A Winelover’s 47-day Alcohol Free Journey

It’s Easter Sunday and so that means that I’ve done it! I’ve made it as that ‘winelover’ in the title going alcohol free since 26 February (Ash Wednesday). On that day, I faced my first challenge as I was also abstaining from refined sugar for Lent which meant that attending a film preview of Love Sarah with Ottolenghi cakes and subsequently joining the travel community for drinks instantly tested my resolve! Objectively, this may not have seemed very difficult for many, but I am one that has been wine tasting in London vineyards such as Forty Hall and on wine tours in Bordeaux (France’s renowned city of wine) and so an adjustment of mindset was certainly required!

Me at wine tasting at the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux
Me at wine tasting at the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux

Alcohol Free Preparation

As you may know, I have never subscribed to the notion of following a Dry January or Sober October. My belief has always been that drinking in moderation should suffice. However, this January, I did take advantage of some of the alcohol free cocktails that were on offer in a variety of bars and hotels. I was certainly surprised by the flavoursome varieties available at places such as The Zetter Townhouse, Kym’s Restaurant and L’Oscar London Hotel. One cocktail, Holy Water at The Zetter Townhouse, even contained kombucha (fermented tea) amongst its ingredients which I had never tried previously and provided that tangy taste. I would certainly recommend trying this cocktail combination.

January is quite a good month for socialising as bars and restaurants are quieter and more attentive and so I was able to learn more about the various non-alcoholic ingredients such as Seedlip, Everleaf, Three Spirit and Stryyk Not Vodka. It was interesting to discover that there is a plethora of non-alcoholic beverages available aside from just orange juice! Plus, conducting this research also provided me with the perfect excuse to visit bars that had not been on my radar previously such as Kym’s and L’Oscar which have exquisitely decorated bars and so I would recommend visiting.

Becoming Alcohol Free

I had not made a firm decision to become alcohol free for Lent after exploring the various non-alcoholic options in January, but I was also finding that some of the red wines had of late been giving me a headache. Therefore, knowing that there were a range of alternatives seemed to make it easier not just to give up cocktails and refined sugar, as I had done on previous years, but to try abstaining from alcohol completely. So, after making a few non-committed comments, it was only when I mentioned possibly giving up alcohol to the French group at after class drinks in the pub and mentioned it on Twitter that I made the commitment, given that the idea was out in the ether. If you are considering giving up or at least reducing the levels of alcohol that you drink, I would certainly recommend mentioning it to others in advance as this will assist with the strategy during such period.

Part of my wine and spirits collection at home
Part of my wine and spirits collection at home

Alcohol Free Strategies

My intention was never to stop socialising during my alcohol free period but to find alternatives. For me, socialising was not instantly connected to drinking. However, knowing that after French class we congregated in the pub for a glass or two of wine, I knew that I would have to strategise and make some adjustments. Fortunately, it was a group effort to discover alternative alcohol free beverages which certainly made it easier. However, I quickly discovered that many traditional pubs only seemed to have non-alcoholic beer as an option which was not suitable for me as a non-beer drinker. Some of the pubs that I questioned were not serving Appletiser either, which has the added benefit of having no added sugar or additives. As such in the pubs, my options were very often limited to fruit juice or a combination of fruit juice with soda water. At times, the drinks were served in a pint glass which meant that you only felt like drinking one due to its size!

Alcohol Free Living

Whilst I had devised strategies for managing whilst socialising being alcohol free as well as sugar free, what I had not contemplated were other gatherings. At a local community meeting, for example, wine was served and even during a French class there was a wine tasting of Bordeaux wines. I certainly had FOMO (fear of missing out) on those occasions! I would also have to remind myself on late evening cinema visits on a Friday not to have a glass of prosecco after a difficult week and indeed during any theatre trips. It is only when you are not drinking that you realise just how embedded drinking wine is within our culture. However, it was fascinating trying a non-alcoholic pornstar martini at Tonight Josephine! One of the difficulties during this time was related to also being sugar free as so many non-alcoholic options are rather sugary or alternatively too salty!

Alcohol Free Porn Star Martini at Tonight Josephine
Alcohol Free Porn Star Martini at Tonight Josephine

Fortunately, I did not have to make too many adjustments whilst at home as I would only occasionally have a glass of wine with a meal or whilst reviewing emails on the laptop, which I easily substituted. If you do find that you typically drink at home more, then finding a non-alcoholic substitute during activities such as watching Netflix might help, peppermint tea tended to be my drink of choice at such times!

Being Alcohol Free on Holiday

The only trip that I have been able to take this year before the travel restrictions came into force was to visit Glasgow for the Glasgow Film Festival. Whilst watching films, it was quite simple to avoid having any alcoholic beverages. However, during dinner was another matter. Where, I would usually order a glass of wine with a meal, on this occasion I would watch my friend sampling the different wine varieties on the menu which had some very nice aromas.

Fortunately, at The Butterfly and the Pig there was Appletiser on the menu! However, there is only so much apple juice, with or without soda, or Appletiser that you may feel prepared to drink instead of shots once in the late-night bars! I certainly lost count of how many apple juices I was drinking on one such night which finished with dancing! I did however sample one very interesting non-alcoholic cocktail at the bar of the CitizenM Hotel, which contained jalapeño! The addition of the chilli flavour meant that it was difficult to detect the absence of alcohol and it was rather tasty!

Alcohol Free Cocktail at CitizenM bar in Glasgow
Alcohol Free Cocktail at CitizenM bar in Glasgow

It was surprising, however, that many places still do not offer non-alcoholic wines on restaurant menus.

Being Alcohol Free during the Lockdown

As we now enter the third week of the lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, I haven’t been able to start drinking in the afternoon on the sunny days compared to the social media posts of others. These are challenging times and so being able to drink some wine would certainly have been appreciated! But, in some ways being under the lockdown has made this alcohol free journey slightly easier for me. As the bars, pubs, restaurants are all closed at the moment then I have not needed to seek any non-alcoholic options. However, there is still that sense of FOMO when seeing my fellow classmates during virtual French lessons drinking wine and I haven’t participated in any of the virtual wine tastings as yet. But, I do watch a daily cocktail making session on Instagram from Thomson and Scott. Fortunately, there are non-alcoholic versions of cocktails also made during the session and so I have learnt about their non-alcoholic prosecco, Noughty, and also drinks such as Nine Elms, which is an alternative to wine.

Conclusion

It has certainly been an interesting journey and as mentioned above I have learnt a lot during this time. The headaches are not as frequent now and so the effects on my body are certainly noticeable. I am, however, looking forward to having some sparkling wine to celebrate Easter and I have a virtual whisky tasting session booked as well. Therefore, a gradual return to drinking alcohol is likely to be my approach.

Virtual whisky tasting kit
Virtual whisky tasting kit

Would I embark on this alcohol free challenge again? Yes, I probably would perhaps for the odd week or two during the year as some of the alcohol free alternatives are quite tasty. Equally, as I have been following daily virtual workouts by Ciara Madden during the lockdown then I would need to be conscious of the additional calories from alcohol. Going forward, I will probably aim to drink lower ABV wines, organic wines but also brut sparkling wines and spritzes which are lower in alcohol volume. I would also be keen to see more non-alcoholic alternatives with reduced sugar and salt content. Equally, more restaurants should provide non alcoholic wine alternatives.

Have you ever gone alcohol free for Lent, Dry January or any other occasion? If not, would you ever try? Let me know in the comments below and any of your alcohol free recommendations.

Happy Easter!!

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