First things first: I love my wine. I’m an ex-supermarket wine buyer and now write about it for a living. I enjoy a glass of wine most nights but have at least a couple of booze-free days a week. And to be honest, the whole dry January thing had always struck me as too all-or-nothing. But then I read about ‘wine face’ and the effects of wine on the skin – droopy eyelids, dehydrated skin, wrinkles and the like. Not to mention the improved sleep. Suddenly, a month off the booze seemed like not such a bad idea after all.
So it was that last January I went dry. And the biggest revelation of all was that when it came to not drinking, it’s wasn’t the not drinking that was the tough part. Rather, it was finding something interesting and vaguely grown up to drink in place of my usual glass of wine.
I’m not a fizzy drink drinker and besides, they wouldn’t last five minutes in this house (three kids, all of them thieves when it comes to anything sweet and fizzy in a can). What I wanted was a drink with a bit of theatre to it, something that took a moment to prepare, looked gorgeous and could be sipped slowly rather than gulped. Above all it had to have properly good flavour. As well as making my own, I tasted my way through as many low- and no-alcohol beers and wines that I could find. There are a few wines doing a good impression of the real thing but too many use sugar to make up for lack of alcohol. The choice of beer, however, is getting better all the time thanks to clever craft brewers. Then there’s Seedlip, a credible G&T alternative for those moments when only a stiff one will do.
And so my dry spell became a drinks voyage of discovery in the evenings with really good sleeps in between. Turns out that with a bit of imagination and minimal effort, mixing your non-alcoholic drinks can be a lot of fun. Here are some of my favourites to make at home:
Handful of ice cubes
200ml ginger ale
Sprig of fresh basil
Slice of lime
Method: Put a handful of ice cubes in a glass or tumbler and fill with ginger ale. Add a sprig of basil leaves, torn if you want it basil-y, or just popped in the top if you want just a whiff of basil and more ginger. Add a slice or wedge of lime and a straw.
½ to 1 lemon
Dash of sugar syrup
200ml bitter lemon
Method: A twist on the classic champagne cocktail, the French 75. No cognac or champagne in this one but we get bitter lemon instead. Use a chilled glass if you can. Add the juice of half a lemon or more if you want along with a dash of sugar syrup. Then top up with fridge-cold bitter lemon. Serve immediately.
Handful of ice cubes
Sparkling mineral water
Juice of half a lemon
Dash of grenadine
Method: Put the ice into a tall glass and fill it two-thirds full with sparkling mineral water. Add the juice of half a lemon and a dash of grenadine (the red berry syrup that manages to add both sweetness and tartness all at the same time). Stir with a straw and serve.