We have embraced new vegetarianism – what I think of as Ottolenghi – style eating, filling our plates with interesting fruit and vegetables, and cooking meat just once or twice a week. And now the new temperance movement is taking over. Do not panic, this doesn’t mean giving up alcohol completely. Nor does it involve retreating to the monkish solitude of a quiet room with a glass of water on non-drinking days. It’s all about drinking less booze and drinking better – whether there is alcohol in your glass or not.
‘People want to go out, be in lovely surroundings, see their friends and have an amazing glass, but they also want to balance that with their lifestyle,’ says Ryan ‘Mr Lyan’ Chetiyawardana. He is one of the bar impresarios and drink experts blazing a trail for cocktails and other drinks that contain zero alcohol, but are not zero fun.
Arguably last year’s biggest drink hit wasn’t a vodka or new gin, but Seedlip, a transparent liquid with the weight of water that tastes of allspice. It marketed itself as the world’s first distilled, non-alcoholic spirit, and generated such frenzied demand that it sold out within three weeks of launching.
Booze-less drinks have never been more fashionable, with big companies such as Britvic racing to capitalise on the trend. Mr Lyan’s award-winning bar list at Dandelyan at the Mondrian Hotel, London, includes exotic creations such as Wild Thing, made with Seedlip, ylang-ylang and herbal tonic. But at home he says he drinks soda water with flavoured bitters (these add a tiny level of alcohol to the drink) and is big on homemade shrubs (vinegar-based syrups infused with botanicals) and cordials. ‘Raspberry is one of my favourites. Cordial is very easy to make and it keeps a long time in the fridge’.
Just as I do with alcohol, I look for a teetotal drink to be more sippable than gulpable. This means I like bitterness (from quinine in tonic, or from bitters), acidity (from citrus juice), savour (botanicals are good for this) and/or the sensation of heat (ginger and chilli bring this).
I was gutted to only discover Crodino, a Campari-like, non-alcoholic drink available at amazon.co.uk, at the end of a nine-month dry spell, just days before having a baby last year. It’s seriously good stuff. Otherwise, I go big on good water when I’m not drinking (give me Badoit) and also like a tonic water served in a thick, heavy tumbler over ice.
Tonic is now very sophisticated. Fever-Tree Mediterranean (fever-tree.com) is always a winner. The Double Dutch range (doubledutchdrinks.com), available from specialist shops, is very good. And I love the new range of tonics from The London Essence Co, created in partnership with ace bartender Nick Strangeway. Flavours include grapefruit & rosemary and bitter orange & elder ower (available at Harvey Nichols and other specialists, from £1.50).
For more inspiration, I recommend Helen McGinn’s Teetotal Tipples, for January and Beyond (£9.99, Robinson) a new book that is packed not just with clever ideas but also sharp wit.
Want to get in the party mood minus the booze? Check out our non-alcoholic cocktail collection.
What’s your favourite non-alcoholic thirst quencher? Let us know in the comments below…