So, where can I get a decent (booze-free) drink around here?
Published 21/12/2015 | 02:30
If anyone is kind enough to invite me to a party at this time of the year, the first thing I do is make for the drinks trolley to see what's on offer. And nine times out of ten, I'm disappointed. There's so little to drink, for the likes of me.
In December, I attended a reception in London's high-toned Belgravia, and was duly offered a choice of wines. "Don't you have anything non-alcoholic?" The Spanish staff looked at me as if I had asked for a line of cocaine. Eventually, someone said it might be possible to go downstairs to the kitchen and procure a glass of water.
Mindful of the fact that in some parts of the world clean tap water is a luxury, I didn't disdain the offer, nor complain any further. I'm accustomed to the idea that for all the caterwauling and complaints about people boozing too much at Christmas - and other times of the year - too few hosts and hostesses bother to provide decent alternatives to alcoholic liquor.
At nine out of ten soirees that I have attended, it's clear that no one has put any serious thought into catering for alcohol-free drinkers. There might be a bottle of sparkling water available, and if that's always refreshing, it's not terrifically imaginative. There could be at least ten other choices of non-alcoholic drink that could be offered - alongside alcohol - at any party or reception.
What the alcohol-free drinker is hoping for is something which provides that little kick of piquancy to replace the lift that hits the palette with that first gin and tonic (apparently newly fashionable again among the young).
Anything with ginger in it can work: ginger ale and (non-alcoholic) ginger beer - well chilled - can do the trick. Elderflower spritzer - that's pure elderflower with a sparkling soda added - is a heavenly drink, but as rarely provided as a stiff bourbon at a Saudi Arabian beano. The discerning hostess might even find an 'elderflower bubbly' - that's an elderflower spritzer with a cloud of pink added.
There's good old lemonade - it can be home-made, it can be commercial, but above all, it must be fizzy. There's a delicious cloudy Victorian lemonade on the market now - but if we want to drink it at a party, we will usually have to supply it ourselves.
Seven-Up and Sprite may be frowned upon by dentists for containing too much sugar, but if you're replacing alcohol, a little sweetness is welcome. (And anyway, you can't be virtuous all the time - you need a little indulgence.) Club Orange and Club Lemon are grand, too. The "other national drink of Scotland" - Irn-Bru - is also a refreshing libation, but it's almost never available at hospitality events.
Coca-Cola is always good: no, this is not product placement - it's just a point of view. A fresh, cold, Coke goes down a treat. Coke is a stimulating drink because it contains caffeine. A recovering alcoholic told me how to get a legal high without resorting to alcohol or any narcotic substance: knock back two double espressos, quickly followed by a can of Coke.
Some medics will tell you that caffeine isn't great for your heart in strong measures: but at least no one has killed someone in their car, gone home and bashed up the spouse and kids, or fallen down the street in a stupor after a caffeine hit.
The least appetising non-alcoholic drink at any party is pure orange juice. Orange juice is a breakfast drink and even at breakfast, one glass is quite sufficient. It's hopelessly inappropriate for any evening event, where, sitting on the drinks trolley, it has usually warmed up unpleasantly, with all the bits of stray orange still floating about. It actually makes you thirsty, rather than slaking your thirst.
Is this just being whingey? No: providing decent drinks for alcohol-free drinkers is verging on a social service. One of the most difficult aspects of quitting alcohol is the attitude of other people. They think you're some kind of party-pooper. They think you're some kind of spoilsport. They think you're disapproving of their own boozing choices.
You're not disapproving of anyone else. You've simply decided that life is better for you when alcohol-free. (Which, by the way, is a more positive phrase than "teetotal" "abstainer", or "on the wagon".) It's not about abstaining - it's about a positive choice not to be legless at the end of each day.
So, if anyone in Ireland - that includes the lobbies calling for "responsible drinking", the powers that have decided to increase the price of alcohol, and the hospital staff who, at this time of the year, can dread the fallout from alcohol abuse - wishes to make a contribution to change the boozing culture, then do your bit to provide alternatives to alcohol at every social event. And I mean a range of interesting and effervescent alternatives - not just the regulation bottled water.
Alcoholic drinks are dandy for those who can enjoy them normally. But it's important to send a message that it's perfectly normal, perfectly acceptable, and perfectly enjoyable to socialise and enjoy a Christmas party (or any other party) without alcohol.
A fortune awaits the person who invents and markets a new, stimulating drink as an alternative to alcohol. That's how the Quakers launched chocolate (and made themselves a fortune, too): they sought to provide the populace with something other than the beer and gin that was the ruination of the working class.
And look at the chocolate market today. Shrewd thinking from virtuous intentions, indeed. @MaryKenny4