Asking anyone how they’re doing right now is a bit of a case of: “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs Lincoln?” It’s hard to think of a less auspicious start to a year, so I could understand if dry January was just too daunting to contemplate. It certainly is for me, though fortunately I have the excuse of the day job.
Others, however, are more restrained if the new year trends reports are anything to go by, with the continued rise and rise of nolo (no and low alcohol) looking like an ongoing feature of 2021. Certainly, the rate of innovation is impressive, even if not all make the grade. Startups, in particular, struggle to nail the complex blend of botanicals needed to make alcohol-free spirits more interesting than tap water. Even the pros. Sipsmith, for example, has put back the launch of its much-anticipated non-alcoholic FreeGlider because they’re still not happy with it, despite having spent two years fine-tuning it. (I thought the prototype – the 186th version – I tasted was terrific, but they’re still not satisfied.) And if you’re charging the same price as a bottle of full-strength gin, you need to get it right.
Even if you set out with the best intentions, staying off booze for a whole month is a tough task, particularly when the news is so relentlessly grim. The answer, as with a diet, is having the right kind of drinks to hand. If you’re a beer drinker, you’re lucky, because alcohol-free versions are better than most, though I’m not sure that Guinness fans would be totally convinced by the 0.0% version. There are also some good IPAs around, like Lervig’s No Worries Alcohol-free IPA (£1.85 for 330ml Hop Burns Black and Bristol’s Better Food Company) and the wacky but rather glorious Big Drop Brewing Co Kinzig Gateau Stout in today’s panel below.
And – hallelujah! – I’ve found a trio of sparkling wine substitutes: Stippl, which is the first wine-like product I’ve really rated (though I’m less keen on the sweeter rosé), a new range of sparkling teas from Saicho that are designed to go with food (the hojicha, which tastes of roasted rice, is my favourite, but the jasmine is good, too) and a sweet, grapey French gamay juice that you’ll love if you’re into natural wine. Stippl has coined the clever slogan, “Not boring, just sober”, which is a good retort whenever you’re challenged about why you’re not drinking. Good luck to you all!
Five of the best bottles for when you’re off the booze
Stippl Sparkling £19.99 a pack of 6 x 20cl bottles. Attractively fresh and citrussy, this is not unlike a sparkling sauvignon blanc – unsurprisingly, given it’s based on sauvignon blanc grape juice concentrate. Impressively not oversweet, though.
Big Drop Brewing Co Kinzig Gateau Stout £9.80 for 4 x 440ml cans, £4.25 a can Beercraft of Bath, 0.5%. Chocolatey. Cherry-ish. Shades of black forest gateau. Nothing like a conventional beer, but does that matter? Not if you want a bit of fun.
Rapscallion Soda C02 Burnt Lemon £29 for 12 x 250ml cans. I loved this brilliantly zesty lemon drink. “Think lemon meringue pie without the mountain of sugar,” they say. And they’re right. The cranachan (raspberry and toasted oats) is fabulous, too. A soft drink with attitude.
L’Antidote Domaine des Grottes £11.50 Wright’s Wine, £13 Noble Fine Liquor. Gloriously grapey, alcohol-free fizz made from gamay juice spiked with herbs and spices. A touch sweet for me, so I found it benefited from a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Looks as if if you’re drinking natural wine.
• Fiona Beckett is the author of How to Drink Without Drinking (Octopus, £15.99). To order a copy for £13.91, go to guardianbookshop.com