Alcohol has long been seen as an essential wingman for a good night out, but what if we told you that really didn’t need to be the case anymore? Non-drinkers have come a long way from only being able to wet their whistle with a sticky J2O, a glass of Coke or an overly-sweet spirit imitation. London’s innovative restaurateurs and bartenders are now gladly catering for booze-avoiders all year round and it’s not just a faddy trend, it’s here to stay. In fact, there are now so many low and no booze options that it’s hard to know where to start. Whether you’re laying off the booze for good, cutting down with mindful drinking, or dipping your toes into the sober curious lifestyle – we’ve pulled together a guide to getting to know the drinks scene.
1. Beginner: get to know cool craft low-ABV brews
If you’re new to not-drinking your first port of call should be dabbling in some of London's excellent independent low-ABV or alcohol-free crafties. Venues like Mother Kelly's, The Rake and Earl of Essex are all great options for grabbing a boozeless brew.
‘Alcohol-free craft beer sales have really grown over the summer. Londoners are living at 100-miles per hour in both work and play. I honestly think drinkers weigh up their options – asking themselves ‘have I got time for a hangover?’’ David Burgess co-founder of the now sadly closed bar and kitchen Fugitive Motel explains. ‘Awareness of mental wellbeing certainly plays a part, too.’
2. Intermediate: get creative with cocktails
‘You definitely have to shift your mindset when creating non-alcoholic drinks, because alcohol is a great carrier of flavour, and when you take it out, you need to find other ways to carry that flavour,’ Monica Berg, co-owner and bartender Tāyer + Elementary explains. ‘Our drink series always features Everleaf – it’s one of our favourite non-alcoholic aperitifs. It really has great depth of flavour, and they’ve thought about the texture and mouthfeel, which is an important part of the drinking experience.’
Everleaf isn’t the only high-end non-alcoholic aperitif you can buy. There’s also Three Spirit, developed in partnership with plant scientists, world-class bartenders and herbalists. It uses ‘mood-boosting’ botanicals and seasonal antioxidant fruit in its cocktails, which can be found at Hoxton’s cocktail bar Nightjar. The aim? To make zero-booze bevs that still provide feelings of stimulation, relaxation or stress relief.
3. Expert: become a CBD and kombucha expert
So, you’ve got to grips with faux alcohol? Time for some sober sips that don’t even aim to taste like booze. As the low and no alcohol space matures, Cannabidiol (CBD) is finding its way into the beverage aisle and bar menus, too. Goodrays is the UK’s only CBD-infused, low-ABV seltzer and you can try it out at The Book Club and Queen of Hoxton bars in Shoreditch. The makers are hoping to make booze-free waves by offering a healthy alternative from caffeine and alcohol, to unwind from life’s daily stresses with help from a very special ingredient...
‘Before you ask, no you can’t get high off this drink,’ says Goodrays founder Chris Kelly. ‘Despite the stigma, cannabis has a lot of the functional benefits. Our drink focuses on the relaxation benefits. We’re not here to replace alcohol. Bartenders have even used our seltzer as a mixer for non and alcoholic drinks. We want to be the key part of socialising, providing options and have designed our drink with an adult bitter taste.’
There’s even more innovation happening elsewhere in London. At restaurants Big Jo and Jolene in Newington Green, the staff spend just as much time on their non-alcoholic pairings as on their wine pairings. Juices, extracts and homemade fermented tea kombucha are expertly mixed or blended to pair with the dishes served and they’re given as much reverence as their alcoholic counterparts.
‘The whole process takes 7-15 days and there’s hardly any waste. We use whatever’s in season and leftover ingredients like apple cores, orange peel or lemon zest to turn them into cordials and that’s what’s used to flavour kombuchas,’ Tereza Pospíšilová, head fermenter at Jolene Bakeries, explains. ‘It’s fun to play around creating different flavours such as spiced apple, sencha and strawberry, passionfruit and jasmine and violet blueberry kombucha. They may taste funky and delicious on their own, but you have to consider the drinker and how it’ll go with food. Is it too acidic or overpowering? It’s a fine balancing act to get right.’
It’s that attention to detail that every non-drinking Londoner deserves, and that more and more spaces are trying to offer. So, skip the next-day regret, raise a glass and pour one out to the city’s booze-free ales, kombuchas and hydrosols.
Looking for a light night out? Head to these bars for low-alcohol drinks