It’s over, 4 weeks of being completely booze free..
On St Patrick’s Day, I celebrated Ireland’s Sporting successes, of which I include my dry month, with a few pints, well more than a few, of Magners Irish Cider
The last time I took a month off Booze I struggled to make it.. I’m not sure if you realise but there are 31 days in October! Every single October.... even in a leap year, that’s the longest a month gets..
Back In October 2016, I undertook the Sober for October challenge. During this I had two beer days, which was allowed under the rules (for a £15 donation each time). Now as permissible as this was it clearly takes away from being Booze free for a month, so despite being a Sober hero, for which I received a badge of confirmation, I wanted to prove to myself that I was able to give up alcohol whenever I wanted.
This time around it was booze free or bust.. Complete cold turkey. I had been thinking of taking a Booze break for a while and although I didn’t have a specific reasoning in mind, the Sober October challenge was at the back of my mind. I knew that I could do it and in this occasion I was also interested in the many reported health benefits.
Choosing a 28 day period that ended in time for not only the biggest party day in the Irish calendar but the culmination of the annual Six Nations Championship gave me something to aim towards..
But that alone wasn’t going to be enough to get me through, so with a little research I had two vital support mechanisms in place. The Art of being sober, by Catherine Gray & alcohol free beverages.
Catherine, who’s family are from a small village not to far from the Liquorjunky Bar wrote a painfully honest book, recounting not only her out of control drinking but her courageous journey to get sober and stay that way. Her disdain for a trip to the Grand Canyon captures perfectly the experiences that can be lost due to the preoccupation with booze!
As for the Alcohol free beverages, I should clarify that I’m not talking about Cola or juice, but something a little more akin to a ex smokers nicotine patch, only without the alcohol or, obviously the nicotine.
After sampling several Alcohol free beers in the past 4 weeks with varying results. From Budweiser’s offering that makes Shandy Bass taste like award winning craft beer to Big Drop Brewing Companies excellent Pale Ale, I was comforted in my booze free days by the familiar aromas of beer even if the bite of booze was missing.
Many people look quizzically on Alcohol free beverages with a what’s the point, point of view! No alcohol, no thanks, why not just drink schloer or a soft drink?
And while I see why they would think that, for me the placebo effect was strong, like an ex smoker who twiddles a pen just to replicate the feeling of having a cigarette in their hands, I found some comfort in relaxing with a beverage that smelt like and almost tasted like beer, without the downsides of booze.
It’s probably a good time to clarify that I am by no means an alcoholic, a few drinks generally mellows me out and makes me sleepy. I don’t get confrontational if I drink a particular drink and you will never find me in the middle of the dance floor gyrating like a pot bellied giant being electrocuted, after a couple of sherbets. In fact the worst thing I probably did as a result of drink was put Heineken on my weetabix.. (I was accused of taking a leak in an old girlfriends make up drawer once, a scurrilous accusation that I continue to refute)
But like everyone else, well except tee totalers, we could all stand to take a look at our relationship with alcohol. As a nation I believe we should look towards the European style of drinking, no excesses, a glass or two of wine over a leisurely meal. A couple of beers in the evening with company. Pairing alcohol with food to enhance a meal instead of pairing booze with booze to replace a meal. Generally in the UK & Ireland a lot of people drink to get drunk, which is the opposite of our Euro cousins.
Binge drinking is and continues to be a major problem, especially amongst some of our younger people. While on one hand socializing and the nighttime economy sustains employment in the bars, clubs and off licenses, the other hand hammers Policing & Health Care services with the additional strain.
Yet for all our young people getting drunk there seems to be almost as many who show no interest in alcohol. Young adults who socialize without partaking, who see the health issues that alcohol can create, who don’t want to put themselves at risk of being intoxicated or simply have better things to spend what little disposable income they have on.
Combine this outlook on drinking with the ever evolving Alcohol free market & it’s clear that we might just be about to experience a cultural shift. The young in society are subconsciously influencing, albeit slowly, us away from the very British & Irish drinking culture to a more healthy and sustainable social life.
20 years ago the non alcoholic offerings in a bar were generally limited to a bottle of Becks, if you were lucky, or else a tonic water. Now most bars stock a couple of AF Beers and generally list one or two mocktails, which are indistinguishable in appearance from the boozy cocktails you would expect to find in a pub.
But back to me and my 28 day challenge. I came through it, with my support mechanisms, fairly unscathed. I didn’t find myself painfully craving a beer after a shitty stressful day, and what little cravings I did have where taken care of with booze free beers!
