Alcohol-free spirits – the best of the best

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of an ice cold Gin & Tonic – in fact it’s the sort of birthday present I could get every year and always be delighted with. I even wrote this piece on combining alcohol and my love for fitness – I think balance is important and would say my attitude to drinking is ‘intuitive’ – I rarely drink to excess, but enjoy a tipple a couple of times a week. With the advent of great tasting alcohol-free spirits, however, I’ve found myself switching more and more to these when I want something non-alcoholic that’s not water or tea, but also doesn’t taste of Ribena.

In the UK, around 20% of the population is teetotal, rising to almost 30% in 16-24 year olds. Among people who do drink, the amount of alcohol consumed is decreasing too – in 2005, 43% of young people said they drank above the recommended limits, but this proportion had fallen to 28% 10 years later. Needless to say, the popularity and availability of non-alcoholic drinks is on the up!

Common among teetotallers and those who choose not to drink at an event, is the expectation from other people to explain why they aren’t drinking, as though this is some unacceptable breach of social norms. Although this obviously shouldn’t be the case, the increase in non-alcoholic spirits and adult ‘mocktails’ makes not drinking at social events significantly easier. They’re also perfect for those of us who enjoy fitness and don’t want to always feel groggy after a night out/wedding/dinner.

Here are some of my favourite non-alcoholic spirits – I hope you like them too! Please comment below your favourites too.

Ps. Because I am a massive gin fan, I like to have most of these with tonic. I find it very refreshing, but know many people aren’t a fan. Most of their website’s have alternative recipes and cocktails, so it’s worth checking those out if you’re keen on giving them a go!

 

Seedlip

One of the original non-alcoholic spirit brands I was aware of, Seedlip was debuted in Selfidges in 2015, where it was immensely popular as one of the first drinks of its kind. The brand produces three varieties of spirit – Garden 108 (herbal), Spice 94 (aromatic) and Grove 42 (zesty). I like them all, though my favourite is Grove 42. Serve with orange peel, ice and tonic.

“Back in 2013, whilst researching interesting herbs I could grow at home, I came across a book written in 1651 called ‘The Art of Distillation’ that documented distilled herbal remedies – both alcoholic & non-alcoholic. Out of curiosity I bought a copper still and began experimenting in my kitchen.

Three months later I was out for dinner at a nice restaurant in London, not drinking and got offered this pink, fruity, sweet, childish mocktail. I felt like an idiot, it didn’t go with the food, and it wasn’t a great experience. Surely there must be a better way! The dots began to join and I spent the next two years working with my still, my mother on the ingredients, my father on the design and slowly beginning to believe that maybe we could begin solve the ‘what to drink when you’re not drinking’ dilemma with a different approach to non-alcoholic drinks.”

Price: £26 for 70cl

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Bax Botanics

I learned about Bax Botanics via a support system for small businesses during COVID lockdown, and was delighted when I got to try their Verbena ‘spirit’, one of two varieties they currently produce (the other is Sea Buckthorn).  The creators of Bax originally worked in wild foraging, so note that everything about this drink is incredibly sustainable and made in small-batches – even their drinks labels are waste from the sugar industry rather than paper. This drink is perfect with cucumber and tonic – just like a G&T. Thoroughly recommend.

“Our drinks were the product of over 15 years working with wild food flavours. The very first incarnations of Bax Botanics actually used foraged ingredients from our local woodland! The brand is completely sustainable, with Fairtrade organic botanicals – the flavours and the green credentials are our priorities. We would still be working in our wood if we couldn’t make Bax Botanics in a kind and sustainable way.”

Price: £18 for 500ml

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Caleño

Columbian-inspired spirit Caleno is a little different to the other drinks on this list, in that it doesn’t aim to replace a spirit such as gin, but instead is delicious in its own right. It contains Inca berries, juniper (it main similarity to gin) and various spices, and isn’t overly sweet to taste, but a little more fragrant that what you might expect from a spirit. It’s extremely refreshing with lots of ice, some lemon and a little tonic. The packaging is probably my favourite of all of these drinks.

Price: £24.99 for 70cl

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Atopia

This 0.5%ABV drink is extremely close to being alcohol-free, so fits well into this category.  This brand has two flavours – Spiced Citrus and Wild Blossom, both of which are beautifully presented and delicious. This isn’t surprising considering the creator is Lesley Gracie, master distiller of Hendrick’s Gin at William Grant & Sons (one of my favourite gins!).

“Inspired by the more mindful, lifestyle choices of today’s consumer, the exquisite liquid comes in two perfectly balanced flavours. We’ve used our distilling heritage and expertise to ensure no compromise on flavour is experienced when drinking the ultra-low alcohol spirit. The flavour is full, from first taste to finish.”

