Sure, I’ve enjoyed experimenting with alcohol-free (AF) wines and beers several times over the years (read an earlier account here), but a weekend last month 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 most recent 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.
The next London Mindful Drinking Festival will held at the end of July 2019 in Spitalfields. Club Soda hosts the monthly night Queers Without Beers at Cafe Babka (44 Great Russell St WC1). For AF-friendly venues see Club Soda’s venue guide here