I met up with Magners, my drink of choice on St Paddy’s Day. We were reunited over a long day of International Rugby. Starting a little after midday and ending shortly after 11pm.. I have to say I enjoyed the golden boozy liquid which has served me well for over 14 years now. What I didn’t enjoy was the countless trips to the bathroom, the shitty nights sleep that followed or waking up to a ball of clothes that I discarded before falling into bed. While I wasn’t hungover the next day, I stayed in bed until lunchtime reading Catherine’s book and napping. I spent all of Sunday in a lazy daze feeling badly fatigued after a poor nights rest.
Surprisingly I spent all day feeling as if I had lost time, I missed out on an entire morning and part of the afternoon. In addition I was crushed by that feeling of what happened, what did I do last night, which stayed with me all day. I knew that the answer was nothing, as I had been at home drinking in my own bar, yet I still felt strangely uneasy.
So what now? I think it’s time to amend my drinking habits. Ill stop short of giving up completely, but one or two quality craft beers a few times a week might be the limit.
The truth is I can’t be bothered running to the toilet every 15 minutes anymore. I also realized I like to watch the entire match, movie or tv show and remember what happened the next day. Plus I’m not getting any younger & quality of sleep is important to my, old before my time ass, so binge drinking defo loses on that front also..
The real test of mettle will be a sunny summer day, where the BBQ is lit & the paddling pool is out. Thats a rarity in the Northern hemisphere and just screams ice cold beer.. this year it will be quality over quantity
Worried about you own drinking?
The internet has an abundance of free resources which can be found on a simple internet search.
The unexpected joy of being sober is available online at that big massive well known retailer...
Less than a week after awarding the Gold Medal of AF Beers to Brewdog’s Nanny State, I get a message from Karen at Belfast’s Premium Specialist Off license, The Vineyard.
After starting my 28 day Break from Booze I had been reading about a few craft beer breweries who specialise in low alcohol products and amongst others, Big Drop Brewing Co. had spiked my interest.
The guys at the Vineyard had gone out of their way to source some Big Drop beers but it seemed that cost was going to be a little prohibitive for me & I had given up on including this brewer in my beer chart.
Amazingly Karen remembered that I had enquired about this brewery and when some arrived In store she was quick to hook me up! So, finally the wait was over and on the penultimate booze free evening of the year, Big Drop Brewing Company Pale Ale had a lot to live up to.
Pouring a rich amber colour with light carbonation and a thin, quickly dispersing head, the aroma of this Pale Ale is quite simply amazing. If a beer sniff test was a thing To t could easily hide amongst any Pale Ale, with its big and bold hoppy scent
Then we come to the taste. As good as AF beer gets, it always lack bite. That of course is caused by the lack of Alcohol. Big Drip Brewing Co have found a way around this. While that watery weakness that zero alcohol provides is evident if you really search your palate for it, the intense Pale Ale flavours that fill your mouth more than cover up for that.
So does this change the AF Beer Chart? Absolutely, Big Drop Brewing Co Pale Ale now take the top 5 places all to itself, BrewDog is 6th and Erdinger 7th.... forget the rest.
This really is a special AF Beer, easy to sub in for the full ABV counterpart. Taste and aroma, it’s has it all.
I got my Big Drop Brewing Company Pale Ale at the Vineyard Off License on Belfast’s Ormeau Road. £1.89 for a 330ml bottle.
Ok Bar flies gather round, put the pee encrusted nuts down and hold off on the drunken yet to be regretted text your typing... It’s time to learn something.
In just a few short days Rivers will flow green, beer will pour green and millions of fetching green T Shirts will be adorned by wannabe Irish folk the World over..
That’s a lot of green. It can only mean St Patrick’s Day is almost here, so let’s have a condensed history of our modern celebrations
A few facts about Patrick the Saint...
Born in the latter part of the 5th Century
Spent the early part of his life living in Roman Britain
Captured by Irish Pirates and enslaved for some six years in Ireland where he tended livestock
Escaped & returned to Britain where he felt a calling to deliver Christianity to the people of Ireland so made his way back
Returned to Ireland and spread the word of Christianity
He drove out all the snakes we never had to begin with
Started an early mail order business in garish green shirts and party hats!
The Paddy’s Day parades & festivities we see in Ireland every year are still very much a modern celebration of the Feast of St Patrick.
It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that Irish Pubs we’re even allowed to open on the big day. The Irish Government at the time had this crazy notion that if the pubs opened people would drink and St Patrick’s Day would go from a religious celebration to a big old boozy Party!!
As it turned out Irish people are much too respectful of their religious holidays to allow such things to happen, Irish Americans it transpired however have no such decorum & it’s the second & third generation Irish immigrants who should be blamed for the gigantic piss up party that Paddy’s Day has become.
Although he never set foot in what would eventually become North America, St Patrick has been hijacked by the Yanks! Well the Yanks from Ireland who made the Country their home to be specific.
