merit when mixed with other strong flavours.
Cocktails made without alcohol are commonly known as “mocktails” and they’re becoming a much more regular fixture in bars and restaurants. You can simply use alcohol free spirits to start your mocktail adventures or try some specially designed recipes that don’t rely on those spirit substitutes.
Most of these involve using combinations of fruits and other flavors that are given a sparkle with Soda water or another fizzy drink—a mojito mocktail, for example, is simply made with limes, mint, soda water and sugar.
You can even buy pre-mixed mocktails which, despite taking the fun out of mixing, offer some of the best booze-free drinks around. We particularly like Monte Rosso’s bittersweet cranberry and rowanberry aperitivo and the botanically charged Teetotal G’n’T.
Our favorite booze substitute is a type of alcohol-free cocktail that we think deserves to be in a category all of its own.
Rather than booze, the key ingredient here is vinegar; or, more specifically, a fruit infused “drinking vinegar”.
This vinegar is mixed with soda water to create a refreshing drink that was a big hit during America’s prohibition era—the acidity in the drink gives it a kick that makes a fair substitute for the hit of alcohol and ensures it’s a slower sipping pleasure than alternative soft drinks.
You can, of course, make your own shrubs by infusing your favourite fruits of other flavours in cider vinegar, with some sugar added for sweetness, before straining and mixing with soda water. Or you can skip that effort and check our SHRB’s excellent bottled versions of the drink instead.