This will be my 3rd sober Xmas, which seems bonkers when I think about it. Time flies eh?
I was going to do the usual ‘how to survive Xmas without booze’ type of blog post today, but then I thought NAH. There are already a ton of those floating about on the Googles. Plus, the one I wrote last year still seems fully relevant. Read it HERE.
Before going sober I was a proper booze-fiend (obvz) and the great thing about Xmas for booze-fiends is that it’s the one time of year when booze-fiends can get away with round-the-clock drinking. It’s accepted, nay, ENCOURAGED to start drinking in the morning on Xmas day – at least in my experience anyway.
Bottle of Stella whilst I play with my new Transformers toy? Nice one.
My memories of past Xmases all kind of blur into one big fuzzy globule; booze, food, booze, food, sleep, booze, food. Also broken bones. I went through a phase of having fractures and breaks at Xmas time – I think 3 years in a row I spent Xmas day nursing some kind of injury, each brought about by booze-fueled festive merriments. One of them was definitely the piss incident.
One of my fondest memories of a drunken Xmas is from probably 15 years ago. We’d had the family Xmas meal, and my brother and I spent the evening sat in my bedroom watching Bottom Live 3: Hooligan’s Island on video (can you believe that it came out in 1997!? Twenty years ago!) and we laughed our tits off whilst I slowly worked my way through an entire bottle of Baileys and a few bottles of beer. We loved it so much that we got tickets for next tour, and took absolute pleasure in being able to go into a posh theater and scream AVE A WAAAANK at the lads on stage.
Sidenote: The things I’d do for an alcohol-free bottle of Baileys! I would fight a robot tiger for that shit! With lazer eyes and driving a really fast jeep! I would literally listen to a Coldplay album for that stuff.
So anyway. Us non-drinkers get a bit of a shit choice when it comes to social drinks, and the problem is compounded at Xmas simply coz the number of social events increases. I don’t mind the odd Diet Coke, but after 4 or 5 of them I tend to go a funny colour and start wretching and vibrating. Making beeping noises and speaking in tongues. I start to get premonitions. Levitating. Shape-shifting. All sorts of crazy shit. So it was awesome to see that Club Soda, the front-runners in the UK ‘mindful drinking movement,’ were putting on a Mindful Drinking Christmas Festival down in that London – just a 35 minute train journey from our gaff in Milton Keynes.
‘Fuck it!’ I told the wife. ‘Let’s go and see what it’s all about.’
And so we put on our hazmat suits and entered the big smoke. Here’s a list of the best new booze-free drinks we discovered:
- Big Drop Brewing Co. – Super-friendly lads who are basically bearded superheros – here to save the world from bad-tasting alcohol-free beers. We sampled their lager, stout, pale ale, and spiced ale – as they excitedly explained the brewing process to us. Probably the best AF beers we’ve ever tasted! bigdropbrew.com
- Bees Knees – Sparkling wine with a hint of green tea, and made in such a way that it doesn’t require flavour-harming de-alcoholisation. We’ve tried a few different alcohol-free fizzes and this stuff really stands out. The guys running the stall were also mega-friendly and keen to talk about the drinks industry and the changing perception of booze – from an accepted social lube to a health-harming perpetuator of bad decisions. Interestingly the mastermind behind this stuff is the same guy who created Hooch. Maybe this is an attempt to fix all of those kids he broke in the 90s? No need to say sorry Mr Hooch. You made school discos FUN, and gave me and my mates the confidence we needed to stop sitting around at home playing with our balls, and instead get outside and smash car windows. Bees Knees is now available from Ocado and Morrisons for £3.50 a big bottle with a poppy cork. facebook.com/BeesKneesBubbly
- Gusto Organic – These drinks have been produced in London since 1990, and are available in cola variations (cola / low calorie cola / energy) as well as a lemon flavour. I took home a bottle of the energy cola drink, which contains all sorts of fangled botanicals such as Amazon guarana, African cola nut, and a blend of 14 Chinese herbs. It tasted like a less sharp, less sweet version of your average coke – making it a good alternative for the discerning non-boozer. Plus, with all that guarana and magical Chinese herb, you’ll be flying like a kite. The missus had the lemon one and reckoned it were reet gud too. drinkgusto.com
