I love the stuff, I’ve got to admit. And even now I’m sober and have been for nearly three years, I still drink it. Except I drink alcohol free beer, and not nearly as much as I did when I used to get pissed nearly every single night of the week. In my previous life as a pisshead I would still make sure the beer I drank was of good quality. And more than 5 percent because what’s the fucking point of drinking beer if it won’t get you pissed right? There would be none of that Fosters or Carlsberg crap in my fridge. My personal favourite was full of flavour, and coming in at 5.9% alcohol content, packed a fair old punch. Any time I wanted to get pissed more quickly I would rely on my good friends Mr Empty Stomach or Mr Cheap Blended Whiskey. But beer really was where it was at for me.
I liked the complex flavours of an IPA or the honesty of a real ale. And in my drinking days I wouldn’t have EVER considered drinking an alcohol free beer. Because what’s the point of that? Not only do they not get you pissed (correct!) they taste like crap. Like a really shitty watered down version of the worst beer you could possibly imagine (incorrect!) Thankfully we are well into the 21st century now, in case you needed a time check, and the idea of undrinkable alcohol free beers is about as outdated as a pager. Or a facsimile. Or only having 4 channels on a television set that you were only able to change if you got up off your sofa and PRESSED BUTTONS ON THE BOX ITSELF! *shock horror! *
So. As someone who wants to address their drinking, or someone who wants to never imbibe in The Devil’s Piss ever again, is it OK to drink them? Well, that can be a complicated question, surprisingly, and just like whether your drink of choice is usually a Pinot Noir or a Snakebite and Black, it is a completely personal choice. For me, they were the difference between me getting sober or not. Or to put it in a more expansive and dramatic fashion, between completely transforming every aspect of my existence or ending up dead in a ditch after a slow and tortuous demise. Therefore, let us address some common questions and misconceptions about alcohol free drinks.
Do they taste nice?
An obvious and important question! Depending of course on how desperate you are to get sober, you’re unlikely to drink something that tastes like it’s been filtered through an unwashed stocking. I mean, that may be your thing but I would guess that it isn’t. Taste is obviously very important. And truthfully the answer is both yes and no, just like it is for every other foodstuff or product in the marketplace. Some of it is fabulously divine, and some of it isn’t.
There is an ever growing selection out there however, and sales of alcohol free drinks are increasing by 20 or so percent (sometimes nearer 50 percent) every single year. More demand means more products, it means more investment in product improvements and of course, it means more choice.
As a beer drinker there is an incredible array of alcohol free tipples. There are well known brands providing alcohol free versions of their best sellers and brand new beers on the market that only brew alcohol free beers. Some you will have heard of and some that you won’t. I have tried many different crisp and refreshing lagers and some that taste like shit. I have enjoyed beautiful IPAs with such depth and originality they have won awards at festivals that would only usually champion the alcoholic varieties. There are stouts and wheat beers, in fact there is every type of beer that you could possibly imagine, and they have often passed blind taste tests where they were indistinguishable from their alcoholic cousins.
I was not really a wine drinker but I know lots of people who are/were, and the choice of wines available is also growing exponentially. And if that is the case (it is) then with growth of choice comes quality. I have had some wonderful sparkling wines, a popular choice is a Prosecco alternative called Nosecco. When I would normally have drunk a wine I now prefer to drink a kombucha, which can also be alcoholic but most often isn’t. A couple of good friends of mine now brew and sell their own kombucha, Boucha Kombucha, which is a fantastic alternative to a white wine.
There are incalculable varieties of alcohol free ‘spirits’ out there as well. Whiskey alternatives, gin, vodka, rum and even some stand alone ‘spirits’ that are unlike anything I ever had when I was a drinker.
In short, there is an enormous choice nowadays and some of it is crap, and some of it is stunning. Just like the choice one would have if one was a drinker.
Are they safe to drink to maintain sobriety?
