Pete's story: "The unbeers are out there, the pubs and bars just need to catch up"

February 2019 | 6 minutes

Pete did Dry January, but found a lot of bars and pubs weren't very alcohol-free friendly. Here, he shares some of his thoughts.

The biggest barrier to cutting down on drinking alcohol is, unsurprisingly, the attitude of the people selling alcohol.

I hadn't intended to do Dry January to be honest. I quite like beer and although I definitely knew I was drinking more than the recommended amount I didn't think of it as a major issue. But when Martin, a good friend of mine, said he was doing it and asked if I wanted to join in I saw it as an experiment. I was interested to see how easy or hard I found giving up for a month, given that I've not gone that long without a drink since I was about (ahem) 18 years old.

Well, in short, I did it and it was actually a lot easier than I imagined. In large part this was due to Martin offering to order in a wide variety of alcohol free beers for us to sample during the month. Initially I wasn't too excited about this as the last time I had a low ABV beer I remember it tasting like liquid boredom mixed with the taste of sadness. But Martin assured me that things had come on a long way since then and boy was he right! We each started the month with a selection of 30+ unbeers (as we came to call them) including some from the big names along with breweries I wasn't familiar with such as Big Drop. Having a fridge stocked with interesting things to try made Dry January feel more like a treat than a chore. Whenever I fancied a beer I could just grab one. The fact that they were alcohol free didn't really matter.

I was told if I didn't want real beer I could have coke. Instead, I chose not to drink there at all.

This all made (not) drinking at home very easy but how about going out? At the start of the month I'd decided I wasn't going to change my social behaviour. If Dry January made me feel like I was missing out I'd never stick with it, so I told myself I'd have to be able to still go to the pub when the opportunity arose. Sadly, the first trip out was quite disappointing. A mate and I went to a local pub that's well known for its wide craft beer selection. I asked what alcohol-free beers they had and was given the choice of Becks Blue and Heineken 0.0, two of the most generic options on the market. I asked if they'd considered getting in a broader range and got a surly "I have, I used to have one, now I have two." Also, neither of these beers were even fridged! We moved on. Thankfully the next pub we tried had some German imports which were pretty good — still only two unbeers to choose from though.

Over the course of January I went to several pubs and bars in Derby, Leicester, Birmingham and Nottingham and my experience was generally similar. The places with the best selection of 'real' beer had a serious attitude problem when it comes to low ABV drinks. One particularly hipster place in Birmingham didn't stock any alcohol-free beers because "They're all sh*t aren't they!?" I was told if I didn't want real beer I could have coke. Instead, I chose not to drink there at all.

To be fair, there were a couple of places that had more than just a few options but this seems really rare. The biggest barrier to cutting down on drinking alcohol is, unsurprisingly, the attitude of the people selling alcohol. What they're missing though is that there are people like me who are still happy to throw money at them if they can come up with an interesting drink for me to try. The unbeers are out there, the pubs and bars just need to catch up.

Pete Clark is a freelance web developer and part-time radio show host. If you enjoy listening to exciting music you've never heard before you should check out his show Audio Interface here.