- Pimento – This was my favourite of all the stuff we tasted at the festival – so much so that I went home and ordered a case straight away. Made in France, by a wild-haired France-person called Eric Dalsace, Pimento tastes like your average common or garden ginger beer at first sip. After that you’ll get a sudden whoosh of fire at the back of your throat, which settles into a good heat thanks to the added chili. Careful with this stuff if you don’t want singed pubes (sorry but I’m struggling to get rude words into today’s blog). The only downside I found was the cost to get it in the UK – a case of 10 bottles is advertised at a reasonable £12.50, but came to £21.50 after tax and shipping. This, however, isn’t a fault with the product – and even at £2.15 per bottle it seems worth it as an occasional treat. Hopefully it’s popularity will increase and bring about local stockists with lower costs. pimentodrink.co.uk
- Slange Var – An interesting Scottish drink made with lime, ginger, and honey; Slange Var has a tart flavour meaning it needs to be slowly sipped, and this was always the intention according to the lovely lady that presented us with our tasters. Sarah (I think her name was) explained how Slange Var came into existence as she looked for something non-alcoholic to sip in social situations. A convert to the alcohol-free lifestyle, Sarah needed a drink that could be savoured like a fine wine or spirit, rather than glugged like an orange squash. For bonus points – Slange Var uses the honey from supported bees, meaning they are properly managed in sponsored bee hives in an attempt to reverse the decline of honey bees. Slange Var is agile stuff that can also be used as a mixer or for cooking sauces. drinkslangevar.com
- Soda Folk – I fucking love the smell of Deep Heat’s Heat Rub. I wish I could eat that stuff, but it’s probably toxic so the next best thing is a drink that tastes like it, right? And that’s why I love root beer. A gaping void has existed in my life since McDonalds stopped serving root beer in the early 90s, and only in recent years has it come crashing back into my world with it’s wonderous vanilla and sassafras flavours, thanks to more recent trends to import sugary American guff onto supermarket shelves. Boylan is a favourite with it’s proper cane sugar, A&W not so much as it tastes a bit watered down after drinking Boylan. The great news is that Soda Folk, who basically make pop for adults, have hit the nail on the head. Their version, made in partnership with a brewery in the Colorado Rockies, contains maple syrup and tastes effing lush. They also make cream soda, as well as apple, juniper, orange, cherry, and grape sodas – none of which I got a chance to try. I only have eyes for root beer you see. This stuff is lovely, and a bargain at £1.25 a can. sodafolk.com
- Lurvill’s Delight – “Let’s design and sell a baby’s pram with explosives attached! No? Okay, how about a car that has square wheels and only goes backwards, and the radio can never be turned down? No? What about toothpaste flavoured soup? Underpants with internal cheese graters? GOT IT! A soft drink with horseradish!!” I like to think that that’s how the conversation went in the boardroom when Lurvill’s Delight’s lavender, ginger, and horseradish soft drink was being conceived. What a bonkers-sounding concoction, but what a wonderful tasting drink! They also offer a nettle, rhubarb, and juniper flavour – but for me it’s all about the horseradish. It just works. Originating in Wales in the late 1800s, Lurvill’s Delight has a great little back story about how the money raised by it’s sale was used to emigrate 150 coalminers and their families from Wales to Pittsburgh and Denver in the US. They stopped producing it in 1910 due to a shortage of ingredients, but now it’s BACK, and it’s tasting gooooood. lurvillsdelight.com
So there you have it, our 7 favourite new AF drink discoveries. If you only try one of these I’d say get the Pimento, or the Big Drop if you’re looking for a good beer – but in all honesty they were all great. Unfortunately we didn’t get chance to sample everything at the Mindful Drinking Christmas Festival, so there’s every chance we missed some other crackers (nice pun, dickhead). I have it on good authority that another festival is already in the works, so expect a run down of anything we missed plus any new players in the AF market.
Hope this blog helps a few people out. As I said at the top of the article – check out my blog from last Xmas here if you need a few pointers on how to survive the season of goodwill and all that other bollacks.
A huge thanks to Laura and Jussi @ Club Soda for being so kind and hospitable, plus everyone else who made the fezzie happen. There’s a real revolution happening in the world of mindful drinking. I can feel it in my piss.
Wanna read my big wanky blog from the start? Click here.