To drink or not to drink? The new rules of social drinking

Should you be giving up alcohol during the lockdown? We talk to three experts about the mindful drinking movement, and why it’ll pay to cut down.

How’re those hangovers treating you? We thought so. Screens all turned down to minimum brightness, speakers limited to the lowest volume and your coffee machine pumping out double espressos a mile a minute. Self-isolation has become one long slog from evening to evening. Or, as the case may be, from drink to drink.

With no bars open to call last orders, no judgemental looks from strangers and no last trains to catch, drinking from home has become a bottomless, boozy free-for-all. But are you enjoying a little too much? We asked a couple of key players in the mindful drinking game how to avoid going full-blown, all-day drunkard. Because that’s no good for anybody.

Never ever, ever drink out of boredom

We get it. Self-isolation is a drag — there’s only so many times you can watch Tiger King, and you don’t think you’ll ever be able to look a banana loaf in the eye again. But that’s no reason to drink. The bottle won’t cure your boredom, as Jacob Briars, the Bacardi Group’s Head of Advocacy and Education, tells us. “My advice,” he says, “is to not drink at times that you wouldn’t usually. You can still treat yourself to a great cocktail when you’d normally have one but, just like you track your steps, keep count of your weekly consumption and set limits.”

It’s an approach echoed by Laura Willoughby, founder of mindful drinking movement Club Soda. “If you’re at home with a full drinks cabinet,” she warns, “it is easy to pick up a drink rather than apply yourself to something new. Stop that impulse in its tracks by thinking through what you want to do instead — try something that’s been on your list for a while; learn something new or phone a friend.”

See? Easy. The tequila may have been giving you the eye from atop your chiffonier, but just a couple of shelves down there’s a 3,000 piece jigsaw still waiting to be unboxed. And trust us, when you slip that final piece into the Ely cityscape (it’s a corker), you’ll feel a buzz no amount of Margaritas could muster.

Keep drinks a social affair

Ah, the post-work pint. Seems like a million miles away, doesn’t it? Sampling the guest ales down the local after a long day slogging away over spreadsheets. But just because we’re all stuck inside, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a drink with your nearest and dearest. Rather than reaching for a bottle of beer every lunchtime, save up your stash for the end of the week, or scheduled-in Skype or Zoom calls.

“People are looking for things from everyday life to make the current situation feel more normal,” explains Bacardi’s Jacob Briars. “But physical distancing doesn’t have to mean lack of social connection. We’re now celebrating everything from birthdays and anniversaries, to happy hours and after-work drinks virtually. I’m really enjoying catching up with friends for ‘virtual cocktail hour’ over Zoom, or ‘pub’ quizzes with my colleagues.”

Of course, you don’t have to drink at all

Remember Dry January? We don’t. And that’s because, despite our best intentions and resolutions, we caved to the cocktails early on — strong-armed back to the bottle by countless last-minute nights out, birthday parties and anniversary celebrations. Thankfully, no-one’s organising those anymore, and any pressure to drink has been lifted. So why not take this chance to stay sober? After all, even if you do have to show your face in a family Zoom call, Auntie Linda’s not going to know that there’s no rum in that coke.

“It’s a great time to explore all the new alcohol-free options out there,” says Club Soda founder Laura Willoughby. “From spirits like Lyre’s to the new wave alcohol-free craft beers, you can order mixed boxes from places like WiseBartender. That way, you can work out how to keep some of your rituals, but with something new in your glass!”

Jayne O’Keefe, Vice-President of European Marketing for Willoughby’s suggested non-alcoholic spirit brand, Lyre’s, adds: “We’ve even developed a fabulous range of immune-boosting cocktail recipes that contain ingredients such as ginger and essential oils. The World Health Organisation has explicitly said that it’s not good to drink excessively during lockdown as it weakens the immune system. Understandably, there’s a moment in the day where people want to mark the end of it, so we’re all about providing a delicious beverage alternative to those interested in moderation.”

