Tipples that won't make you tipsy

 

Non-alcoholic drinks needn’t be boring or overly sweet. Here are some grown-up suggestions for non-drinkers, writes JOHN WILSON

‘YOU NEVER COVER soft drinks,” she said in an accusing tone. “Here we are, all knocking back alcohol-free drinks because we have to drive home, and all you write about is booze.” We were at a Christmas drinks party, and half the guests, myself included, were slowly sipping sparkling water. She parted with a promise from me to address the deficit before Lent. The problem with soft drinks is that most of them taste very boring. It is not just the lift you get from a glass of wine or a cocktail, although that is important; the alcohol also gives a complexity and extra depth that you just don’t get from an alcohol-free drink.

Whereas a bottle of wine may improve as the night goes on, it can be very hard to face a third glass of bottled water, particularly at the incredibly high prices some establishments charge. The search for a decent alcohol-free drink is not made easier by the very high levels of sugar and variety of confected flavours in most soft drinks. In my experience, most taste very little of the fruit allegedly contained within.

One option is to make your own cocktail, something that has caught on in restaurants and trendy bars. This is a great idea for a drinks party, when there are likely to be plenty of takers. I give one recipe below, but there are plenty of options.

A sparkling soft drink is generally more interesting than still. If you are serving it with food, keep the sugar levels low. Those who drink cola during a meal might disagree, but a sweet drink served with savoury food can make for a strange and unpleasant combination.

The Fern House Café in Avoca, Kilmacanogue serves its water flavoured with masses of cucumber and fresh mint. It is a classic combination well worth trying. With lightly sparkling water, it both looks and tastes great. You could even add some puréed watermelon to make a more sophisticated version. Another option is a GT without the G. It is surprising how many people cannot detect the difference, initially at least. A dry tonic with a hint of lime is dry and refreshing, and has a lovely grown-up bitterness.

NON-ALCOHOLIC DRINKS

Sunny Day BreezeA version of the classic breeze, this was created by the team of mixologists at Harvey Nichols award-winning First Floor Bar, where it is available for €5.50. Shake 2oz pineapple juice, ¾ oz of mango puree and a dash of orange sugar syrup together and pour over crushed ice into a sling glass. Slowly add crushed ice and cranberry juice over the top to create a layered effect. Garnish the cocktail with orange zest resting on top of the glass.

Fentimans Ginger Beer, €3.95 for a 75cl bottle, €1.95 for 275mlI love the intense spicy, gingery flavours of the Fentimans. It packs a real punch and has some interesting complex flavours on the palate. The finish is fairly spicy, so you probably won’t be able to drink more than a few glasses. Fentimans also does an excellent adult orange juice, and a very unusual Dandelion and Burdock drink, too. Stockists: Widely available in health food shops, delis, and good off-licences nationwide

Belvoir Fruit Farms Cranberry Pressé, 750ml, €3.59Of all the cranberry drinks I tried, this had the most genuine fruit flavour. It does have blueberry and blackcurrant too, so it tastes pleasingly of dark fruits. It is lightly fizzy, and the finish is not too sweet. In a similar vein, I also enjoyed the Thorncroft Autumn Rosehip Cordial mixed with some sparkling water. Stockists: Widely available in health food shops and delis

The Apple Farm Sparkling Irish Apple Juice, €4 for a 25cl bottleMost of the soft drinks I tried were either English or French, but this was an absolutely delicious Irish drink made from locally grown apples. It is cloudy, lightly sparkling with lovely, pure apple fruit flavour. Because it isn’t too sweet, it went very well with food (perfect with roast pork), but would make a good aperitif too. The same company’s sparkling apple and blackcurrant juice was equally good.Stockists: Widely available in specialist retailers. See theapplefarm.com for details

La Mortuacienne Citron, Rième Boissons, €1.95 for a 33cl bottle, €3.99 for a 75cl bottlePart of a very good range produced in the Jura in France, this is more like the bitter lemon my dad used to drink with his gin. It has a good bitter lemon flavour, lightly fizzy, finishing sweet, and very thirst-slaking. Stockists: Widely available through wine shops and specialist delis, including Mitchell Son, CHQ, Dublin 1 and Glasthule, Co Dublin, and Fallon Byrne, Exchequer Street, Dublin 2

BEER

The first alcohol-free beers contained so much sulphur that you got a hangover without the alcohol the following morning. The more modern versions are much superior, and nobody will know you aren’t drinking (it is surprising the pressure other drinkers put on their non-drinking friends).

Last summer I tried a couple of beers, very low-alcohol drinks once widely consumed throughout Europe, even at breakfast, or by children when water was unsafe to drink.

Most alcohol-free beer does in fact contain about .5% alcohol, as it is impossible to remove all of the alcohol. This is normally done by reverse osmosis or by heating the beer, and boiling off the alcohol.

Erdinger Weissbrau Alkoholfrei, 50cl, €1.99I tried four alcohol-free beers, Estrella Sin, Becks, Paulaner Weiss and Erdinger. You would be quite happy to drink all of them. The Paulaner had more wheaty flavour, but the Erdinger won through with its crisp, clean acidity. I am told that it outsells all others in Irish off-licences. Stockists: Widely available in off-licences nationwide