I’m still off the booze. Two and a half years and counting. This will be my third summer not throwing pints of Estrella and tins of M&S gin down my neck but as we’re all vaccinated and whatnot, it feels like the first proper summer in three years. We’re all back at pop concerts, weddings are at full capacity again, and we’re all acting like nothing ever happened. Even though it feels like we’re still barely through the second act of the disaster movie, this is a proper summer, which means anyone who finds it hard not to reach for a cold one in climbing temperatures will be severely tested. The good news is that the alcohol-free or low-alcohol selections are better than ever. Almost every pub has at least one AF lager – usually Heineken Zero which isn’t bad, tbh – and it does seem people are generally more understanding of people not wishing to drink, although this is usually because they want a designated driver to give them a lift home so they don’t end up puking in a taxi.
Every so often, I do a roundup of AF drinks that I’ve tried, some new releases, some have been around for ages but I’ve only just managed to get my hands on. Some of have been sent to me by PRs (I will say that after each comment) and others I’ve just bought myself when out and about. There are two approaches to going booze-free – you can either stay on the soft drinks or go for AF dupes of beers, wines and spirits. The good news is that if you prefer to stay soft, you’re not just left with Diet Coke – the adult soft drink market is growing fast – but you might struggle to find anything other than J2O in your average backstreet boozer.
Anyway, here’s a selection of my 2022 picks of AF drinks for summer.
This tranche of the AF market is really livening up. Interesting for me as I don’t miss the taste or the bloated feeling that comes with beer at all, but if you’re ‘out’, then for some reason holding an AF beer feels more of a security blanket than a faux gin or a kombucha. Maybe it’s because beer lends itself better to being savoured – it’s a drink that practically begs you to stare off into the middle distance and give off a contented ‘aaaah’. Anyway, here are some I’ve tried.
Brooklyn Special Effects
It’s fascinating to me to see Brooklyn lager everywhere in the UK now – when I went to NYC in 2008 I’d never heard of it and it seemed wildly exotic. Anyway, I was a fan of Brooklyn before I gave up the sauce so was glad to try this and enjoy this just as much. As with most AF beers, more than two of these and my stomach starts subpoenaing me to appear in the European Court of Human Rights, but this is hoppy, and heavy, and goes down a treat, with a bitter little finish that, for a nanosecond, falls you into thinking you’ve picked up the wrong bottle. Its slogan – ‘All the satisfaction, none of the buzz’ is unintentionally hilarious and would look great on a T-shirt, or as the title of my autobiography. (They do it in an IPA too, apparently.) More details
Lucky Saint (on draught)
I have previously waxed lyrical about Lucky Saint, it being possibly my favourite AF beer. One of the main downsides of AF lager is that it comes in bottles, and I have always, always held with the idea that bottled beer is usually for pricks, and that pubs who don’t serve draught beer are fronts for money laundering or drug trafficking (based on zero evidence btw). Anyway, now I can relive the full manly pint-swigging experience of my drinking days because Lucky Saint is available on draught. And it’s great! Like a proper ‘designer’ lager, as we used to call them in the nineties, and with only a hint of that telltale sign of lightness from the missing booze. Last couple of times I’ve ordered in (two different) pubs, however, it’s not been on, so maybe there is a stock issue or something. Anyway, if you can find it, grab it. More details on where to find it
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ ½ (Bought)
Peroni Nastro Azzurro 0.0%
A surprising launch (to me anyway), given it’s barely two years since Peroni gave us the AF Libera. As perfectly acceptable as Libera was in what felt then like an under-served market, the Nastro is tonnes better. Richer, less acidic, more satisfying. Tip: make sure the bartender doesn’t hand you a gluten-free Nastro by mistake – they still have booze in them. (This has happened to me twice.)
San Miguel 0,0
Did I even like San Miguel when I still drank? I have literally no idea. I barely know that person anymore. I can’t even imagine being drunk. Anyway, whatever. I drank this at a book event last week and was impressed. More details
I drank two of these at a book launch last week and found it really light and refreshing, with a decent stab at the aftertaste you get from drinking actual booze. More details
⭐️⭐️⭐️ ½ (Bought)
The problem with the AF spirit market is so few pubs bother stocking anything interesting. You might get a Seedlip if you’re lucky, but other than that it’s Gordon’s 0.0% all the way. But there’s a huge range of AF spirits available, perfect for sitting on your terrace, or shlepping along to barbecues, or whatever it is people with a social life do in summer, I have no idea, sorry.