Or, if you don’t want to go ‘no’, go ‘low’

The non-alcoholic alternatives, despite coming on leaps and bounds in recent years, are still shunned by many — those who like their routines and won’t easily waver from favourite brands or drinks. But, even if you don’t want to empty your drinks cabinet completely, cutting down is a gentler way to moderate your alcohol intake during lockdown. And, from low-ABV lagers to weaker-strength wines, there’s a whole market of choices waiting to be tasted.

Bacardi’s Jacob Briars, for example, has turned to spritzs during lockdown. “They’re a low-alcohol favourite of mine,” he says. “Delicious and refreshing. Another simple drink is ‘Vermouth and Soda’. Any vermouth, such as the iconic Martini brand, is fortified wine with very low alcohol, and is great mixed with sparkling water or topped up with tonic. My favourite was created by Naren Young at the award-winning Dante in New York City: 1 part Noilly Prat and 2 parts soda, served with frozen grapes.”

Alternatively, just shrink your drink

“Some of the world’s top bars,” says Jacob Briars, “have debuted demi-serves of classic and bespoke cocktails, that deliver big taste without the calories and alcohol content of full-serves. Think of this as the cocktail equivalent of choosing a starter versus a main course for dinner. Just cut measures in half to turn your iconic Dry Martini into a ‘Dry Marteeny’.”

It’s a neat trick. And one we’re wholeheartedly behind. Whether it’s sharing a cocktail rather than shaking one all for yourself, or just using the smallest vessel in your kitchen as a glass — who’s for an egg cup of Old Fashioned? — there are few downsides to this approach. Most cocktails will taste as nice, they’ll be better for your health and your favourite bottles will go much, much further.

Always choose quality over quantity

An important rule. Perhaps the most important rule. Even before lockdown, we at Gentleman’s Journal would only ever point you in the direction of spirits, wines and beers that we had tried, tested and deemed worthy. During these troubling times, that goes double. Give those crates of watery lager a wide berth in the supermarket, and instead make a b-line for the high-end wines, or tip-top spirits.

“Treat yourself to something really delicious,” advises Jacob Briars. “Then sip slowly and savour the moment. It’s the taste and ritual of the drink that matters, not the amount of alcohol. And this is the perfect time to try new cocktail skills. Why not master that cocktail you’ve always wanted to learn — maybe the perfect gin Martini? Or get creative, dust that bottle of vermouth and make a classic Americano?”

Even if you’re not drinking, says Jayne O’Keefe of Lyre’s, you can invest in quality spirit alternatives. Among the offerings from the Australian brand, you’ll find Dry London Spirit, Italian Spritz and American Malt. They even make a non-alcoholic Absinthe for any really hard non-drinkers.

You could always order your cocktails in

Of course, if you don’t rate your own mixology skills, or simply don’t have enough different bottles and ingredients floating around your house — Angostura what?! — then why not dish out a little cash and let the professionals do it for you. Because the bartenders are still there, shaking up carefully crafted concoctions behind their bars and shipping them off on the back of zippy little scooters direct to your door.

“Yes!” says Bacardi’s Jacob Briar, “Many bars and restaurants are offering a takeaway cocktail service, so you can bring that great bar or restaurant experience home with you. I had a Taco Tuesday last week and me and my friends ordered tacos and margaritas for a virtual dinner party.” The best part? It’s not only London, as these things so often are. Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Liverpool also have enviable cocktail delivery options. Happy hour just got a little happier.

Who knows? All this cutting back may lead to a lifestyle change

Dabble with low or non-alcoholic alternatives, and who knows? Perhaps you’ll be a convert. As Jayne O’Keefe of Lyre’s tells us, these spirit alternatives were around way before the lockdown, and they’ll be around way after. Perhaps self-isolation will just prove to be the bump we needed to give them a chance.

“When the lockdown period ends,” says O’Keefe, “we’re looking forward to going out into bars and restaurants and socialising again, and Lyre’s will be on the menu. In fact, we’re stocked in some of the world’s most prestigious bars and restaurants — and keen to encourage consumers to come on the journey with us and are reframing the conversations around non-alcoholic drinks and socialising.”

Want a bottle of wine to savour (and not glug) during lockdown? Here are our reasonably priced choices…

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