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Jolene Kombucha Tasting Menu
Photograph: Sofie Thompson

Sober October: Your three-step guide to going alcohol-free in London

The more innovative bars and restaurants to visit if you’re doing Sober October

Angela Hui
India Lawrence
Written by
Angela Hui
India Lawrence

Alcohol has long been seen as an essential wingman for a good night out, but what if we told you that really didnt 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 startWhether you’re laying off the booze for good, cutting down with mindful drinking, or dipping your toes into the sober curious lifestyle – weve pulled together a guide to getting to know the drinks scene. 

Fugitive Motel AF Beer
Photograph: Haydon Perrior

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.’

So, what should you be drinking? Brilliant 0% beer brands such as Lucky Saint, Coast Beer Co. and Big Drop Brewing have hopped on to the scene offering complex fruity and malty flavours that are a cut above the mass-produced alcohol-free lagers and ales that have flooded the market in recent years. Plus, there are loads of good bevs coming out of cool London craft spots like the UK’s first alcohol-free dedicated brewery Nirvana Brewery in Leyton, London’s only B-Corp brewery Small Beer Brew Co, located just off the Bermondsey Beer Mile, and Deptford’s Villages brewery.
‘Hospitality sites are really catching on now with behavioural changes related to alcohol,’ Burgess says. ‘We talk regularly about the importance of not drinking, looking to moderate or simply having a night off – the [alcohol-free] consumer should have exactly the same drinking experience as a guest enjoying a strong craft beer or cocktail.’ 
Three Spirits
Photograph: Flavio Henrique

2. Intermediate: get creative with cocktails

The days of the sugary sour mocktail are firmly behind us. Cocktail bars around the city are serving up complex alcohol-free drinks with adult flavour profiles and high quality ingredients. Bartenders are starting to think outside the box and incorporate elements of fermentation, extractions and macerations to achieve more interesting options.
In fact, thanks to one of the world’s best cocktail bars, Tāyer + Elementary in east London, non-drinkers can now even do aperitivo hour sans the alcohol. Ever since it opened in 2019, the team has spent a lot of time experimenting and perfecting the ‘I’m not drinking’ series and offers ambitious non-alcoholic takes on classic cocktails, like Aperol spritzes and apricot highballs.

‘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. 

‘Crafting a great drink does not change with or without alcohol. Similar to the rules of cooking just because you may not be using meat. The goal should still be to create incredible flavour, balance, texture and satisfaction,’ Dash Lilley, co-founder of Three Spirit explains. ‘If you choose not to drink alcohol occasionally it does not mean one should abstain from pleasure.’
Photograph: Goodrays

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.’

Theres 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.

Check out seven amazing alcohol-free cocktails served in London bars

Looking for a light night out? Head to these bars for low-alcohol drinks

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