The Lockdown Lock-in

One trend that has been slowly but steadily growing in recent years is an increasing number of non-alcoholic options with our food. Just as plant-based food is slowly taking up more and more space on food menus, restaurants and pubs are starting to make more way for a new kind of clientele. I think more vegetables and “clean eating” concepts are making consumers think a little more mindfully about their drinks too. It’s hard to sell your brand as a healthy option when everything on your drinks menu is effectively a mild poison. (That’s not moralising, what I just said, it’s piety.) Not sure what they’d call themselves at this juncture; ‘the neo-temperance movement’ is my posit, but it sounds like a division that fought in the U.S. Civil War. The “Anti-Hogarthians” work too. I don’t think it is ethically or morally orientated. Just people making more salient and sanguine choices about what they put in their bodies. The idea of a night out has changed. More on that later.

The ‘Lo and no’ Alcohol-Free menu from my local. These are starting to appear a lot more in pubs and restaurants.

” . . .It tastes like a tango that grew up listening to Norah Jones. . . “

I think we can all agree that COVID-19 has been about as popular as sneezing while taking a period shit. Naturally, with things having gone the way they are in the world, I’ve had to put the blog on hold, apart from attempting to keep the profile up on the ole Instagram. (“#cookthroughcovid” never really caught on, did it?) So it came to my attention that companies are now trying to fill the gap in that market. For example, Seedlip proposes itself as ‘the drink to drink when you’re not drinking’. Rumish boasts ‘truly a free spirit’. There are now viable options to explore and check out. Safely at home without having to go out. I did this before with my Da Bomb review, so this is the next in a series of ‘the poet goes domestic’. Armed with what seems like a ridiculous amount of mixers and sounding like an astroturfing Fever Tree shill I go through several I found lately.

21 bottles in total.

Just a quick disclosure before we begin. The legal definition of “non-alcoholic” means anything less than 0.05%. This has come under fire from consumers, and as a result most 0.05%’ers are sold as “low alcohol”. Some of these are still legal-aged products. To create an alcoholic drink like gin and vodka and de-alcohol it is a tricky business, and there are always trace amounts. The commercial law for alcohol products means that some de-alcoholised products still fall under the Think 25 process. Similarity, there are other household products that follow a similar guideline, like orange juice or vinegar because of the fermenting or chemical makeup of the product. But to say there is a remote chance of getting a buzz off this stuff is dam preposterous.

Gin Ginnery Gin Gin Ger Roo . . .

Yes, I’m glad you’ve noticed the peas. More on them in a moment. . .

Seedlip Garden 108 – Herbal – £22:

This is a peculiar taste. It’s not a million miles away from the taste of matcha, only less dense. . . ‘looser’? If that makes sense? I have to admit, it does taste ‘green’. If you had synaesthesia and could taste colours, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine this is what tasting a charming spring green would be like. Almost like a pleasant Monet watercolour of a tennis ball. It’s definitely delicate and a little dry. It’s not an overwhelming taste, which works in its favour, rather than being a punch on the nose of artificial flavours. Having it with soda water simply diluted the already delicate cordial down further. If you’re drinking this, have it with flavoured water to make a semi-cocktail like drink rather than a G&T substitute.

Being in a bit of a blind spot of how to review de-alcoholised booze I flip the bottle over and read the label. ‘serve 50ml/2oz over ice with tonic or soda & garnish with a handful of peas.

Quick question; what the fuck?

Imagine you’re in a bar, you order a G&T, and the bartender asks ‘ice with a slice?’ and you reply ‘oh no, gimmie some peas, please!’

If you’re planning to make a reputable, fancy non-alcoholic drink that someone could pull off at their local, you’re not exactly making it easy for them, are you? And y’know what’s even more mind-boggling? Adding peas to it works! Compliments the green motif of taste that it’s going for. Mixing it in with the peas and Fever Tree Elderflower Tonic Water flavour was a dam good combo. Almost has a nut-like taste; almond milk type thinness and more than a little earthly with that peppery, herby taste. This is clearly what you ought to drink if you have zero fucks left to give. It’s got the potential to be a perfect drink for when you’re a rich, eccentric aristocrat and you need to ponder over your acres of land with a goblet in hand. It certainly has a wonderful fragrance to it, like a freshly bloomed garden. Adding it with peas and ice and Fever Tree’s cucumber tonic water gives it a near enough perfect aloe vera kind of taste. It goes down very well and you find yourself not hating it before long. Imagine a fancy, iced green tea and you’re not a million miles off.

