I don’t fancy alcohol – but what can I drink instead?

Laura Willoughby | July 2019 | 7 minutes

Laura Willoughby from Club Soda takes us through her reasons to try alcohol-free alternatives, her favourite drinks and where to get your hands on some of them.

If you have decided to cut down or go alcohol-free, you may wonder what to drink instead. What can you have that helps you transition from daytime to evening, or when you are out in the pub or restaurant and want to feel part of the crowd? How do you find your new favourite tipple?

When I went alcohol-free seven years ago there was not much choice at all. Like many people, in the first three months I craved sweet things and my body wanted to rehydrate. So I got busy with a soda stream, and started to order exotic cordials from around the world, looking for something that tasted grown-up. I scoured Italian delis for sans-bitters, the original alcohol-free aperitif, and used to take my own to the pub to pimp a fizzy water. And I discovered that a cold brewed tea looks just like wine in the glass.

But in the last four years something amazing has happened. Choice has arrived in the form of alcohol-free beers and spirits, and lower sugar craft sodas. No longer do we need to suffer a compromise drink (such as two bottles of mixer in a half pint glass, or a cola from the gun). You can now pick a drink for your evening out that goes well with good food, is not stuffed with sugar, and more importantly feels like a treat.

Smooth the transition

For many Club Soda members alcohol-free drinks are a useful part of their toolkit to change their drinking habits. It is important to know that unless an alcohol-free beer or wine triggers you to want the real thing, there is no reason not to add them to your diet; they are after all just drinks.

For some, replacing their 6pm beer or wine with an alcohol-free alternative allows them to mark their ‘me time’ but with something that does no damage to their health. At the start of your change of habits, these drinks can help deal with the discomfort or craving impulse that is common when you are quitting alcohol. Over time the importance of the 6pm trigger itself diminishes, people’s tastes widen to take in new drinks, and their routines change. And many people also reduce their use of alcohol-free alternatives after a while.

A route to moderating

On a night out, the moderating Club Soda members (people trying to reduce their drinking, but not stop completely) find that starting their evening with an alcohol-free drink or two allows them to stick to their planned limits. Many even say that they often change their mind about drinking any alcohol at all as the evening goes on.

Feel part of the occasion

An alcohol-free beer, cider, wine or spirit can make us feel part of the occasion, especially at parties and celebrations. And really, next to water an alcohol-free beer is just about the healthiest thing you can drink in the pub - although I’ve been pleasantly surprised to start finding kombucha in many pubs. Kombucha is not only good for your gut health, but also a tasty drink.

Give them a go

The Mindful Drinking Festival is one place you can come and try before you buy. The Festival is free to attend, and will feature over 40 alcohol-free drinks brands, offering tastings and selling you bottles to take home and fill your fridge. There are beers, wines, soft drinks, and at the last count 16 alcohol-free spirits on offer. If you want to learn more about mixing alcohol-free cocktails, there are masterclasses happening too.

And my top tips?

Heineken 0.0 beer is now going on draught in pubs across the country, so it is easy to find and only 66 calories.

CEDER’S is a gin alternative that you can find in all good supermarkets, and it comes in three flavour varieties so there is one for everyone.

Big Drop is a craft brewery that only brews alcohol-free beers under 0.5% ABV. Their award-winning beers are available in some supermarkets and many craft beer pubs. They were also the official Dry January beer for 2019!

Lindeman’s have just launched a range of alcohol-free wines in UK supermarkets. There is a red, a white, and a fizz which is great for celebrations.

  • Laura Willoughby MBE is the co-founder of Club Soda, the Mindful Drinking Movement. Club Soda is a community of people changing their drinking habits. It is free to join and they also organise the Mindful Drinking Festivals - the next one is on 20 July at Spitalfields Market, east London.

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