Price: £25 for 70cl

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Alcohol and fitness

Alcohol and fitness. How do these words fit together in your mind? Are they compatible? Or does one exclude the other? It’s interesting how often people ask me if I drink – I would have thought that the amount I talk about gin would have answered that question years ago. 😉 I thought I’d make a post about it, since a huge number of my followers are of university/early work age but also interested in health and fitness. Since health can be a total minefield I thought I’d clear a few things up.

Alcohol has calories

Because alcohol is essentially a carbohydrate, it can contain a lot of calories – plenty more than you might expect for a drink. It also interrupts how our bodies deal with other foods, slowing down the absorption of nutrients and reducing the amount of fat our bodies burn for energy. A pint of beer contains around 200 calories, while a glass of wine (175ml) contains around 125 calories. However, if you take these into account when thinking about your daily diet, it is very possible to work around this fact! I enjoy drinking a couple of times a week and do not find that it affects my weight whether I have them or not. I just factor in the calories of alcohol (very roughly) and have fewer snacks that week. Simple!

Alcohol can lead to bad decision making

Drinking can lead to cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. Most of us have felt that post-night-out craving for chips/burger/kebab, and this can have serious consequences on our healthy intentions. When I was at university I used to keep a bowl of porridge or sweet potato fries at home to eat after a big night out. After drinking and dancing for a long period of time, your body craves nutrition, so it is best to feed it something with a little more nutritional value than Bobby’s kebab shop can offer. Pre-plan before a night out to make sure you’re prepared. Another favourite late night snack is toast with olive oil or a large bowl of granola. Find what works for you and stick to it – your body and bank will thank you!

The aftermath

Obviously excessive alcohol can leave us a little worse for wear the morning (and let’s be honest, the entire day/2 days) afterwards. When we are hungover, it is mainly because our bodies are severely dehydrated which actually makes your brain shrink, pulling away from the sides of your brain case. This is because alcohol is a diuretic, making you wee more than you would usually in order to flush out more toxins from your body (yes, alcohol is a poison). Pretty much anyone who drinks has had a hangover, but there are ways to reduce your likelihood of getting one!

  1. Drink a glass of water for every glass of alcohol you consume.
  2. Opt for lighter alcohols – the darker the alcohol (red wine, rum, bourbon), the more congeners they have, exacerbating headaches the next day.
  3. Take electrolyte salts and/or an aspirin (with lots of water) before you sleep. I drink minimum 500ml right before bed if I’ve been drinking.
  4. Avoid caffeine on your night our and in the morning. You may feel like you need it but your body won’t thank you. Caffeine is also a diuretic and will make you even more dehydrated! Just give yourself water and time to recover.
  5. Take ibuprofen and eat anti-inflammatory foods in the morning. Alcohol triggers inflammation in the body which can make hangovers feel worst, so getting swelling down is key.

When hungover we can be tempted to eat alllll the foods in my opinion it’s OK to have that greasy fry up you are craving if you’re hungover, especially if you’ve factored it in to your weekly diet. However, after a night out our bodies are craving health, so opting for something more nutritious might actually make you feel better (and has less of an impact on your fitness goals).

My favourite drinks:

I am a sucker for a gin and tonic! Slimline or full fat, depending on how many I’m having. Gin will always be my go to spirit, but some people cannot handle it at all. Find what works for you and don’t overindulge (or it might not work so well next time).

For a dinner party I like white wine. Red wine is said to have some health benefits but the sulphites don’t agree with me hugely, so it’s not my go to. However a glass here and here is absolutely fine for me. Of course I also love a good champagne, but the sugar and bubbles make me hyperactive and drunker faster, and also leave me with a worse hangover if I have to many.

If I’m planning on having more than a few drinks, I might opt for something fairly plain, like a vodka lime soda. Tastes delicious and fresh without having the added sugar and impurities of other drinks.

On special occasions (picnics in the park) I’ll drink Crabbies, an alcoholic ginger beer. It’s spectacularly bad for you but to be honest, life is for enjoying, and Crabbies makes me happy because it reminds me of summer.

Summary

I think it’s important to know how alcohol affects your body and your mind – both biologically and for you, personally. Everyone reacts differently, and some people decide that drinking is incompatible with their fitness goals. In my opinion, as with pretty much everything for me, I think it’s all about moderation. Live life, enjoy yourself and know your limits.

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University – to drink or not to drink?

The rise of the twenty-something granny

Walking through the university gym at 5pm, picking my way over groups of people on the floor, it’s difficult not to notice the number of groups of girls doing a similar sort of workout. With sweaty faces and various weights laid out beside them, it’s easy to tell they too have joined the biggest female fitness community – Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide. And of course there are no weights left on the rack for me to start week 20. Back at home at the end of the day, I ask my friend what she has planned for the evening. Contrary to what outsiders might expect of a uni student with no current deadlines, her response doesn’t involve any drinking, or even staying out late. 10:30pm bedtime after a home cooked dinner is her day-off plan.