The Immigrant population in the United States notably Boston, Chicago & New York were the folks who really went all out to throw a party, using St Patrick’s Day to celebrate their culture and champion their Gaelic routes. So It’s Chicago not Dublin where you will find a river flowing green and it’s Boston not Belfast where the Guinness pours Green! It only ever pours black on this Island.
Back in Ireland It wasn’t until 1995 that the Tourism sector woke up to the possibilities of the occasion and began to embrace St Paddy’s day. Eventually the idea of Ireland as a tourist destination in which to celebrate the what was historically the Feast of St Patrick. So while Dublin and Belfast now play host to sizeable Parades & parties to mark Paddy and his day, they are still very much playing catch up to the well established carnival like festivities in many US Cities.
It’s even more recent times that stores in Ireland have begun to stock party supplies and decorations to compliment the Holiday. In fact a lot of this merchandise pitched at what was always an Irish celebration has made its way over from the USA, where it has been a yearly retail event much like Easter and the 4th July, for many years
However, this is Ireland so don’t worry about missing out, if you happen to be in the Emerald Isle on March 17th our legendary hospitality and craic will ensure you have a good time. The USA may do it big and bold, but Ireland will always do it best! Paddy was ours after all.
There has been some artistic license taken, but all in all that’s kinda accurate.
Every so often a product comes along that you look at and think wow. Wow, that is classy. The artistic bottle, simplistic yet intriguing. The website, slick & modern. The marketing, pitched just right. All this before you ever take a taste of the product itself.
Seedlip is one of those items. Billed as the Worlds first Non Alcoholic spirit, with a website keen to tell you how it is served in Michelin starred restaurants, the Worlds best cocktail bars and fancy hotels across the planet.
But what looks well designed, lovingly thought out and cleverly put together usually comes with a price tag to match all the effort. Seedlip is of course no different, at £28 for a 70cl bottle this is expensive, very expensive if you look at it as a soft drink. Let’s be honest, You could buy many a bottle of quality Boozy spirits for less, get a good offer & you could buy two! So this alcohol free Spirit must be something unique if it’s priced like that, right?
Well let’s find out
Currently available in two flavours, Spice 94 and Garden 108, Seedlip is the result of founder Ben Branson’s desire to have a decent alcohol free alternative. Using distilling techniques from the 1600’s he toiled over recipes until he came up with the flavours that are now stocked in The Savoy, Selfridges & on Virgin Atlantic’s transatlantic routes, to name just a very select few. Produced in England with a London HQ, Seedlip is promoted as a nature company, providing a solid alcohol free base for sour style cocktails and Martinis.
I recently got to try both flavours courtesy of the guys at Seedlip. I decided to keep it simple and went with the serves that they list on their website, with a minor tweak in that I switched out the peas for a fresh cucumber.
Both drinks are full on flavoursome, with the Spice beating out Garden 108 as my personal favourite.
Spice 94 served with Fevertree Tonic Water & Grapefruit peel over Ice
Tasting notes - A very dry bite, a dull spicy bite that lingers in the back of the throat, a hint of Christmas is detected through the inclusion of the citrus fruit
Strong rich flavour
Garden 108 served with Febertree Tonic Water & cucumber slice over ice
Tasting notes - Fresh fresh fresh... like just picked from the garden, carried in by grandma and washed under the tap fresh! With a deep earth taste that lingers in the mouth.
While my preference was for Spice over Garden, neither of Seedlip’s Non Alcoholic spirits were particularly satisfying, in fact let’s be honest, I didn’t like either.
But wait, I have a theory about exactly why....
This is a unique product in a niche market. Personally I think tonic water as a mixer is the wrong way to go. On tasting both flavours I can see why Seedlip is served in the top eateries & cocktails bars and that’s all to do with those who are serving it.
Seedlip needs to be used correctly. I can pour tonic or ginger ale or mix it’s through a cocktail twenty times, but it will never taste the same as the drink a professional barman will mix up! For me Tonic Water was a little to bland, these spirits need real quality ingredients to compliment them in a cocktail. They need to be expertly handled by someone who can fix the sort of drink you see served in the high end bars that already stick this.
Perhaps I should have taken the time to practice, but straight out of the bottle Seedlip is not a forgiving drink. Anyone can tip coke into bourbon or ginger into Whiskey & have an acceptable drink that tastes just right, Seedlip needs a little more skill and a little more prep.
So while I won’t be buying a bottle anytime soon, that’s only so I can save up for a trip to a fancy cocktail bar and taste it as it was intended.. which is something just a little beyond my mixology skills
I thinks it’s only fair that I a suspend this review until I can try a properly made Seedlip Martini or cocktail sour, until then I’m leaving this review unfinished. So Seedlip, you are neither good nor bad, but you could be great, in the right hands.
Seedlip is available at Tesco in 70cl bottle RRP £28
20cl bottles are also available RRP £12.99
I was provided with two 20cl bottles of Seedlip for tasting & review purposes by the company itself.
