Yes, it’s that time of the year when people’s thoughts to turn to being a little bit healthier. Whether you’re doing the full Dry January, or just being more abstemious, Fiona Beckett’s new book, How to Drink without Drinking, is an invaluable guide to making this process fun.
With her column in the Guardian and her website, Matching Food & Wine, Fiona Beckett is one of the most trusted names in British drink writing. When Beckett recommends a bottle, you know it’s going to be one that she genuinely loves. Contrary to popular belief, drinks writers don’t spend all their time boozing. Beckett says: “Although I have to taste wine or other alcoholic drinks most days, like everyone else I benefit from a break from actually drinking them”. Her latest book, How to Drink without Drinking, is a guide with tips and recipes (we have one at the end) for how to make alcohol-free drinking fun. As she puts it: “It’s important to me that the days when I don’t drink are as pleasurable in terms of what I consume as those when I do.” The vital thing, according to Beckett, is to focus on the positives; she advises: “It’s important to see alcohol-free days as an opportunity, not a deprivation. There are, as you’ll rapidly discover, many advantages, including a better quality of sleep, improved concentration, weight loss, more spare cash and, due to the happy lack of hangovers, more productive hours in the day.” Sounds great. Here are her top ten ways to make cutting back on or cutting out the sauce a breeze.
Set a personal goal
You have to start somewhere, but make it realistic. Two alcohol-free days a week is doable for most of us, most likely after the weekend. Three is better still – preferably in a row.
Don’t make up for it on the days you drink alcohol
On some of the days when you are drinking, you might want to reduce the amount you drink to one drink a day, sipped slowly and mindfully rather than gulped unthinkingly. If you’re trying to cut down, limit yourself to one (modest) glass with dinner or resolve not to drink when alone. Be aware and honest with yourself about what you’re drinking when you do drink. An app may help you keep on track.
Tell your family and friends
Family should be on your side, but one of the biggest battles you’ll face is friends who keep pressing you to drink, maybe implying that you’ve become a party pooper if you don’t. Don’t be embarrassed to explain exactly why you’re cutting down – or out – making it clear that you’re serious. It may even involve changing your social circle. Find a non-drinking pal to go out with if the pressure’s getting to you.
Don’t needlessly put yourself in the way of temptation
On days or periods you’re cutting down or cutting out, avoid your usual boozy haunts. Don’t make having a drink the main reason for going out – unless it’s a coffee. In fact, it may be worth taking the car, which gives you an easy excuse not to drink. If you’re embarking on a longer period of abstinence, clear out the booze from the cupboards and fridge, and steer clear of the wine aisle. Stock up with alcohol-free alternatives instead.
B.Y.O. (Bring your own)
If you’re visiting friends and are not sure if there will be something alcohol-free to drink, take it with you, particularly to a party. Alcohol-free beers, which look similar to the full-strength version, are an especially good bet as they won’t make you stand out from the crowd. If you’re away for the weekend, take a bottle of an alcohol-free spirit and some tonic to your hosts.
Think about food
You’re more likely to crave wine with food from wine-producing regions, especially Italy, France and Spain. So avoid the trattoria or tapas bar on your nights off in favour of your local Indian, Thai or Vietnamese.
Get into alcohol-free cocktails
It’s hard to find a substitute for wine, but alcohol-free cocktails can be mindblowingly good these days, with many top restaurants offering an impressive selection. I often start the evening with one, whether I’m drinking or no, and end up drinking it with food.
M.Y.O. (Make your own)
There’s a real pleasure and satisfaction in making your own drinks. Like home-cooked food, they taste so much better than the shop-bought version and are cheaper, too, making the best of seasonal produce. Make them look as beautiful as they taste.
Find a non-alcoholc drink to get passionate about
Part of the appeal of wine, beer and whisky, is the knowledge you accumulate about them. But you can apply that type of geekery to other drinks, too. Get into tea, get into coffee, get into fermenting – all fascinating, absorbing worlds.
Learn to love water
Probably your best friend on your sober days – or months – both on its own and as a chaser for any alcoholic drink you’re drinking. Don’t drink because you’re thirsty – drink for the taste. Serve water cool, fresh and flavoured, if you like, with fruit, cucumber or herbs.
And now here’s a recipe. . . . the NG&T!
The N stands for ‘not’. Serve it in a fancy glass with lots of ice and garnishes, and you’ll get much of the pleasure of the real thing. Beckett recommends making a juniper syrup in advance but you can buy it ready made.
75ml juniper syrup (recipe below or you can buy William Fox ready-made)
Tonic water to top up
2 slices of lemon and orange, and 2-3 juniper berries to garnish.
Fill the glass with ice and the garnishes, pour in the syrup, top up with tonic and gently stir.
400g granulated sugar
15 juniper berries, lightly crushed
Finely pared rind of one unwaxed lemon
Finely pared rind of one unwaxed lime
Put the sugar and water in a saucepan. Gently heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to just below boiling point and simmer for ten minutes. Sieve when cool. It should last in the fridge for two weeks.
How to Drink When You’re Not Drinking by Fiona Beckett is published by Kyle Books, £15.99, www.octopusbooks.co.uk