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24 year old Kaya Itsines (@kayla_itsines), creator of BBG – the bikini body guide. IG following: 5.6m

So why is this? Why are more and more people eschewing getting ‘hammered’ and passing out for early beds and the gym? At our weekly athletics socials, the number of people who are not drinking because they have a race, or a deadline, or simply because their body needs a rest is amazing. This isn’t to say that our socials are boring and quiet, and it’s certainly not saying that everyone is tee-total, but it’s hard not to notice that certain people are getting more “sensible” with their drinking habits.

As a nation, the UK has been decreasing alcohol consumption since 2002, and despite what the Daily Mail might have you believe, alcohol sales peaked way back in 2004, and have been falling since then. A ‘YouGov’ study showed that in the UK, “one third (33%) of those surveyed have cut down on their alcohol consumption in the past year with a further ten percent saying they have given up alcohol completely.” In addition, “the proportion of young adults (16-25) who reported that they do not drink alcohol at all [increased] between 2005 and 2013.” The stats go some way to explaining people’s views towards alcohol and drinking. 44% of those surveyed agreed that alcohol is bad for your health – perhaps a surprisingly small amount, but a start nonetheless.

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Amount of alcohol drank on the heaviest drinking day in the last week by gender, showing a gradual decrease in over drinking from 2005 – 2012. This fall is driven by the younger age groups (Drinking Habits Amongst Adults, 2012)

Speaking to some friends who don’t drink much, I asked why they had decided to cut back on alcohol. The answers could be split into two categories: maximising productivity and the ever increasing view that being drunk is unattractive. It seems that with the increasing pressures of today, taking a day off for a hangover, or even just working at a sub-optimal level is an unacceptable side-effect of drinking. As one person put it, ‘it’s just un-conducive to life’. If you think about it, spending £9,000 a year on fees for a university education means that every wasted moment costs money – money many people can ill afford. I believe more people are viewing university as an opportunity, not just academically but also with everything else university has to offer, such as sports. One friend stated that the choice of drinking or not drinking was all down to priorities. “Drinking leads to many attractive traits, such as… increased confidence and relaxation, but for me these are outweighed by the negatives”. For her, these include consequences to fitness and health, and understandably, anyone who takes their health seriously is not going to go out drinking to dangerous levels on a regular basis.

The second category I came across about why people don’t drink is one that denotes changing views of drunkeness. Interestingly, attitudes towards drinking in society vary across countries, regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed. In the UK, Scandinavia, US an Australia, drinking is associated with violent and antisocial behaviour, whereas in the Mediterranean and some South American cultures, drinking behaviour is viewed as peaceful and sociable. Therefore perhaps it is not surprising that the way drunkenness is viewed can change temporally as well as spatially. The view of a drunken man or woman, especially if they are young, is seen as unattractive, and somewhat tragic, in the same way that anyone out of control is negatively viewed.

The time that I started to notice youths taking more care of their health admittedly came from a slightly skewed portion of the population. I got my fitness instagram when I was 17, and saw a growing community of girls (and many guys), making health and fitness a high priority in their lives – much more so than (thought often alongside) popularity and partying. However, looking around me in school, then home, then university gyms, I saw the change spreading outside of instagram into the ‘real world’. Smiling at early 20-somethings running on the downs, we share a moment of recognition of the other’s effort to look after their body. Because let’s be honest – when you’re stressed with work and tired from everyday life, sometimes running is the last thing you want to do. But making the effort to get out, get some fresh air and get the endorphins pumping starts a positive feedback loop of self-improvement, that clearly is starting to take effect on more than just those who might consider themselves ‘fit-freaks’ or amateur athletes. Living a healthy lifestyle is truly becoming accessible for all. For me, reducing the amount I drink on a weekly basis has been a natural progression – if I have training planned, or a deadline, or really anything that requires full functioning of my brain or body the day after a night out, chances are I won’t drink (much). It’s surprisingly simple – and I’m a social sec!

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22 year old Jen Selter (@jenselter) – health and fitness advocate, known for her ‘belfies’ (butt selfies, don’t ask). Instagram following: 9.9m

So where is drinking culture at universities moving to now? I think that looking at social media accounts can give a good clue as to what is considered ‘cool’, and what certain attitudes are. Gone are the days of ‘heroine chic’ stick thin models – now it’s all about fitness and health, or at least looking like you’re fit. Social media celebrities such as Kayla Itsines (@kayla_itsines) or Jen Selter (@jenselter) are not going out of fashion any time soon, so perhaps the view that fit is good is here to stay. And with it is going to be the rise of the ‘sensible youths’ – earlier bed times, less alcohol, better nutrition, more fitness. I’m yet to find a university that’s filled more with fit-freaks than drunk freshers, but I have no doubt that that’s the direction it’s moving in. Maybe it’s about time for a bigger university gym.