January 2021 looks set to be a little duller than your average. And that's before many of us take on the traditional new year’s detox. Luckily, the drinks world has upped its game significantly on the low-and-no alcohol front of late, so cutting back doesn’t mean giving up on fun. Here are some of the best options for a dry – or perhaps just a little less wet – January.
Teas and Kombuchas
When we taste fermented food and drinks we’re experiencing a whole world of micro fauna in all its chemical complexity. It’s why wine tastes so much better than grape juice. Until recently the only fermented drinks consumed in these parts were of the boozy variety but this has started to change. Lightly sparkling kombucha, made by fermenting tea, is still sometimes lumped in with hair-shirted healthfoodiness but they can be absolutely delicious. Jarr in Hackney does an excellent line in kombuchas made using green and oolong teas; their original brew (24cl - £2.65; Planet Organic) is bright and slightly earthy with nice acidity. The passionfruit flavour is also convincing; sweet and sour without being sugary. Both have lots of potential for food pairings - the former is an ideal accompaniment to mushrooms while the latter ties in well with coconut-based curries.
Also worth checking out for zero-ABV food matches is Saicho, a company producing sparkling cold brew teas intended for the dinner table. Saicho Hojicha has a nutty, toasted profile with a little fruity sweetness – good company for cured meats. The firm’s jasmine tea is fragrant and creamy, with a nice streak of vanilla – excellent with deserts. Both are great alternatives to a glass of wine (50cl - £7.95; The Whisky Exchange).
Bitter aperitivi are the perfect way to close out the day and get you thinking about dinner. The venerable house of Martini makes a non-alcoholic aperitif called Martini Vibrante (75cl - £8; Sainsbury’s) which you’d use the same way as your regular Martini Bitter, Campari, or Aperol - which is to say about 50:50 with soda water, lots of ice, and a wedge of orange.
Another smart choice is Æcorn Bitter Aperitif (50cl - £19.95; Direct) which is based on English wine grapes and botanicals including bay leaf, grapefruit, and oak. It’s superb in one of their suggested serves with Fever-tree blood orange soda and you can also buy it in a pre-mixed ‘Nogroni’ (20cl - £12; Waitrose) with Seedlip Spice 94. If you close your eyes and think of Italy just about hits like the real thing. Serve with salty snacks for best results.
Most fizzy drinks - caffeinated, sweetened, and confected as they are - don’t make an easy 1:1 sub for a stiff drink. However, there are options out there for the discerning soft-drink-sipper. Stylish seltzer brand Something and Nothing sells cans of light, spritzy goodness made with all-natural ingredients. A can of their Yuzu Seltzer (12 x 33cl cans - £19.85; Direct) served long over ice with a little twist of lemon is easy and refreshing with no disquieting sugar rush. It would probably taste even better with a little Tequila in it but this is Dry January – no Tequila here, move on. You can get a mixed six pack from Something and Nothing that also includes cucumber and rose hibiscus flavours for £12.75.
Also well worth checking out is the fizzy pop produced by Manchester craft brewing institution Cloudwater. Their Mango & Citra Sour Soda (44cl - £3.25; Direct) is made with mango puree, tropical tasting citra hops, and cumin for a little spice and earthiness. Perfect for IPA drinkers but much more than a beer substitute.
There are plenty of zero ABV botanical spirits on the market these days; nicely packaged and promising to sate your juniper cravings. However, they do carry the unpleasant aftertaste of having just spent £25 on a bottle of water. The smarter money is on getting in some good quality cocktail bitters. A few dashes of Bitter Truth Celery or Grapefruit bitters (20cl – both £15.25; The Whisky Exchange) in a highball glass with plenty of ice and a wedge of orange for garnish basically amounts to a real drink with a vanishingly small alcohol content.
Elsewhere, Cotswold distillery has just dropped a concentrated Dry Gin Essence (10cl - £14.95; Direct). The little bottle promises all the botanical intensity of their regular gin in a smaller package, meaning that just 5ml with tonic water tastes like a regular G&T. Smart stuff and very tasty with lots of citrus, bay, and pepper on the palate. It’s not quite zero ABV but some back-of-a-fag-packet calculations indicate that it’d take about nine of these to give you a buzz – so it’s essentially dry January safe.
Historically, non-alcoholic beers of the past tended to be slightly pasty affairs with artificial bubbles and lots of unfermented sugars. These days, however, enterprising brewers all over the world are producing low ABV offerings that are great drinks in their own right. Bermondsey based Small Beer makes fantastic, picnic friendly lagers and ales that hover mostly around the 2.5% mark. The best choice of their range for January though is the Small Beer Dark Lager (6 x 35cl - £15; Direct), which is toasty and rich with lots of coffee and dark chocolate, and comes in at a virtuous 1% alcohol. Absolutely fantastic.
Also worth a shout and widely available these days is Lucky Saint (33cl - £1.50; Sainsbury’s), an unfiltered lager that’s just 0.5% ABV – so not legally recognised as alcoholic in the UK. Brewed in Bavaria, It’s bright and citrussy and drinks like a classic pilsner. This is the no-hangover beer you’ve been looking for.