What can I drink instead?

Laura Willoughby MBE, the co-founder of Club Soda, has written a guest blog for us about the Mindful Drinking Movement and gives some tips about what alcohol-free alternatives there are if you are staying in or going out and don’t want a diet coke from the tap.

When you have decided to cut down or go alcohol-free, you may wonder what to drink instead. What can you have that fills that gap between daytime and 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 re hydrate. 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.

What is alcohol-free?

We get questions all the time about what 0.5% ABV means. Is it alcohol-free?

Club Soda considers anything that is 0.5% and below to be non-alcoholic. It is a trace amount of alcohol that is naturally present in many food stuffs. And in most countries around the world, 0.5% beers and wines are all classed as alcohol-free (the UK situation is a bit more complicated, but we hope that we are about to catch up with this labelling issue soon!).

The truth is that anything that goes through a natural fermentation process has a trace of alcohol. This includes many foods and drinks like vinegar, overripe bananas and other fruit, bread, juices, and even ginger beer and lemonades. You would have to drink huge amounts of these drinks to feel the effects of the alcohol. In fact, studies show that you are safe to drink many pints of alcohol-free beer and be absolutely fine to drive.

Some people decide to avoid non-alcoholic beers and wines and that’s fine. In the end, only you can decide where you draw the line between “not alcohol” and “alcohol”. It is more likely that you may find the taste of some drinks “tiggery” – reminding you of what you used to drink and maybe setting off a craving for the alcoholic version. In that case these drinks may not be right for you. Just try something else, there are lots of great soft drinks available too!

But why bother?

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, they 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, and 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.

For everyone, an alcohol-free beer, cider, wine or spirit makes them feel that they are 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.

In a recent survey of  Club Soda members, one of the things they most value about our movement is the normalisation of drinking alcohol-free drinks.  Along with the rest of the public, they are helping us crowdsource pubs, bars and restaurants to our online drinks and venues listings site – the Club Soda Guide – the ultimate guide for mindful drinkers. You are welcome to nominate the best pubs and restaurants near you too.

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 in 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.

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 July 20th at Spitalfields Market, east London.


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