The hardest drink to give up is Nervous Wine, or Nervous Pint – there’s not a type of booze I particularly miss, more a state of mind I find it hard to medicate against. There are many benefits of drinking, like finding terrible jokes funny, not noticing quite as quickly how boring most of your friends are, and your inexplicable transformation into someone shaggable by 11pm when only three short hours ago, horses would gallop away from you in fright. But perhaps the biggest plus of alcohol is how it can help with your nerves – or at least make you think it does. It allows you to slip into the background, much like smoking a cigarette can – think about it: person hanging around on a street corner = dodgy, up to something; someone on the same street corner huffing the balls out of a Regal King Size = just someone smoking a fag, proceed. Nobody would really question why you were anywhere if you had a drink in your hand. Robbers should raid banks brandishing pints of Staropramen not shotguns. Holding a glass of booze helps you gatecrash parties and make people think you’re on side. It can also bolster your confidence, too. Don’t know anyone at an event? Just walk round the place holding a glass of prosecco. Date going badly? To the bar with you – more beer should do the trick!
I’ve wasted a lot of time standing in rooms where I hardly knew a soul, sipping, then gulping, then chucking back Nervous Wine or a Nervous Pint so that it didn’t seem weird that I wasn’t talking to anybody. I’m not one of those people who confuses social awkwardness for a quirky personality – I can work a room if I need to. And I know the answer is: just put yourself out there! Go talk to somebody! Nobody will mind! But as well-meaning as these Geri Halliwell-esque sentiments are, they don’t always work in rooms full of cliques or people that everyone else desperately wants to impress. So there’s no more Nervous Booze for me, which is actually a far braver move than trying to get on first-name terms with whoever’s pouring the prosecco at a product launch.
After I started drinking again in late 2017, I would do a month on, month or two off – a really weird way to consume alcohol, by the way, by the calendar. In early 2018, to ready myself for my book launch for The Last Romeo, coming that May, I resolved not to drink a drop for as long as possible beforehand. I wanted clear(ish) skin, an even clearer head and, more importantly, to be able to fit into the teeny tiny Sandro shirt I’d emptied my bank account to buy. I had written all of The Last Romeo totally sober – side note, I drank during the writing of my second book and it took way longer – and thought I owed it to myself to be coherent on the day. I had one slip-up the week before my launch – amazing celebratory cocktails over lunch with a wonderful friend I don’t see often – but other than that, I was as pure as I’d ever be. As my editor was introducing to me to a (very surprisingly) packed room, before I was to stand on a table and do my speech plus a reading, I started to feel my throat close up. That old familiar feeling. I asked my partner to pass me his glass and had a swig of that good stuff – the Nervous Wine. I almost felt like the rush of confidence it gave me wasn’t worth it, but I got up, delivered the speech – largely unrehearsed but there were bits I’d really wanted to say – and gave the reading and climbed down to rapturous response. Then I had my first proper drink of the day. As I sipped it and let those congratulatory bubbles prickle the back of my throat, I realised I had forgotten to thank my friends, some of whom had come from different countries to be there – even though I’d run that part over and over in my head. Whether it was down to that last dash of Nervous Wine I’ll never know, but, regardless, I knew that beer or wine drank through lack of spine would aways be my enemy.
Anyway, now I’ve kicked Nervous Booze into touch and have to rely on my own charm – good job I never go out anywhere tbh – I’ve had to find alternatives. Obviously you can still stand about drinking these and not arouse suspicion, but while these drinks might not make you walk taller, you’ll at least… enjoy them? Maybe? In this post, beers and nolo premixed cocktails, for those of us who miss summers spent drinking seven cans of M&S pink G&Ts in Green Park, surrounded by plastic picnic debris.
Beer is arguably the easiest entry-point to a booze-free life. Why? Sexism, probably. Men drink beer, and men make a lot of the decisions. Most pubs will have a booze-free beer option, as a nod to the clampdown on drink-driving over the last couple of decades. Designated drivers are, possibly, one of the few abstainers to escape criticism and even earn a kind of respect – usually because fellow drinkers know it’s only temporary and, more importantly, want a lift home. Most drink-drivers are men too – around 68% I think when I last checked – and with beer’s understood acceptability in the ace of masculinity, it’s only natural alcohol-free beer is the easiest to get your hands on. I’ve picked my favourites of ones I’ve tried, and also mention a few others you’re likely to see in the pub.
Binary Botanical – Billed as a light, refreshing table beer (I have no idea what ‘table beer’ means and I’m unwilling to google), Binary Botanical comes in two varieties, one with 4% alcohol – so no good to us here – or a Zero version, actually 0.5% alcohol as most ‘booze-free’ beers are. They look quite similar so be careful not to mix them up, as I nearly did when reaching for one to try. The Zero *was* light and refreshing and easy to drink, yet herby, tangy and sour enough to make you sip rather than swig. I liked it!
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More info on Binary Botanicals
Ilkley Brewery‘s Virgin Mary is a nolo version of their Mary Jane, a 3.5% session beer. I had to google this, but apparently a session beer is one you can drink a fair amount of over a longer period of time without becoming violent, or stealing a traffic cone and popping it on your head and saying you’re Wizbit. I was interested to try this as I’m from the next town over from Ilkley in West Yorkshire and was expecting the drink to be as snooty and closed-off as its hometown (hahaha jk) but this was nice. Even though it had no booze in it, it still had plenty of the unmistakable body you’d find in an alcoholic version. Packaging is great, even if it does rely on the ‘there are lots of mills in the north’ trope. There are lots of mills, okay? It’s just that most of them are luxury flats now.
