Ivan Little: I’ve been zero-ing in on the best booze-free options but …

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Never mind the Holy Grail. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable alcohol-free drink that’s proving elusive for little ole wine drinker Little already though Northern Ireland is presumably in the grip of an unheard of abstemious dramatical change.

ales of alcohol-free booze are seemingly going by the roof as more and more drink producers create what they insist are healthier and safer alternatives to the intoxicating beers, wines and spirits that have been around for ever and a day.

But so far I’ve had virtually zero success in finding a zero per cent tipple that’s totally to my taste. Seven months ago after more than five decades sinking a godly — but rarely overly excessive intake of pints and vino — I resolved to declare time on the hooch, calling last orders so to speak.

Health considerations and the ageing course of action played their parts in my decision-making but to be honest I’d grown weary of the impact of the hangovers which were hanging over me already after just a few libations confined at times to one night a week.

And after birthday celebrations towards the end of last year that probably went on too long, I reckoned enough was enough. So I hit the beer on the head and put a cap on the wine.

For days and weeks, months already, the experience of the new-found temperance was in an agreeable league of its own.

The biggest problem was the reaction of friends and acquaintances who couldn’t understand why I wasn’t up to downing my usual quantities of liquorish delights. And at one hotel function, people literally came from the other end of the room to ask why I wasn’t supping, supposing that there must be something seriously wrong. Which there wasn’t.

I told them that my without of thirst for the Devil’s buttermilk was a godsend, but a few months ago I started to long to savour the flavour of a drink.

Which is when the search for an alcohol-free substitute really kicked in. And to my surprise I discovered I wasn’t alone.

In several drinks sections of major supermarkets I found shelves groaning with alcohol-free offerings. I’ve now probably tried every zero beer on offer but I’ve found most of them have something in shared — a less than appetising taste which is no replace the real McCoy.

nevertheless, however, I persist. And the hunt has become an obsession. I know there must be something out there that will be to my liking.

As for the wines, none of the alcohol-free vintages have been corkers. Most of the ones I’ve tried have been akin to glorified cordials. And as for alcohol-free cocktails, they’ve been more mockery than mocktail.

To be fair, a few alcohol-free gins have nearly hit the identify but as my cynical friends say that’s probably because it’s the tonic that is providing the oomph.

Sainsbury’s and Tesco say sales of alcohol-free drink have soared by close to 100 per cent in the last few years but no-one can really explain why their popularity is on the increase.

One theory is that some folk gave up the booze altogether when they were stuck at home during lockdown. A recent survey found that 20 per cent of people in the UK are now teetotal because they’ve become more health conscious.

In the last few weeks I’ve had the strange real beer or glass of wine when I’ve been out for a meal though my consumption is nothing like it was before. But then I never said that I was going to give up the gargle for life.

And if I needed any proof that drink can be a head-melter it came last week during the Linfield v Glentoran football match at Windsor Park.

A slightly inebriated Linfield fan who strayed into the area mumbled to a friend on the phone that he thought the game would go to additional time which for a league match was impossible.

And when some of his more clear-headed friends found him and urged yer man to take a seat with them he roared his encouragement to the team who were on the attack.

“You’re cheering on the Glens,” said one of his Linfield mates.

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