Just in case you think I’m making this up. . .

Seedlip – Spice 94 – £22

Cracking this bottle open, it smells overwhelmingly of musk, making it a great alternative to sweetness in drinks like orange juice or coke. I found out later that it’s cardamom. My original guess was clove. The initial sips still gave that taste, but with some sort of tart, citrus under-current. It’s quite dry. Having it straight with a Fever tree Indian tonic water is probably the best way of having it. It’s pungently bitter and ‘strong’ and is a lovely mix of autumnal scents and tastes. Actually, it is quite relaxing as a taste and scent with a gentle sedative effect. However, I do get the feeling this would appeal as more of an old man’s drink. I can see some tweed laden, pipe smoker sipping a glass of this in a rural countryside pub, tunelessly humming something like The Ash Grove. But if you’re looking for something with more of a sour mash to it, Seedlip Spice fills that gap. Out of all the drinks, this has the most unique flavour. And also has the most old school type gin. This taste stays in the mouth a lot afterwards. I’m curious what it would taste like with a dash of vanilla to balance that bitterness. The bottle says to serve with grapefruit twist which definitely is an improvement. So it’s a tangy, sharp drink. If I could be so pretentious as to pare it to a meal, this would serve a beef dish. Maybe wellington or a roast.

And also, just what does one pair this with? For me, I’m battling the summer heat while watching Agatha Christie’s Poirot with a tumbler. But what are you supposed to pair this with? This isn’t a drinking drink, in the sense that shots of Jägerbombs or sambuca are. So, what’s the gig? Am I supposed to sip this while saying stuff like “. . . ah yes, this reminds me of when I used to arm wrestle Anthony Eden. . . ”?

What I found maddening about Seedlip was the ingredients list on each bottle. Rather than having a detailed list of the contents, it says this: ‘traditional English herbs based on methods and botanicals documented in the Art of Distillation, published in London in 1651.’

Wat?

The pamphlet in question, while honourable and in-depth enough, gives me sceptical vibes.

1) It was originally published 369 years ago. Years before official spellings and translation came into place. There is academic speculation that it was based on an even older German text.

2) The purity level was a little less than brilliant regardless of one’s perfectionism in 1651.

3) The nature of distillation has changed since then. Machinery, technology. Environmental Health inspections etc . . .

But I am reassured because I flick the bottle over to the ingredients list: water, natural botanical Distillates and Extracts. . .

Da fuck did ya put in this drink?!

If I asked a chef what ingredients were in my food and they kept saying ‘herbs’ at me I’d be a little suspicious. Coriander is a herb. So is a banana. Could this be banana gin? What the hell did I just drink damn you?!

“. . . Pretty pink and burnt orange in colouring, zesty and sweet and sour in equal measure in taste. This was delicious, more of a dessert than a drink. . .”

Seedlip – Grove 42 – £26

“Delicious, just what you need when you’re Odin and going through a midlife crisis. . . “

Smacking my lips around this bottle, this does has that citrus taste to it. There’s a peppery undercurrent too. Which makes me curious what to mix it. The label says to add orange which gives this a stingy taste to it. It also says this is a mix of orange, lemon peel, ginger and lemongrass which I feel is a little overkill, those citruses all go into one blend. Just to mix things up I added Aromatic angostura bark tonic which gave that citrus something to play against. Slightly bitter, gently tangy and pleasingly refreshing.

Drinking it with sprigs of mint and Fever Tree Cucumber Tonic kicked up those citrus tones, and the mint infused against the orange and made it crisper. An orange flavoured gin must be a difficult thing to concoct, but gin and juice is a very old school thing but Seedlip balances the sugar. It needs to be said that Seedlip certainly doesn’t taste like an artificial bunch of sulphites and preserves and sugars. You get something you don’t really expect, a taste that will certainly grows on you. But adding Clementine with cinnamon tonic was the best mix, playing into a dynamic where the cinnamon takes up more attention.

