Coronavirus: Isolation could provide a safe space to explore alcohol-free drinks

By Zoey Henderson, #nolo category expert and hospitality consultant, founder of CleanSlateLondon

Dr Aiysha Malik, technical officer at WHO Europe’s mental health and substance abuse department, recently stated that “using substances such as alcohol to pass the time or alleviate stress during lockdown can make things worse”. She followed on to say that drinking excess alcohol during the crisis is an unhelpful coping strategy.  

The statement was released amid concerns at the level of drinking in the UK as off-trade drink sales soared and supermarket shelves became desolate waste-grounds as people stocked up on wine, beers and spirits following Boris Johnson’s closure of our pubs and bars.

We all know that drinking alone to excess is never a great place to be. However, many of us that enjoy a glass or two with dinner or like to sink a few pints post work with friends, are now finding the social routine has disappeared and yet there is still the desire to imbibe. 

If you are a healthy social drinker this just means adjusting your routines to drink at home with your partner or housemates but for those that live alone, this could result in regular solo drinking. For many people, especially those in the hospitality industry, with no scheduled work to get up for, every day could feel like a weekend. At which point do we start to look at how this is affecting our attitude towards drinking? 

When times are good we celebrate with alcohol but the same can also apply for times of stress. We have a delicate relationship with our favourite tipples and we should all be mindful of how this unprecedented time could tip the balance.

Internationally, governments are recognising the strain that people are under and how the excessive consumption of alcohol may have a detrimental effect. 

Greenland’s capital has introduced a ban on the sale of alcohol until the April 14 in an attempt to reduce domestic violence during this stressful time. 

Alcohol sales have also been banned in South Africa under a strict set of rules to discourage absolutely non-essential travel. 

Even Australia has realised over-drinking is not helpful. Western Australia is now the first state in the country to limit the purchase of alcohol. 

Premier Mark McGowan said: “Each bottle shop customer will be limited to either one carton of beer, cider or pre-mixed spirits; three bottles of wine; one litre of spirits; one litre of fortified wine; or a combination of any two but not of the same product.”  He said the restrictions were not intended to stop people from having a responsible drink but, he said, alcohol-related issues take up an enormous amount of resources in the health system. These are resources we simply cannot afford to spare during the Covid-19 situation.

We are all trying to create that space of normality in our daily routines and the relaxing and incentivising draw of alcohol can be all too alluring. However, drinking in excess in isolation can have dramatic effects. Lowering our immune systems and disrupting hormones that combined with the mental stresses of isolation can have further adverse effects on our physical and mental health. So how do we create the ceremony and routine of the post work / kids going to bed / break in the day, that cracking open your favourite bottle of wine or classic ‘Gin O’Clock’ tipple hits the mark on?

Step up the growing category of no and low alcohol offerings that have started to gain consumer attention and shelf space in large retail and artisan off licences alike.  

Laura Willoughby MBE, founder of Club Soda, suggests filling your cupboards with delicious drinks that you will look forward to drinking at the end of the day. Find your new favourite and make it easily available. The Club Soda Guide lists a large range of alcohol-free drinks and where to find them. The growing selection of non-alcoholic beers, wines and spirits available through online retailers such as the Wise Bartender and the Dry Drinker mean you can explore the products in the comfort of your home and get delivery. 

One of the challenges facing the expanding category of no and low alcohol products has been their consistent availability in the on-trade. The market is changing, trailblazers, Redemption Bar and the newly-opened Brew Dog AF have created fully non-alcoholic venues, however for the most part mainstream bars and pubs still have minimal no and low offerings. Many venues are integrating products on their menus but the uptake is still slow. To say they have minimal is of course a huge step from a few years ago when water or soft drinks were the only option. 

Consumers too of course face the minefield of social conditioning and etiquette around drinking and although 2019 was the year of mindful drinking and sober solidarity, we are still working out the new social norms of more responsible drinking. Could isolation prove a safe space to explore the world of non-alcoholic drinking, free from judgement or disappointing experiences faced when out? 

There are now more than 150 non-alcoholic beers worldwide and over 70 non-alcoholic spirits; this list grows daily as more innovation comes from producers wanting to capitalise on this rapidly expanding trend. Whether you want a crisp, dry profile of Gin for your tonic, an IPA or Stout, or even a glass of bubbles, there are some exciting new brands that are developing best in class products to match those tastes, just without the alcohol. 

There is plenty of inspiration online for recreating your favourite cocktails,  La Maison Wellness  guides you through being a healthy hedonist with recipes, tips and ideas. Big Drop Brewing Co. host a weekly pub quiz to go with that beer and there is even a daily cocktail hour from Thomson and Scott. Use this time to engage with innovative new brands, try out and experiment with what you like and you might just create some new favourites to help keep you happy and healthy into 2020. 

For more information and no and low alcohol drink recommendations, contact Zoey Henderson at hello@cleanslatelondon.co.uk

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