For me, they are. For other sobereristas, they aren’t. It is that simple. I know that AA are STRONGLY opposed to drinking them but I’m of the inclination that if they help to keep you sober then why the fuck wouldn’t you drink them?!
There is a worry that they may trigger a drinker into wanting ‘The Real Thing’ which is a very valid worry. It’s the reason I don’t drink any alcohol free versions of whiskey, so I get it. But for me, although I really enjoyed a good single malt, I also enjoyed a shit blended whiskey. I drank whiskey because it got me pissed quickly. So I would worry that if I drank an alcohol free version of it it would trigger a craving. And cravings are generally something that retired pissheads like myself try to avoid. It all boils down to personal preference.
But some alcohol free drinks say they contain 0.5% alcohol! Surely that means you aren’t sober if you drink those?!
It is confusing, admittedly. However, it is considered, not through opinion but through scientific fact, that anything up to 0.5% is considered alcohol free. An experiment was done in Germany in 2012 where volunteers were asked to abstain from alcohol for 5 days before then being asked to consume one and a half litres of 0.42% ABV beer within one hour. Alcohol was only detected in blood samples taken in a quarter of those tested. But, importantly, the maximum blood alcohol content from these samples was measured at a MAXIMUM of 0.0056%. This is approximately 13 percent of the amount of BAC needed for someone to start feeling the effects of alcohol in their system (for reference the legal driving limit for BAC in England is 0.08%, and the level at which one can generally feel the effects of alcohol is 0.04%).
These drinks contain a trace of alcohol therefore, and nothing more. Our bodies, our livers to be exact, process this trace of alcohol far more quickly than the time that is needed to feel its effects on us. We would need to drink about 17 cans, in an hour, to reach the drink drive limit, and then continue at that pace to simply maintain that level. And who the fuck is going to do that?!
Additionally, alcohol is contained in so many different foods and drinks where it doesn’t have to be declared at all. Bread contains alcohol with burger buns coming in at a whopping 1.28% ABV. (“Let’s get pissed gang! What did you bring to this party? Jonno, you got the beer?” “Yep” “Billy, you brought the vodka?” “Yo!” “Steveo , you got the burger buns yeah” “Shit yeah! I got a fuck tonne from M and S. They were on special and they’re gonna get us WASTED!”). A ripe banana has 0.4% ABV, fruit juice has it, vinegar, yoghurt, many many desserts have it. Basically anything that has gone through a fermentation process will contain alcohol. It is even used as a taste enhancer in soft drinks. If one was to try and avoid alcohol ENTIRELY in their quest to get sober, one would really only be able to live on water. We even have around 2% in our guts. 0.5% ABV drinks have also been confirmed to be entirely safe for pregnant mothers to consume.
So they are safe in terms of alcohol content, but as to whether you feel comfortable drinking them without getting triggered is something only you can answer.
I have often been asked what the point of drinking them is. In my early days of sobriety I drank two or three AF beers in the evening when I came home from work. They satisfied a craving I had and my evening rituals weren’t completely sacrificed. I also like the taste of beer! It is nice to go to a pub too, and order something other than super sweet coke or lemonade, or fucking J20. I don’t feel as left out at social gatherings, hiding in the corner of the room with my water and feeling like a social pariah.
But the bottom line is, they were, and still are absolutely vital in my recovery and my ongoing sobriety. One could even say they have saved my life. And for the record, I now don’t drink them every night. Just when I fancy them. I no longer freak out if a pub or restaurant doesn’t stock any and I’m just as happy with a tonic water. We have a misconception in our society that they taste like shit and they should never be touched because there is no point to them. And that is how I used to feel as well, as a drinker. But now that I have seen both sides I understand that they are a very important tool in so many people’s efforts to get sober. They should therefore be celebrated, and not mocked. We’ve moved on from the 1970s after all, at least I would like to think we have. If they help you get sober then use them. Drink them with pride. And if they don’t? Then don’t drink them. It really is that simple. Do what works for you!
Now I’m going to hit it hard and scoff down some burger buns because I’m such a fucking rockstar!🤘
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