Ceder’s Pink Rose Gin – 500ml – £16

“Hmmm, perfect for when you’re chewing on a moccasin. . . “

This bottle really goes for the fancy market, bright pink on white with flowery font typing on the label. The neat sips hit that classic, stiff drink type taste. Like Seedlip’s Spice, it has that old man style drink, which isn’t particular what I’d imagine the design of the bottle was aiming for.

The label says to garnish with raspberries and a sprig of fresh mint. By this point, I’m tempted to add a nice little sparkly umbrella. However, it added extremely well to the mix, especially with cucumber flavoured tonic. It’s the most “ordered at the pub” drink I had. This is definitely something you could see being put on the menu at your local.

Just out of curiosity, I mixed it with Fever Tree’s Clementine with cinnamon which was far crisper and a better concoction. The mint stands out better in this glass, taking the palate further down the Ph meter into sour territory. The slight citrus and cinnamon blend made the “stiffness” more in front of centre. I’d be curious what this would taste like adding this to a prosecco or making it into a Virgin Long Island Iced Tea. But much to my surprise, the aromatic angostura bark was a wonderful mix with Ceders. Again, using my synesthesia format, this tasted “pink” and light, soft and slightly sweet too.

Out of all I sampled for this post, this most certainly hits the most classic spot, coming across like a typical hard style spirit. It’s very dry and has that slight burning sensation while swallowing.

Rums, “Nonka” and Tresemme

Rumish – 750ml – £19.99

“Ah yes, this is what I was drinking when I lost a cockfight to Kingsley Amis.”

Cracking the cork open on this and – phleeeeuuuugggghhhh – y’know when you smell a strong spirit and it has that powerful sledgehammer of a whiff that punches you in the face? Well, this has this. Up to this point, I always thought that was the alcohol content, turns out it is the other stuff in the bottle and their level of purity. The aroma is pungent and potent. Now I also have to say the presentation on this is fantastic. Formal and looks the most sincere, with the black label and gold lettering contrasting with dark tea coloured fluid inside. Only it has “RUMISH” on the front, just the right enough degree of tongue in cheek for my liking. The sticker that connects the cork to the bottle’s neck has printed on it: truly a free spirit. Compare that to Seedlip’s rather dissonant effort. Confident. Unapologetic. Rumish.

First sips of it and you still have that strong, fiery, stinging taste you get with spirits. The label does say ‘familiar flavour & perfect punch’, and it does deliver. It also tastes startlingly like the real thing. If you’re blending into a party you can’t go wrong with this. A straight shot is a great taster on its own.

Starting my rum night off with a double rum and coca cola, ice and a slice of lime. As tastes and substitutes go this was a fairly bog standard drink, but let’s stay with it for the moment. A rum and coke that tastes so much like the real thing? That’s a pretty good achievement. Perhaps adding ice was a mistake, no matter how strong it is you can’t add ice to anything without it eventually diluting it.

Kicking up the complexity a little, my second glass of rumish is a double with Fever Tree’s aromatic tonic water with angostura bark. Topping off the glass was a roughly cut slice of red grapefruit, ice cubes, pink Himalayan salt and coconut nectar. So this was like an Old Fashioned cocktail but with rum instead of bourbon. The grapefruit and salt were doing a lot of work here, a beautiful blend of bitters and sweets mixing and melding. Just make sure it gets mixed right and grab a stick in order to mix it in case the pulp ‘n’ bits sink to the bottom. This would be such a perfect brunch sharpener or the drink of many a hen night. Pretty pink and burnt orange in colouring, zesty and sweet and sour in equal measure in taste. This was delicious, more of a dessert than a drink. Should have dropped a scoop of vanilla ice cream or something in here to see what will happen. Maybe next time.

Lastly, I go for half a Belvoir Ginger Beer mixer and lime slice. Truth be told I had to add four measures to it to get a good drink off it. Adding lime to it totalled it all out into a spiky, sharp and sweet concoction. The fieriness of the ginger beer kinda cancelled out the fieriness of the Rumish and the lime knocks the PH out of whack regardless. But guess that’s on me. Lesson learnt. Some of these drinks are adaptable to alcoholic mixes and some of them aren’t.