Backed by former Made in Chelsea star Spencer Matthews, this is a surprisingly excellent range of AF dupes of your standard spirits. Clean T – tequila – is a decent enough mimic without all the associated madness that goes with drinking tequila. Clean G is a nice enough gin parody, although the pink version is definitely superior to the regular. Clean R is a takeoff of rum and certainly feels summery enough to swish around with a slug or two of (caffeine free) Coke Zero. The packaging is beautifully designed and very luxe – you’d be proud to hand this over in a (twice reused) bottle bag to the host of a party. More about CleanCo
My favourite gin when I drank was Plymouth – I would get a huge bottle of it for my birthday every year. Sadly Plymouth hasn’t launched an AF version yet so I’ve had to make do with my second fave, Tanqueray. This has all the characteristics of regular Tanqueray except it won’t make you question your life choices at 4am and the chances of being sick in a bin are much reduced. More about Tanqueray 0.0%
Lyre’s Pink London Spirit
Lyre’s are streets ahead of everyone else when it comes to range – there is barely an alcoholic drink on earth they haven’t whisked up a dupe for, and their take on pink gin is a proper triumph. Swishing it round a heavy tumbler of tonic while I imagine all my childhood enemies falling down manholes is one of my favourite ways to spend half an hour. More about Lyre’s
I’m always wary of botanicals – for every zesty, fresh, invigorating pick-me-up, there’s the sluggish, synthetic taste of someone emptying a spice rack into a bottle of water and hoping for the best. Mahala is definitely the former of the two. Including hints of cardamon, Angelica root, peppercorn and citronella, Mahala goes well with tonic water. It smells quite heavily of clove, which might spark some childhood toothache flashbacks, but on the whole it’s very drinkable. More about Mahala Botanical
Another booming market now that the world has finally realised that lime and soda is a) an absolute swizzle and b) a VIP pass to a lifetime of acid reflux.
I am, as I have often documented here, a huge fan of kombucha, whatever the flavour. So long as you don’t think too hard about what it actually is (fermented tea or something), kombucha is refreshing and even when sweetened, bitter enough to make you feel like you’re having a grownup drink. J’aime is a combination of two white silver needle teas, responsibly sourced, and is super refreshing. I really loved it. More about J’aime
Remedy Wild Berry
I’ve wanged on about Remedy before, and they’re probably one of the most recognised kombucha brands in the country, but they never rest on their laurels. Their newest flavour is the fruity and invigorating Wild Berry – by which they mean wild berries from somewhere cool and unspoiled, rather than the scraggy crop of brambles covered in dog pee that grow by the side of the railway track. Very tasty indeed. More about Remedy
Cutting booze out of your life also means, generally, that you are saying bye-bye to any kind of buzz, unless you’re still up for disappearing into cubicles with friends. CBD, then, tries to bridge that gap between respectable sobriety and the desire to feel a little kick. Goodrays comes in four flavours – raspberry and guava the best of them – and is super tangy. The effects of CBD on your mind are negligible at these levels, really, but if it’s true that it boosts your immunity and helps with stress and inflammation, there’s no harm knocking one or two of these back. More about Goodrays
A bright blue drink with a weird name that’s full of the not-exactly-known-for-its-tastiness algae called spirulina? Hmmm. Most of my followers complimented my Oscar-winning acting performance when I posted a Story trying this drink out and claimed it was nice – but it really is! Truly! It does help that I actually like spirulina I guess, but the taste is fairly faint. Ful’s environmental credentials are very impressive – they consider themselves a ‘climate positive’ food – and its three female founders are obviously very passionate about their product. Plus, it’s bright blue! Exciting! More about Ful
Coke Zero caffeine Free
What? Is this a misprint? No, it isn’t! If you miss the taste of ‘red can Coke’ but don’t want your teeth to disintegrate on contact and caffeine gives you the galloping panics, I am delighted to tell you that Coke Zero caffeine tastes more like ‘proper’ Coke than Diet, regular Zero, or Diet caffeine free. I don’t know why, or how, but it does. It’s being rolled out very slowly but I have seen it in Morrison’s and large Sainsbury’s.
AF wine is very hit and miss, with an emphasis on the miss. But fizzy stuff is really coming into its own.
It was only a matter of time before Lyre’s launched a faux-fizz, given champagne is the base for so many cocktails, and their spirits super range is already huge. Classico is properly good, it gets the taste just right, veering more toward the tang of champagne than the sweeter prosecco, which makes it feel more authentic. Perhaps one of the biggest losses from not drinking is missing out on the pomp of cracking open a bottle of ‘bubbly’, perhaps we underestimate just how important bonding is and how crucial alcohol can be in bringing people together – we have a lot of thinking we need to change on that. But until then, let the corks of Classico fly – a truly excellent sparkling trompe l’oeil. More details
Belle & Co
This is really good. And really cheap. Honestly. I made all my festive mimosas and sham cham-chams with this and even had a couple of regular glasses and it’s very impressive. You could almost believe it was the real thing. The rosé is especially lovely, with a spicy tang to it. Only £3.50. Available from Morrisons and Iceland, among other places so easy to get hold of. More details
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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