When it comes to entertaining, the days of 'go on, go on' are long gone. Well, maybe not quite, but increasingly the peer pressure is off when it comes to drinking. While there was a time when people in Ireland, like my parents, took the teetotal pledge for life; most of their offspring followed their wonderful example by being less than abstemious. The only goodness associated with our drinking habits has been pronouncing the designated driver 'a complete saint'.
But things have changed dramatically. According to Diageo, between 2001 and 2017 our alcohol consumption dropped by 23 percent, and non-alcoholic beer is the fastest growing sector in the drinks industry. So now, non-drinking is a thing. And it's not just the younger, health conscious millennials. There's a real move away from the 'wine o'clock' daily reward or glass of vino with dinner each night. I have Champagne loving friends who have given up booze completely, others quit for the month of November, and nearly all of them are buying into the trend for a few alcohol-free nights in the week. They are drinking less, but drinking better quality wines.
But what do you drink when you're not drinking? While elderflower and soda makes a welcome change from Diet Coke or Ballygowan, it does get a bit dull after a while, so it's good to see some more grown-up alternatives coming on the market. Heineken and Diageo's Open Gate Brewery have both launched very credible non-alcoholic beers, and the distilled non-alcoholic spirits from Seedlip are very good quality.
The company was founded by Ben Branson who was just plain fed up with the alternatives that were available to non-drinkers, and started researching and playing around with the herbs and botanicals that grow in the woods near his house. He was in Dublin recently, and I was hugely impressed with the cocktails that can be made using Seedlip. The good news is, not only is Seedlip more widely available, there is also a new cocktail book, with all the inspiration and technique that you need to move on from making a simple Seedlip and tonic.
If you're eating out, there are a number of restaurants that make cocktails using Seedlip, including Pichet, Delahunt and Angelina's in Dublin; and if you're looking for something really special, you should try the non-alcoholic pairing Andrew Heron has created to go with the tasting menu at Michelin starred Heron & Grey, which is based around the structure of the meal.
"We begin with bitter characters made from house infused tonic, often finished with oils from citrus fruits and maybe a sparkling water. It's refreshing and tart, a good wake-up call," says Andrew. "Next, acid, which can often be delivered in a variety of ways. This month we have developed a tea of our own - white roses, grown on our allotment, that are infused with a base of matcha tea and dried flowers."
To match dishes on the menu that have a bit of heat, he makes a ginger bug, a house fermented soda with ginger. And for more aromatic dishes, complex kombuchas are used to carry a sense of sweet, acidic and rounded notes. To finish off, the sweet section of the menu is paired with drinks based on syrups, like foraged elderberry mixed with strawberry and blackberry kombucha.
Get the idea? This is complicated stuff, but the drinks are sensational and chefs around the country are keen to push boundaries. I was in Loam in Galway recently, and got chatting to Enda McEvoy, the chef there. They too, find that people are looking for interesting non-alcoholic cocktails and in the New Year he plans to develop their non-alcoholic drinks further. Fermenting kombuchas can be seen bubbling in glass jars on the shelves on the wall there and he is experimenting with different 'shrubs'. These are drinking vinegars, which were popular in America's colonial era, in the days before refrigeration. It was originally a way of preserving soft fruits in vinegar for the winter months, and over time, developed into a drink that works wonderfully as an apéritif or can be used as an alternative to bitters in a cocktail. One of Enda's experimental shrubs is made from a de-alcoholised whiskey, so it will be interesting to see what else develops.
Non-drinking is a trend that is here to stay. In London, Redemption - a non-alcoholic bar - first opened as a pop-up in 2015 and now has two permanent homes, one in Notting Hill and the other in Shoreditch. They have also just released a new cocktail book which makes very interesting reading. While you might flick through it and think, no, the recipes sound like way too much work, it's worth diving in to get a feel for the art of building flavour without alcohol. There are recipes for good building blocks like kombucha, and also various shrubs.
Your efforts will be rewarded as shrubs will keep for up to a year. And don't be put off by ingredients like 'xylitol', it's not a weird chemical, it's a natural sugar alternative which you can buy in health food shops.
Zero Point Zero Rosé
A pretty non-alcoholic sparkling rosé, this comes in an impressive bottle and is packed full of fruity strawberry, raspberry and loganberry flavours. You won't confuse it with alcohol, but great for a toast.
Open Gate Pure Brew
€6 for 4 x 330ml bottle, supermarkets and off-licences nationwide
This has a surprising amount of weight for a beer that is classified as non-alcoholic (there is 0.5pc alcohol). With earthy malt flavours and good quality hops, this would be my pick of the non-alcoholic beers.
€6 for 4 x 33cl bottle and 6 x 33cl can, supermarkets and off-licences nationwide A lighter style of lager which is twice brewed and fermented with Heineken's unique yeast. It is then completely de-alcoholised and blended to give a fruity flavour with a touch of malt.
Seedlip Spice 94, 70cl
RRP €35, Dunnes Stores, Redmond's, Martins, Harvey Nichols, drinkstore.ie
Allspice, grapefruit, lemon peel, cardamom, American oak and cascarilla bark combine together to make this a fresh, aromatic spirit with brooding earthy notes and not a trace of alcohol. Great with tonic water.
€5.50, EUROSPAR, Spar, Mace, Londis
A frothy non-alcoholic fizz made from a de-alcoholised Airén and Muscat wine, this has citrus flavours of lemon and lime with ripe, juicy grapes and apples. Perfect as a prosecco alternative.
Prep: 5 minutes
Juice of 1 blood orange
3 basil leaves
750ml plain sparkling kombucha, chilled
Lemon thyme stalks to garnish
Blitz all the ingredients in a blender, then pour through a fine-mesh strainer.
Pour into chilled glasses and garnish each with a lemon thyme stalk.
Cook: 10 minutes + cooling time
Prep: 5 minutes
400ml pomegranate juice
4 sprigs of rosemary
Juice of ½ lemon
750ml alcohol-free sparkling wine, chilled
Pour the pomegranate juice into a small saucepan. Lightly bruise the rosemary by rubbing it between your fingers, and add it to the pan. Bring to the boil and reduce for 10 minutes, then add the lemon juice. Leave to cool, then strain and chill until ready to use.
Pour 30ml of the rosemary and pomegranate mixture into each champagne flute and top up with alcohol-free sparkling wine.
Garnish each glass with a few pomegranate jewels and a rosemary sprig.
Adapted from 'Redemption Bar' by Andrea Waters and Catherine Salway. Published by Kyle Books at €18.19.Photography by Catherine Gratwicke
50ml Seedlip Garden 108
20ml Sugar Snap Shrub *see below
Cucumber soda water to top up
Carrot slice to garnish
Fill a tall glass with ice. Add the Garden 108 and Sugar Snap Shrub (below). Top with cucumber soda.
Garnish with a sliced carrot
Sugar Snap Shrub
250g sugar snap peas
250ml apple cider vinegar
250g white sugar
Finely slice the peas and place in a Mason jar with the other ingredients. Muddle hard then leave overnight. Strain and bottle. Keeps refrigerated for 2 weeks.
Adapted from Seedlip, The Cocktail Book, by Ben Branson. From seedlip.com and penguin.co.uk, €16