A lot of us are keen to cut back on the amount of booze we drink, and little wonder. Whether you're cutting alcohol for weight loss purposes, to improve your mental health, or simply because you're fed up of waking up in a hedge, there is a lot to be said for it. The only issue is what to drink instead of booze. I find soft drinks are too sweet, and make me feel like I am constantly at a child's birthday party. There are some excellent alcohol-free versions of beers, but there are also some fairly terrible ones, and the amount of choice is becoming a little overwhelming.
Now, I have a reputation as a man who likes a drink. And that's because I do. But after consuming just a teensy bit more than doctors would consider strictly sensible over the Christmas period, I decided to try out some less headache-inducing beverages for a month. And while I can't say I managed to stay completely 'dry' during Dry January, I did have more fun than I anticipated trying out some alcohol-free and low-alcohol drinks.
So if you enjoyed Dry January (or not) and would like to carry on with reduced boozing for the rest of 2022 – or at least for a portion of February – these are my top three picks.
Guinness Draught 0.0
If you haven't tried alcohol-free beers for a few years, you'll probably be surprised at how much better they are nowadays. This is something else though. Guinness 0.0, aka Guinness Zero, is almost unbelievably good. It's produced by brewing the famed stout in the normal way, before a 'cold filtration' system is used to suck all the alcohol out. I would defy even the most ardent fan of Ireland's most beloved export to pick this out from the standard version in a blind testing. It looks the same, it's got the same mouth feel, and most importantly it has almost exactly the same flavour. Okay, if you try this and the alcoholic version in the same sitting, a sip at a time, you will probably discern a very slight difference in taste, but I think you'd be hard pressed to decide that one was better than the other.
If you don't like Guinness, Becks Blue is probably my favourite non-alcoholic lager. But this is a much more impressive achievement, for me, and probably the best booze-free booze to date in terms of accurately capturing a complex flavour.
- Guinness 0.0 is available at all good supermarkets or you can buy in bulk at Amazon: £54 for 24 cans (opens in new tab)
Sea Arch Coastal Juniper
Taking a different tack to Guinness, this is an alcohol-free gin substitute that, probably wisely, doesn't claim to be a carbon copy of the original mother's ruin. It's described as a mix of 'juniper, sea kelp, samphire, blood orange, grapefruit, coriander, cardamon, grapefruit and sage,' which, as the brand name suggests, gives an overall effect that's redolent of sea air.
The important thing here is that you get the flavour of 'botanicals' that characterises gin – most notably juniper, which essentially is the taste of gin as far as most people are concerned. It's a sophisticated beverage that's dry, sugar-free and comes in a suitably tasteful bottle made of recycled materials and no plastic.
It goes great with tonic, of course, but if you want to really push the boat out, try pairing Sea Arch's herby liquor with alcohol-free Vermouth (opens in new tab), for a completely booze-less dry martini. I tried just that and, while I wouldn't say it tasted anything like a real martini, it was quite an interesting drink in its own right. I wasn't exactly stirred by it, but I wasn't left shaken either.
- Buy Sea Arch Coastal Juniper at Amazon for £25 per bottle (opens in new tab)
Taking a different tack again, Zag is not trying to be a non-alcoholic version of anything. Instead, it's a completely original beverage that has the adult sophistication of booze, but without the adult sophistication of hangovers, vomiting and long-term memory loss.
I have to say, Zag did not immediately appeal to me; its flavour is quite complex and also, as I say, new and unique. The flavours listed on the bottle are green tea, mint, lemon, kombucha and cucumber which could easily result in a busy mess of flavour, or taste like cold herbal tea. However, the people behind Zag have actually mustered up a very clean, crisp drink here. You can pick out all of those flavours, but they're extremely well balanced and the result is greater than the sum of its parts. This would be perfect on a summer's day but it's proved extremely palatable even in the British winter.
There's a low-sugar version of Zag, but even the standard version only packs 54 calories per bottle, so I'd stick to that if I were you.
- Buy direct from Zag, from £7.49 for 5 cans (opens in new tab)