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Buy Virgin Mary now on the Ilkley Brewery shop (new batch coming soon apparently)
Heineken 0% – Yeah, groundbreaking, I know. Heineken, who knew? But bear with me because this GENUINELY is good. It tastes almost like the real thing, so long as you stop at three and then move onto something else (true of many nolo beers, I’ve found). It tastes as close to the alcoholic version as it can without making you suspicious and has the advantage of being available absolutely everywhere. When I’ve had enough of drinking weak cordial and soda in my local, I go for this one. The best mainstream, readily available, nolo beer you will find.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ (Bought)
Nirvana Brewery is based in east London and is dedicated to producing only booze-free craft beers. packaging is v cool and they’ve got every branch of the beer family tree covered: stout, pale ale etc. I tried the Bavarian Helles lager and, reader, I liked it.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ (Bought)
See the full range on the Nirvana Brewery website
Lucky Saint – Apparently made from Bavarian spring water (and some other stuff that sounds less glamorous) Lucky Saint is a very, very good alcohol-free beer. Like, seriously, you would hardly believe it wasn’t the ‘real thing’ – by which I mean a beer with alcohol. It’s so nice! I checked the (beautifully designed) label, panicking that I’d accidentally drunk a regular beer. Not only is it a good sub for a boozy beer, it tastes great on its own merit.
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You can buy Lucky Saint or take out a regular subscription on their site
Freestar – The major claim of this impressive nolo beer is that in production, Freestar creates 70% less waste and uses 80% less water than other alcohol-free beers. They also claim to be the only alcohol-free beer that doesn’t just brew regular beer then remove the alcohol – so no alcohol is involved in their process at all. All sounds very worthy, but the big news with this one is that the taste is excellent, properly light and sparky, and with the perfect amount of boozy pushback taste. You can catch this one in some pubs too – especially in London – so depending on where you go, you won’t have to have an indoors beer and an outdoors beer. Yes, great.
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Buy Freestar in bottles or cans online or check for stockists
Although my favourites are above, I feel compelled to mention some of the other beers freely available in bars and pubs just in case you come across them. Here’s how they compare:
Becks Blue – why? ⭐️
Peroni Libera – nice enough for a maximum of two bottles then you’d need to switch to something else ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Erdinger Alkoholfrei is actually OK and available at quite a few places. ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Stella Artois Alcohol Free 😶
Brewdog do a few:
Nanny State is the one you see most often and, sadly, it’s the worst. Tastes like a headache. ⭐️ ⭐️
Punk AF is better, with tangy tropical notes. ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️.
Lost AF I have yet to try but is their newest launch and is billed as a crisp and refreshing lager substitute. Will seek it out and report back, or wait for 20 men on the internet to tell me; they should be along any minute.
You may prefer to call them ‘mocktails’ to avoid any confusion, but I’d rather not if you don’t mind. ‘Nolo’ is bad enough, I think, but there’s something about the word mocktail – like it was dreamt up in a strategy meeting by someone looking to do a 360º sponsorship deal with Rita Ora on Instragam saying how much she loves a nolo pina colada. Anyway, regardless, mocktails are a pretty easy drink to request when you’re out and about. You will generally find that any place that takes great care over its cocktails will have a nolo offering too – and often they’re specially blended rather than just a cocktail with the booze taken out. But what of premixed cocktails?
Mixologi – Cocktail bombs, soluble balls of flavour that you drop into your soda water and get an instant nolo cocktail. There are loads of different types available – Cosmo, Bellini Blush, Margarita. I tried the Lychee Martini but they don’t seem to be available now. You could, I guess, sneak one out and pop it into a glass of soda at the pub but people might notice you stirring the drink with your finger to get the last powdery bits.
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See the range on Your Drink Box
Square Root do a range of booze free cocktails in their trademark fun and lively packaging. Their faux gin and tonic was good – went down a bit too easily but LOL so did the real thing back in the day. Their freshly launched mojito was nice too and, in the interests of journalistic standards, I tried their negroni spritz. Regular readers will know that I loathe negronis because they taste like toenails floating in day-old bathwater, but I can confirm the Square Root negroni mockup is actually nice, so not v authentic, but worth trying.
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Shop all the varieties and get mixed cases at Square Root
I also tried a Seedlip NOgroni – a premixed negroni knockoff from the leading nolo spirit experts. I can report that it smelled wonderfully aromatic… and tasted like cold coffee, osteoarthritis, and a tailback on the M25 – that is to say, in actual fact, so close to the taste of a real negroni that I couldn’t finish it. So:
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ for the authenticity.
Obviously, not really right for me, but for negroni fans: this is your boy.
Honourable mention to east London bar Hacha, whose non-alcoholic Mirror Margarita basically looks like a big bottle of water. Exceeeeeept, when you chill it and pour it over ice, it’s gorgeously sweet and sour and just like the real thing except I could stand up after drinking it.
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Range of cocktails from Hacha
Savyll – A great range of very sleek and sophisticated looking cocktails, including the standards like a gin and tonic and mojito, with a few retro mixes like Old Cuban and Moscow Mule. My favourites were actually their take on a Bellini and the Spiced Rum and Cola – lacking the slight alcoholic pushback, of course, but even genuinely alcoholic cocktails don’t taste much of booze, unless you’re having a martini or similar – as that’s what they were designed for. Get a starter pack and see how you get on.
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Shop the different cocktails at the Savyll website
You can, of course, also make alcohol-free cocktails with spirit alternatives and I will be looking at what’s available and picking my favourites in the final part of this nolo slog. Thanks for sticking with me so far.
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