I have no interest financially or otherwise in Seedlip.
The Worlds largest Wheat beer brewery run by the Brombach family since 1935 but with a history that stretches back even further. This non alcoholic offering has made recent headlines from its Winter Olympic endeavours
Marketed as an Isontonic post workout sports drink, Erdinger Alkoholfrei was used to keep the German Olympic team hydrated in South Korea.
It’s mouthfeel is deep and fulfilling with no hint of the watery aftertaste that makes many a non alcoholic beer sink!
Brewdog Nanny State
The 11 year old Scottish Craft Beer sensation that shows no signs of slowing down its grasp of the globe released Nanny State, its first and so far only non alcoholic take on beer.
With 8 different speciality malts in the recipe this is a non alcoholic Pale Ale displaying that classic Brewdogedness in both taste and appearance.
It’s fully flavoured, and instantly had me feeling the chemical release in the brain that a much sought after sip of beer delivers. With a hoppy and malt filled mouthfeel it’s as close as you will ever get to a cold beer in an alcohol free bottle
So the final decision has been made! I did go back & forward in this one, but realised how it was going to turn out by simply counting my empties..
Silver goes to Germany, which means Gold is destined for Scotland!
Brewdog Nanny State is a Non Alcoholic Beer that tricked me, for however long, into the mindset that I was drinking a full ABV Beer! Credit were it is due, Erdinger went almost the entire bout, but lost out in the eleventh!
Making the list for the second time, it is of course the Germans who take the first podium place, as my bronze medal drapes around the neck of Franziskaner Alkoholfrei Weissbier.
The Munich based brewery known for its Spaten and Franziskaner brand, is part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev conglomerate
This was a great all rounder for an alcohol free beer, ticking all the visual boxes it pours a strong amber colour with a thin foamy head balanced on top. It’s flavoursome and does not disappoint with its taste, which manages to stay strong throughout the 500ml serving.
The athletic levels of Carbonation supports the mouthfeel and the only negative I could find was a somewhat lacking aroma which was disappointing when compared to the other German offerings
My 500ml bottle cost me £1.30 from Tesco
So with only two beers left, will Germany take the Gold or can Scotland make it to the top?
With only four sun beds left, it’s no surprise that the Germans have beaten the rest of the market to the pool and reserved a third of them already!
Warsteiner, the largest family owned brewery in Germany dates back to the 1700’s and is one of the most popular beer producers in a country renowned for the quality of its beers.
It’s most popular beer is a Pilsner called Premium Verum which serves as the base recipe for the breweries only non alcoholic offering. Warsteiner Premium Fresh uses the same brewing procedure as its 4.8% strength stablemate, before having all the alcohol removed.
This one pours a gol.. well Ill take a form uneducated guess that it pours a goldy couple with a bit of a head, the lack of photos attest to the fact I didn’t bother dirtying a glass and drank these from the bottle. Use your imagination or google it.
It smells like a decent German Pilsner, with that little something something missing! As I sample ever more AF Beers my highly untrained nose is noting the lack of booze in these brews, it’s always been apparent in the taste after three or four sips but I’m detecting it in the initial aroma now..
Taste wise this is lightly hopped, which lets it down somewhat even when you compare it with the 5th or 6th places offerings.
Strangely I only took one picture of this AF Beer, so feel free to enjoy it twice
This is the weakest of the three German offerings that made the list, only marginally better than Pistonheads flat tire
I picked up a 4 pack of Warsteiner Premium fresh from my local Tesco for £3.50
Having so far hosted The Netherlands & Scotland with less than impressive results, It’s with great optimistic pleasure that I welcome Sweden to the table.
Brutal Brewing’s Piston Head brand added this non alcoholic variant of their regular strength flat tire lager in late 2017. Having been created to capture a slice of the ever expanding non alcoholic craft beverage market, appealing to both the health conscious & those looking for a beer tasting alternative to drinking. Piston Head has so far been met with generally happy yet sober mumblings.
With can colour being the only way that I could see to differentiate between no ABV & it’s full strength buddy, Flat Tire pours a light golden colour with a full bodied off white head, it’s another booze free beer that certainly looks the part
Overall it’s smells good, brewed the same as the regular beers it could easily pass as it’s full bodied sibling. Taste wise, I was impressed, hoppy & initially beer yummy, it is drinkable when ice cold. It lacked that something, the watery aftertaste I find with most, but not all, AF Beers filtered through.
I think Flat Tire would have placed higher, if it wasn’t for the quality of the Germans. Yep, the Foosball Champions are set to dominate the top 5... but it isn’t all over for the home nations..
I picked up my can of Pistonhead Flat Tire from ASDA Stores at Antrim. 330ml was retailing at £1