Sure, I’ve enjoyed experimenting with alcohol-free (AF) wines and beers several times over the years (read an earlier account here), but one weekend will remain a significant notch on the post.
Why? Well, it’s refreshing how much fun you can have with hundreds of other like-minded ‘sober curious’ types.
The occasion was the Truman Brewery’s Mindful Drinking Festival; to say it was busy would be like suggesting a negroni is not especially alcoholic (as I have been known to).
This fifth event, produced by Club Soda, a duo of Laura Willoughby (read our interview with her here) and Jussi Tolvi, saw a whopping ten thousand attendees fill its rooms over one weekend. It was a powerfully good-natured crowd of punters, stall-holders and motivational speaker types.
Despite my starter-knowledge, which includes an easy appreciation of Brewdog’s convincing Nanny State (O.5%) and even Heineken’s respectable 0.0%, it proved fascinating that wintry afternoon to sample a mind-boggling plethora of beers, ales, lagers, gins and other AF spirits from the sixty – count ’em – stalls. That’s a lot of combos for any palate, as my friend and I realised when we stumbled back onto the street. Sober, of course.What constitutes alc-free, anyway? Many beers, wines and spirits contain up to 0.5% ABV, according to Alcoholfree.co.uk. But fear not, it’s really not possible to get drunk and – and this came as a real surprise to me, too – many basic foods actually contain a similar amount of alcohol (and aren’t labelled as such).
Fascinating stat alert (according to Steady Drinker): there’s 0.2% alcohol in malt vinegar, 0.5% alcohol in a ripe banana, 0.7% in fresh orange juice and up to 1.28% in some rolls – all products we wouldn’t think twice about gobbling down freely. Furthermore, the amount of alcohol in a pint of 0.5% beer is tiny – half a teaspoon compared to a heady five in a pint of 5% beer.
And for those that think AF beers are pointless because you get all the calories without the squiffy hit, this is easily countered: they average about 60-70 a bottle rather than 120. So you’re not going to put on a whole lot of pointless pounds. (Incidentally, a pint of Camden Pale Ale is 140, whereas 5% ABV beers like Hell’s come in at 238, with Peroni scaling a lofty 309.)
But the main learning on my adventures these last two months is that AF beers (and to a lesser extent, spirits) are genuine placebos for the brain: that is, they work as a reward or treat – something you look forward to – as you would a real pint at the end of the day.
Want to find out more about the alcohol-free movement? Read our accompanying interview with Club Soda founder Laura Willoughby here.