I can't drink wine like I used to. I'm a frazzled mother of kids aged two and five, and after years of flinging all manner of vino down my throat, these days I find I can barely drink more than a glass or two without turning into either a gorgon or an anxious mess. Thoughts whirl madly around in my head, I get tetchy and argumentative or I get a strong desire to sleep. The morning after, I'll snap at my family and be vile to my husband.
True, being a parent is exhausting and there's nothing like your reward glass of wine once the kids are in bed. It's something all my friends who are parents evangelise about: “Thank God, it's wine o'clock soon!” You can almost hear the collective popping of wine corks at 9pm.
I'm not a fan of lemonade, elderflower pressé tastes of shower gel, I find tonic disgusting
But what else could I have? I hate soft drinks with a passion – so sickly and boring! There has to be something a bit more grown-up, less tooth-rotting and childlike out there. I'm not a fan of lemonade, elderflower pressé tastes of shower gel, I find tonic disgusting and I can't order another “virgin” Mary because it's like drinking a glass of freezing cold soup. I don't want alcohol-free beers or ersatz wines, because they are usually grim, in the same way that “fake” bacon tastes nothing like the real thing.
My research has borne interesting fruit. There is a rise in small drinks brands that offer booze-free drinks that are definitely more grown up than 7Up. Some are distilled in the manner of alcohol, but are entirely booze-free. Others have less sugar, or contain strange and interesting herbal elements based on old alchemists’ recipes.
Seedlip is a clear spirit distilled in the manner of alcohol, but completely booze-free. First, I try their “Garden 108” spirit in a glass with ice cubes, soda and a handful of frozen peas (their recommendation!). It's a little weird at first, but then the summery notes of peas, mint, citrus and fresh air dance about in my mouth. It's tart and dry, and unlike a soft drink doesn't make me guzzle, as I appreciate savouring the flavours. I try the “Spice 94” spirit, over ice with soda again, and find a curious blend of Christmassy aromas – all spice, cardamom and orange. It's mellow and warming, and tastes very grown-up.
Equinox Kombucha is a fermented, unpasteurised fizzy sweetened green tea drink. I'm told by a music festivals contact that loads of the American bands have requested kombucha on their tour riders, so it must be good, right? Equinox make four flavours and, while I find the berry and elderflower varieties like fruity squash, I really like enjoy their ginger and “natural” versions. The smell that hits you first on the nose is a bit vinegary, then the overall taste is like a tart, cidery juice. You could have several without feeling like your teeth are going to fall out.
Luscombe Damascene Rose Bubbly
A friend who doesn't drink alcohol recommends a rose-scented fizz called Luscombe Damascene Rose Bubbly. I pour it over a handful of ice cubes and my first sip is a success – at once this tastes floral and orangey, but NOT sickly. Brilliant. There are notes of lemon in there and I notice a lovely subtle waft of orange blossom mixed with the rose. Pretty sophisticated – one for my “reward drink” repertoire.
These Square Root sodas get their flavourings according to what's in season. My curiosity is piqued by the claim that the drinks contain 30 per cent less sugar than regular soft drinks. The cucumber soda is soft and refreshing, with just a touch of sweetness. Rhubarb is deliciously creamy, strawberry is tart, lemony and, again, not too sweet. Ginger beer is fiery without drowning you in sugar. I envisage the cucumber soda becoming a fixture on a Friday night in, filling a glass rammed with ice, Bombay mix on the side.
Botonique is a drink that describes itself as a refreshing fizz with notes of gin and vermouth. It's made with botanicals, vitamins, herbs, spices and citrus, based on ancient methods used by apothecaries. Its creator, Hilary Marsh, is a wine merchant. She advises me to drink with an open mind and not to expect a “'wine” taste. The first sip is totally bonkers. There's a burst of pear, spices and herbs. Each mouthful reveals more complex sherbert-like flavours. I'm going to keep going, as it's strangely moreish – and I'm told it's a grower!