Amplify – Zing and Zest Vodka – £15

“Hmm, lovely for when you’re being chased by the Stasi. . . “

Non-vodka vodka. Or as I’m calling it: “Nonka.”

Having this with cucumber flavoured tonic water was a pretty damn amazing combination. This one tastes a lot more like a sports drink, fruity flavoured with a sweet and sour edge. It’s a bit drier than Seedlip, but reminds me of that Volvic flavoured water stuff, just with added palatable stuff in it. The label describes ‘scents of sweet orange with beautiful tasting notes of lemon and bittersweet orange. Pops of ginseng, earthly juniper and lemongrass’ See, I personally think that’s a little overkill. Three different types of citrus fruits mixed together? It kinda blended into one indistinguished taste.

Having it with plain soda water was pretty nice, making it taste like a basic fruit drink for a hot day. The water makes it come a little more alive, the fizz I suppose, adding to the citrus sharpness. However, it can’t be ignored. This taste is so diluted. It tastes like a tango that grew up listening to Norah Jones. It has hints of what I’d imagine a fairy’s fart would taste like. Mozeltov.

Mixing it with Ocean Spray’s cranberry juice was a nice mix, the citruses blending together just on above the sugar of the fruit. Topping it up with soda water, making it a Rose Kennedy makes it a little more interesting with that sweetness countering the bitter tones. But it’s difficult to ignore that this concoction tastes at best like a fancy Vimto, only with a little bit more of an orangey bite. The cranberry helps with it, gives it that sharp dryness you have in alcoholic drinks.

That citrus tang is also problematic when adding it to orange juice, it just about adds something different. I find this curious as presumably, the idea is you can use this in substitute of the real thing, but vodka and orange is a pretty standard mix, and Amplify doesn’t work here. So maybe Seedlip is onto something when they print suggestions on their label.

Perhaps in search of inspiration, I flick the bottle over. Their own label has this to say: This is the start of something new. Of something more. An invitation to play, to explore and amplify your experience. No alcohol to dull your senses. Which means you’re sharper. More in the moment. More open to enjoy the craftmanship [sic] that’s help to create this complex drink. So think different, drink different. And let’s make this a night (or day) to remember.

Ma momma raised me to believe you shouldn’t look down on anyone unless you’re admiring their shoes. My god. Is this not a little smug? ‘We’re soooooooo complex luvvie, you’ll never fathom the delights if you’re inebriated. Live in the moment, maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan.’ Absolutely no one, in the history of anything ever got their mind changed through snobbery and smugness. Unless the idea is that the company statement is so strong and confident they persuade people to try it? Either way, it’s not coming across like a good tone and or a good look in my opinion. I mean, how can I be sharper for staying sober if being sober is the default position for a human being? And if I’m remaining sober then how is Amplify having this amplifying effect if my default position is what they’re selling me? You’re a drink, not MDMA. You’re a non-alcoholic substitute, not a compliment from Barack Obama.

Freixenet Sparkling Wine – £4

Gorgeous, just what you need when you’re a menopausal Valkyrie. . .

By this point, I’ve had fresh peas, grapefruit, orange, orange juice, cranberry juice, lime, raspberries, mint, pink Himalayan salt and coconut nectar so may as well finish this fruit salad off by adding a strawberry to the glass. In for a penny, darling.

How are you supposed to pronounce that by the way? I’m going with ‘Frexinet’ to almost rhyme with ‘Tresemme’

The front sticker says ‘Light Fruity Enjoyment’ with a large 0.0% alcohol print. This I am warmer to, plays it straight in presentation.

The strawberry adds a nice little touch actually, sweetness against the crisp. The taste is typical dry white type white wine, crisp and sharp. The sparkling-ness gives a lovely texture and did I mention ‘crisp’? It hits that sweet, cool sharp kind of drink, drying as you swallow.

