Following the publication of her latest book, ‘How To Drink Without Drinking’, we caught up with prolific wine and food writer, Fiona Beckett.
Her site Matching Food and Wine is the go to resource for anyone wanting to, well, match food with wine, beer and other drinks. Her championing of no/ low alcohol alternatives adds a prominent voice to the mindful drinking movement – or, as we like to think of as being ‘sober-sometimes’.
It’s disappointing to us to see clashes on social media between the sober-curious and parts of the trade who view Dry January, or cutting down on alcohol consumption in general, as a betrayal of wine retailers. There does still seem to be a degree of obstinacy in sectors of the trade in acknowledging that wine is no person’s only drink of choice. Sharing space with beers and spirits seems to be stretch enough for some – no and low alcohol options provoke outright hostility.
However, we perceive books like Fiona’s to be the start of a wider dialogue about how people drink. People go into small wine shops to buy special drinks – so why not strive to option more kinds of drinks full stop. Alternative ferments; low-alcohol options – harness the consumer’s drinking habits at every stage, whether they wish to consume alcohol or not. Compare the drinks trade with the acceptance of consumers’ flexitarian eating habits – from big supermarkets with their tinned jackfruit and expanding tofu ranges, to small delis serving more vegetarian and vegan options. Fiona echos this comparison:
“Lots of people are looking for ways to cut down on their drinking without necessarily giving it up altogether – in much the same way that people are cutting back on meat without going vegetarian. And of course [the book is also relevant for] many who are going sober permanently or for an extended period – when they’re pregnant, for instance.”
One of the most interesting features of the book are the ‘recipes’ for combining ingredients to create drinks which ape the taste and mouth-feel of wines and other drinks using non-alcoholic ingredients. From our perspective, one of the biggest barriers to enjoying no/ low alcoholic alternatives is the absence of some of the key taste and texture elements which are mentally associated with the satisfaction of alcoholic drinks.
“These [recipes and suggestions] are more directed towards people who have given up alcohol for good – or indeed, have never drunk it. I wouldn’t pretend they were a totally satisfactory substitute for any wine lover. Few, for me pass the ‘lasagne test’ – i.e. would you enjoy them with a good lasagne? [However], I did in fact taste Matthew Jukes new Cordiality range this week and his Number 6 is a decent approximation. Mineral whites are also a bit of a challenge. I more often that not drink kombucha when I’d have fancied a dry white wine but then I only take off a couple of days a week.”
As fellow kombucha and water kefir lovers, we very much subscribe to this approach. The acidity hits the spot you didn’t know you needed to itch. When we interviewed The Sober Sommelier before Christmas he also highlighted the significance of bitterness in psychological satisfaction. Fiona’s recommendations include some of our favourites – focussing on aperitifs which typically have a herbal, more savoury flavour profile.
“I really like Aecorn Dry (on the rocks with a splash of soda) and Pentire (a gin alternative) is pleasingly salty. In terms of ready-mixed drinks Crodino is a great alternative to an Aperol spritz.”
The final section of the book – ‘What To Drink When’ – is a pure distillation of Fiona’s Matching Food and Wine wisdom. Combined with the foodie-style tips for stocking a non-alcoholic larder, with this book you’ll be equipped with the tools to choose a satisfying dry option.
Buy Fiona’s new book here and check out more of her no/ low alcohol recommendations here.