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What I Drink Instead: Rae Ritchie’s Alcohol Alternatives

First up in a brand new series of articles on ‘What I Drink Instead’ is a list of blogger and Club Soda member Rae Ritchie’s alcohol-free favourites. Try them and see if you agree!


From Dry January to sobriety

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I thought that throughout January, I’d draw on my experience of two years’ sobriety to (hopefully) help others who are doing Dry January, looking to cut back on the booze a bit or even thinking about quitting altogether.

Today my recommendations focus on alternatives to alcohol. I know this is a massive stumbling block for many people, myself included. Even if you like Diet Coke, there’s only so much of it that you want to drink. But what else is there? Considering your options before you get to the bar can help in your resolve as you’re less likely to blurt out ‘Dry white wine and soda’ (or whatever your particular tipple) in a state of panic (why can ordering a drink feel so stressful?! You. Have. To. Choose. Quickly).

I’m assuming here that you’re in a bar but obviously you can drink these choices at home too. I’ve found that having something AF (alcohol free) and lovely in the fridge on a Friday night is a great morale boost and again helps with any temptation you might be experiencing.

Not a fan of alcohol-free alcoholic drinks

I’m not a fan of AF alcoholic drinks, i.e. zero or low percent proof beers and wines. For some people they are a good option but I believe that if you’re trying actually quit drinking, they fan the feeling that you’re missing out – a state of mind that makes long term abstinence pretty difficult.

One final word before I get on to the suggestions: I’ve resisted naming specific brands or varieties here because of availability issues. I’ve found that selections can be quite niche (six suggestions that are only available in three bars in the Midlands aren’t much use) but most places have something good on offer. Here are a few ideas:

Ask the Bar Staff

Okay, so this isn’t a specific recommendation at all but simply advice. Particularly if it’s your first non-drinking visit to a bar, ask those stood behind the counter what non-alcoholic options they have available as they may not all be listed on the menu. In some venues you will just have the stuff they use for mixers and cordials available but increasingly places are stocking more eclectic choices too, with the craft beer phenomena spawning a craft soda trend as well. This tactic also makes staff more aware that there are customers searching for a decent AF choice so could end up in some positive changes being made if they haven’t already been more inventive with their inventory.

Bitter Lemon

This has echoes of the 1970s for many older drinkers but this is now often my default choice when I’m on a ‘proper’ night out. Usually served in a low ball glass neat over ice, it’s particularly on point when those around you are drinking shorts or if you feel a bit self-conscious about being booze free. A nice digestif too.

Mocktails

If a place serves cocktails then they can whip you up an AF alternative. Challenge them to craft something unique or check out their menu as there’ nearly always a few listed anyway.

Ginger

I’ve yet to ask for a ginger-based soft drink in a bar and not been served one, ginger tonic if not ginger beer. A bit of zing for your palate!

Hot Drinks

In continental Europe you see patrons ordering an espresso at a bar and think nothing of it but somehow asking for a brew in a British pub feels different. Why is that?  However so many bars, pubs and clubs now serve hot drinks that it shouldn’t feel weird. Annoyingly, some staff seem resistant to serving them, turning the machines off or saying ‘Sorry we don’t have any milk’ (I actually was told that one recently. I take my coffee black. Hah! That felt like a victory for the wagonistas!). You can always ask them to put the machine back.

Water

A strange mindset that still seems to surround not drinking is that if you’re not having alcohol then somehow you don’t warrant getting an actually decent drink (hence so many just going for badly mixed syrupy soda from the tap). Down with this attitude! Serving a pint of beer or making a cocktail is a skill and you deserve that same level of effort so don’t feel that if you want water then it has to be ‘just tap water’. Of course it can be, or it can be bottled or sparkling. Whichever, you don’t have to settle for a half or pint glass.  Ask for a high ball tumbler, ice and a slice as well, perhaps a straw. You don’t have to feel like a second class citizen because you’re not boozing!

rae_ritchie_

Article By

After a long & tortuous relationship with alcohol, I gave up for good on 28th December 2014. I try to write about my experiences with sobriety to help others.

4 comments on “What I Drink Instead: Rae Ritchie’s Alcohol Alternatives

  1. moppiness
    moppiness on

    I also love a good Virgin Mary, though finding one that’s good can be difficult! A little extra Tabasco because I like it zingy, and it’s the perfect sipping drink…and not sweet. I hate too much sugar.

    Love ginger-based drinks for that reason also.

    I must admit that I am a huge fan of decent 0% beers BUT I have never, EVER experienced a craving/feeling of missing out from drinking them. It actually satisfies my want for the beer taste, a craving I get on occasion, and there are more and more really nice ones available.

    To put this in context, I was a hardcore vodka drinker. I absolutely cannot touch the mixers I used to mix with it because that makes me crazy.

    • rae_ritchie_
      rae_ritchie_ on

      I had my first Virgin Mary with a luxe breakfast recently & it was divine – definitely revisiting that option! I think you’re totally right to highlight context. I’m okay with mocktails as I never really drank spirits. Beer and wine were my weaknesses, and I think that is why I’m keen to avoid even the AF versions – too close for comfort!

  2. annieds
    annieds on

    A lovely article.
    I run a jazz even in a pub in London and there is always a container of water, usually flavoured with lemon or cucumber or melon, and available free to anyone who wants it. I tend to have a good ginger or tonic drink (Fentimans or Fever Tree) at the beginning of the evening and water after that.
    I do drink 0.5% beers (Nanny State is a favourite) and I have tried Rawson’s Retreat red and white but would probably have enjoyed them more had I been setting out on my af journey.
    Tesco does a range of presses and they’re OK but, I find, too sweet for regular drinking.
    Rooibos tea always does it for me.

    • rae_ritchie_
      rae_ritchie_ on

      So much on the market is too sweet. I ended up with a J20 one evening recently (long story!) and it made my teeth itch as it was so sugary. I always love to see water on the bar in places – so encouraging for drinkers and non-drinkers alike!

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