The ingredient list also says is 90% ‘refined grape must concentrate’ juice, which effectively makes it as potent as a glass of Welches. Adding a dash of lemonade to it made far more palatable. Most of these drinks have a bitterness that needs a basic sweetener to perk it up. But it certainly suffers the most from the de-alcoholised process. On the second glass, sans strawberry, there are some sulphites in the ingredients list, throwing some sweetener taste over the concoction. The smell is acrid and dry. Well, it’s not the best. It’s purely perfunctory. Admittedly, I am struggling to find something to say. It’s not that it’s bad, but I sit here with the bottle, swishing the drink around in my mouth and . . . nothing substantial comes to mind. Said all I could say. But perhaps that’s a strength, if you want something cheaper or not fussed much and need to bring a bottle to a gettogether. As prices go, a 750ml bottle for £4 makes Freixenet the winner for value. Definitely a nice crisp, cool type of drink to have on a hot summer’s day.

*

Perhaps after a night of a skinful of all this stuff you won’t stagger on the way to your home, you won’t buy a curry and won’t be in the doghouse with your partner. And that’s not nothing. . .

For the sellers and the restaurants and public houses, they’re having to adapt to this.

One huge downside is I really can’t understand the pricing. Truth be told I bought all this because although I had meant to do some kind of non-alcoholic booze post at some point, it was all on offer at Tescos. I can’t blame a business for trying to wedge a bit of markup in but where exactly are you justifying this surplus? I can’t work it out. Flicking through John French’s pamphlet you can certainly conclude there’s a strict science to making alcoholic drinks well. Alchemy, even. It needs a certain purity. During the prohibition, domestic brewers ran into all kinds of trouble because alcohol is expensive and hard to make without resulting in minor difficulties, like making you go blind or just straight up fatally poisoning you. Because of this, it needs to be monitored and approved by experts and legal administration. Then heavily taxed as an industry and product because the government hates us having money. In modern times, billion-pound industries and multi-million companies can afford to jump through these hoops en masse. Quality alcohol just is arduous to create. But how is infusing herbs sans-booze together justifiably the same price range? Is the de-alcohol process that labour intensive? In which case, why isn’t it more expensive to cover the cost of distilling the alcohol then de-alcoholing it? In which case it needs to be argued, why bother? Why not just. . .y’know, not try to aim for such a market? Why place your product in the same aisle as the wines and spirits when it can be placed next to the Scholers and cordials. Why choose to be a small fish in a big pond when you can be the big fish in the small pond? Work your way up. (To be fair, this is most likely not the company’s fault but more supermarkets deciding to put them there in an act of what I feel is tone deafness.)

As I said earlier, the idea of “the great night out” has changed. While I don’t think boozing it up is going to go anywhere anytime soon. The idea of going out doesn’t immediately equate to “get fucked up as much as possible” anymore. The number of more wholesome places; board game clubs, conventions, immersive parties, LARPing, arcades that are gathering steam would probably serve very well by starting to stock up on these kinds of alternatives. I think if you’re going to hit the alcohol market hard, you’re better off starting from the perimeter, go for the alternatives first, seep into the mainstream the grassroots way.

So all in all, it’s a bit interesting. But the likes of Seedlip and Amplify have a long way to go before becoming the reputable brands they are aiming for. Especially when it’s a lot easier to order a soft drink or orange juice rather than requesting your local keeps a pack of Bird’s Eye behind the bar in case you’re the DD. On that note, can I politely point out that 1.3 billion Muslims go to pubs, parties and ceremonies with their friends and family and get by with J2Os and the like. And that’s not including other religions that don’t imbibe, and people with allergies to alcohol, fitness nuts and people who plain ole don’t like the taste. Although new non-alcoholic drinks are a welcome change and are a small market at the best of the times, I think some could do with toning the pretension and portentousness down a notch or five. Image is everything in marketing. It’ll take time to find the right scene.

But on the other hand, I do sympathise with them. Current trends are showing people don’t want to drink booze anymore. But turning temperance into something cool is going to take time. But it happened with plant-based diets, why can’t it happen here too?

. . . back to the home page.

Doing the math, this post cost roughly £133.70 (not including the bus fare to get to the store) and is 4,259 words long and was three months in the making. Making it the biggest, most expensive and longest to write post on this blog. Never again.

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