We are probably now somewhere in the months between Dry January and Sober October, so a reasonable time to consider the no- and low-alcohol sector.

Our industry adds a huge amount to the government’s coffers, but they still insist on promoting campaigns to reduce it. I understand why they wouldn’t want to openly tell people to go out and buy more booze or party hard (except perhaps by example). But why spend money biting the hand that feeds it? Surely the great British public can decide for themselves if they need to cut down a bit?  

I don’t buy the health lobby argument. Anyone who really needs to go teetotal for a month is probably not going to. The assumption for Dry January is that everyone has irresponsibly done huge damage to their liver in the previous weeks. Four weeks of abstinence isn’t going to solve that underlying problem, is it?  

Conversely anyone who happily observes a month of abstinence is unlikely to be in the target group for health worries. October can be a miserable month as summer fades away, and yuletide is still far enough in the distance not to get excited. So why would you make it more miserable by denying yourself a drink now and again? 

Apparently there is a growing number of younger people for whom alcohol is not part of their repertoire. I think there are some statistics showing this but I’m not in the mood to look for them. The reason may be because they have other things to distract them. It may be because they have alternative drugs of choice. 

It could also be that they were born in an era where the majority of booze available is mass-manufactured and they haven’t discovered the real stuff. It is a shame that many will miss out on the joy and art of real wine, beer or spirits. Traditional non-alcoholic drinks like pop or water don’t appear to cut the mustard as alternatives.

This may explain the reported growth in the no and low categories. It can’t just be recovering alcoholics, for whom lookalikes might be a gateway drug anyway. It’s certainly something the supermarkets have caught on to. If it was all much cheaper, or at least cheaper by the equivalent amount of duty, I might be less cynical. 

The other consideration is volume rather than growth. I remember Parisa’s shops being inundated with tequila brands because the sector was showing triple-figure growth. My protest that going from 0.1% to 0.2% didn’t justify 10 new lines fell on deaf ears. Yes, there is growth in no and low. But does it really warrant whole aisles and even specialist shops and bars? I hope not!

One of my daughters is amongst those abstemious younger people. Although working alongside me, tasting wines and judging alcohol categories for the Great Taste Awards, she chooses not to swallow. This means she is constantly on the hunt for interesting, alternative, non-alcoholic drinks. We have tried quite a few.  

A lot of the beers are perfectly acceptable because they are brewed in virtually the same way as grown-up beer. Because of that they have to state 0.5% abv – the same as an overripe banana. 

For some people, though, that is too much, it would seem. If you were able to drink enough – and quickly enough – for it to have any effect, I’d suggest the alcohol would be the least of your worries. It is pointless explaining this, or that 0.5% is the tolerance on measurement rather than the actual content. Despite this we stock and sell a few, and on the appropriate occasion I have been known to drink them.

“Non-alcoholic spirit” always strikes me as an oxymoron. “Spirits” comes from “spiritual water”, the same as eau de vie, aqua vitae and all the others. It’s either a spirit or it is non-alcoholic. 

These appear to fall into two camps: those that mimic the original spirit and those that just make up something new. We had a go with Lyre’s, which falls into the first category. They set about making something that, like the lyre bird, mimics the original. They even do a non-alcoholic “absinthe”!  

They are quite acceptable in mocktails but are put together from all sorts of stuff: the greatest, after water, being sugar. They didn’t sell well enough to warrant shelf space or a 10-case minimum order. 0% versions of big spirit brands would appear to be the most successful of the type but, as we don’t sell big brands, we won’t be selling these either.  

The most famous of the second camp is Seedlip, which gained first-mover advantage. I was quite interested when it first appeared on the market. Then I tried it. The kindest thing I can say is that it wasn’t to my taste – and if I wouldn’t drink it, I won’t sell it. It is distilled, but presumably with water, rather than alcohol. Despite the tagline “non-alcoholic spirit” it is unlikely to preserve organic matter. So in my book it is not a spirit; it is a herbal soft drink. Well done to them demanding £20 a bottle, then. No wonder there is growth in this sector … but I suspect that is push from the producers, rather than pull from consumers.

We have yet to find a “non-alcoholic wine” which isn’t just unfermented grape juice or de-alcoholised low-grade wine with a long list of added ingredients, any or all of which are more likely to give you a headache than the alcohol they took away.  

If, for any reason, I am ever forced to abstain for any length of time I think I’ll settle for a nice cup of tea.

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