Maybe other than Christmas, summer is the most difficult time of the year not to be a drinker. Summer 2021, especially, given we spent the first quarter of the year at home, pubs and restaurants shuttered. There is something about the heat, and the bared skin, that lends itself pretty well to getting slaughtered and sunburned in a pub garden or embarrassing yourself irrevocably at a family barbecue before having an argument in a corner shop over whether it’s a good idea to get a seven-litre bottle of Strongbow with your partner on the way home. Tradition would have you believe that summer is meant for getting wrecked; it’s the time to shrug off the wilds of winter and the spring downpours and luxuriate in vitamin D and sweet, sweet alcohol. For the abstainers, options tend to be as limited as ever. There are only so many Diet Cokes you can sink as you watch your friends descend into oblivion.
Coming up to Christmas, I rounded up the best no-alcohol or low-alcohol options (hence the annoying abbreviation nolo which I now unironically love), and now I’ve selflessly sampled some summer offerings – either things I hadn’t heard of back then or stuff I’d missed. If the range isn’t summery enough for you, go pop on a Hawaiian shirt and have a mosquito bite you and then return to read this again.
Booze-free spirits are pretty well represented now – in home drinking, at least – and after exalting all the fake gins and kick-lacking vodkas last year, I turned my attention to rather more interesting propositions:
Gimber – What’s in a name? While Gimber might sound like a vague insult, but it is in fact a new non-alcoholic concoction with what you might call a gingery kick. A mixture of natural, organic and unfiltered ginger, lemons and spices, it’s not exactly a spirit, more a concentration, but it you drink it like one. You definitely have to be a confirmed, card carrying fan of ginger to appreciate this one, I think; I doubt anyone less keen on it will be converted. But if you want a refreshing fiery jolt to the tonsils that’s got a bit more to it than your average af spirit, Gimber is your go-to. It’s good to be different. More info on Gimber
Spirited Euphoria – CBD has been enjoying some time in the spotlight over the last decade or so as a kind of miracle substance that cures everything from anxiety to psoriasis – but can it make your drunk friends less boring? Well, perhaps. A new company called Edi launched just before the pandemic, to introduce a range of drinks which, according to the blurb ‘replaces the effects of alcohol thanks to a unique blend of hemp, cannabidiol (CBD), nootropics and adaptogens that trigger feelings of pleasure and relaxation, without the downsides of alcohol’. I was born skeptical about everything, tbh, but I really liked this. It has a rooty, herby, and aromatic taste so goes well with tonic or soda water. Does it work? I did feel more relaxed after I sipped a couple of these with tonic. Because I am bad at reading instructions, I didn’t see that Edi recommend you don’t have more than three a day, and drank five on my first outing, so felt a bit sick after, but every other time I’ve been fine. Shop Spirited Euphoria
Caleño Light & Zesty – Park tinnies and a rapidly rancidifying M&S picnic are the backbone of summer and non-boozers finally have a handy little can of their own to take along that doesn’t come from the Coca-Cola Company. Eagle-eyed viewers may spot that I already gave Caleño the thumbs-up in my 2020 roundup, but thought it was worth another mention as they’ve just launched in cans. Summery and light but with a zesty tang that makes it feel like a grown up drink, I loved Caleño as a spirit and in its new mixer can form, it’s perfectly portable. Or you can do as I did and drink them in your scorching hot living room in just your pyjama bottoms. (I have since moved house and no longer do this.) More info on Caleño
Okay, so I have slagged off Diet Coke at least twice already, which is panic given I drink at least one Diet Coke Sublime Lime a day BUT my point is there has to be more to life than fizzy diet drinks when you’re a ‘no thanks’ to booze. Some of my favourites:
Feel Good – I’m about as interested in flavoured sparkling water as I am climbing Everest in platform Skechers, but I was thrilled to find the exception that proves the rule in the form of Feel Good drinks. Aside from decent ecological credentials like plastic-free packaging, charity donations, and a low carbon commitment, the flavours are genuinely great. No dishwashing liquid-style lemon ‘n’ lime here – we’ve got raspberry & hibiscus (the best one), peach & passionfruit (actually maybe this is the best one) and rhubarb & apple (potentially the best one, in fact). I really liked them; can you tell? They have an advert on their website which is full of all the people you’ve ever queued up behind in Whole Foods doing things like rock-climbing, surfing, and yoga in slow-motion which is as anti-aspirational for me as you can get BUT please do not let that put you off. More about Feel Good Drinks
Remedy Peach – I have banged on about Remedy Kombucha before for very good reason – it is very nice. They’ve added an extra flavour – peach – to the already impressive range and it’s actually terrific. I mean, peach stuff can be hit or miss, can’t it? Miss, usually. Peach sorbet – good. Peach ski yoghurt left in the back of a car for three days in July – not the best. Peaches and cream – fine. Peach toilet air freshener allowed to go solid inside the plastic casing, which will probably outlive everyone currently living on earth – uncool. Peach Remedy – lovely. There we go. See the full Remedy range
Air Up – What’s better than flavoured water? Lots of things, but for the purpose of this exercise I’m going to say… how about water that isn’t flavoured at all but somehow tricks your mind into thinking it is? Yes, this does sound like one of GOB from Arrested Development’s disastrous illusions but it is in fact the brainchild of Air Up! a special drinking bottle that uses your NOSTRILS to fool you into thinking the water you’re drinking tastes of berries, or lime, or cola, for example. Why? I don’t know, but it’s part of a mission to stop our reliance on sugary drinks and make sure we all get that two litres of water a say doctors are always telling us about. The specially designed Air Up water bottle uses a range of pods that you slide over the nozzle to emit a light aroma that tricks your taste buds. Adjust the nozzle, it’s water, do it again, it’s lime cordial, kind of. I will be honest, my sinuses are an absolute crime scene so I have no idea whether that affected my experience, but it does work to a degree – I feel results may vary depending on how good your sense of smell is. The bottle is cute enough that if the flavour-pong pods aren’t doing it for you, maybe the water will. Find out more about Air Up
Lo Bros – I had never heard of this brand until I ordered a bottle by mistake when online shopping. What a happy accident, because I am now a big fan. They do kombucha and ‘living sodas’ – as far as I can gather their kombuchas are flavoured kombucha and their living sodas are kombuchas that taste like regular bottles of pop. I don’t know; I would contact their PR but who has the time? Anyway, I can very much recommend the Raspberry & Lemon, and the Passionfruit, and the Lemon, Lime & Bitters, especially. Life-changing. And because it’s kombucha it’s good for your gut or something. But if a product having any health benefit whatsoever deters you somewhat, rest assured they taste very nice. Shop the full Lo Bros range
Trip CBD Infused – Another cannabis-driven booze alternative, lightly sparkling stress reliever Trip comes in three flavours, with Elderflower & Mint getting my vote. There’s no added sugar, but they’re sweet enough to knock back if you’re thirsty, and while you may not match your mates’ alcohol buzz – by which I mean you probably won’t suddenly believe anyone who looks in your direction is desperate to sleep with you – you might get a teensy little kick to take your mind off how dreary pissed people are. It’s a decent substitute for drinking booze and yet for some reason, often when I order this, the waiter tells me I should try vodka in it sometime. Once I was told this at 11:45am. Do I have to start wearing a badge or something? Find out more about Trip
Remember when fizzy wine was champagne and that was it? Permanently inaccessible until Cava got popular and we could all experience the intensity of a bubble-assisted hangover. Sparkling wine in the nolo world has varying results, and aside form the ones I recommended at Christmas, here are some others I’ve tried.
Nosecco/Nozeco – I made this my replacement fizz in my Christmas Buck’s Fizz, buying six bottles of it untested off Amazon, where it was branded ‘Nosecco’. Taste-wise, it was adequate, kind of aping a melon taste which is a shame as I don’t like melon, but it sadly smelled like floor cleaner and I could think of nothing else as I closed my eyes and thought of my liver while I knocked it back. It turns out that in UK retail, the faux-fix has been renamed ‘Nozeco’ because of a trademark dispute with people who actually make prosecco. Bizarrely, when I bought this version in the supermarket, I found it fizzy, fruity and tart and a pretty decent substitute. So either I bought knock-off product pin Amazon, or they’ve changed the formula since then, or… maybe I was having a better day. Weird. Anyway, while it may miss the telltale zing of booze (which I can just about remember), it’s not bad.
⭐️⭐️/⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ depending on my mood it would seem (Bought)
Asda Sauvignon Blanc Sparkling – A decent dupe. Bought out of desperation as I couldn’t face stomach-rot from another nolo beer session, this fake fizz tastes so much like it might kind of be the real thing that I went back to the bottle to double-check twice. Buy this fierce fizzy motherf*cker at ASDA
I don’t know how I feel about nolo beer properly yet. It seems like what you lack in hangover after drinking, is made up for in horrendous gut rot. More than two of any alcohol-free beer and my stomach is complaining to a tribunal. Is there something they put in it or is it just the same as regular beer except usually you’re too pissed to notice your stomach is in agony? Okay, now we’ve pinched the salt, some I tried. I’ve focused on ones that are easy to find and buy when you’re out.
Moretti Zero – king-like. Moretti was a favourite beer of mine in the before times and I was fully prepared to hate on this hard. But I couldn’t. It is great. Rather than some dupes, whose similarities end in bottle design, Moretti Zero retains almost all of the character of its… er, plus variety, with none of the falling down stuff. Really great.
Brewdog Lost AF – I was not a fan of the other Brewdog non-alc variant, Nanny State, which tastes watery and headachey. Lost AF, a bootless variant of their allegedly iconic Lost Lager is in a different league. It’s hoppy and zingy and light, and I really liked it. Obviously, you have to reconcile yourself with the fact that you might actually have to go to a branch of Brewdog, but there’s always home delivery. Alternatively, just add two extra handfuls of product to your hair, cyberflash dick pics to the rest of your friends, and live life like you’re the sole nerd in an eternal stag do, and you’ll fit in fine.
Erdinger Alkoholfrei – Another pre-abstemiousness fave, Erdinger’s more sensible cousin is one of the closest tastes I’d ever tried. Again, I had to keep going back to the bottle to check I hadn’t been served the boozy one in error. unfortunately, I also clocked how many calories it has in it at the same time which was a little off-putting, but if you are looking for a near-beer experience in a larger bottle – which can be hard to find in the nolo arena – then this is your pal. Apparently this is brewed under the strict Bavarian Purity Law, which sounds very serious – unfortunately I have decided not to google what this actually is. Sometimes I think there are just some things you’re better off knowing.
Doom Bar Zero – feels odd maybe that the heavy amber ale Doom Bar should have a light and booze-free version, but I guess every family has its fey diamond in the rough. DBZ is honestly great, even nicer than its boozy relation, very refreshing and, again, comes in a bigger bottle which, obviously is more butch.
If you have any recommendations, get in touch, or if you are representing any nolo/AF brands, let me know. Before you do, just to note that I can’t guarantee coverage, nor that I will like your product. But if you like danger, get in touch.
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