Sober October?

What’s with the Not Drinking Alcohol? 

You may have noticed a growing trend in ‘alternative’ non- and low- alcoholic drinks, aimed at adults choosing not to drink so much.  Could be ‘Sober October’, ’Dry January’ ‘One Year No Beer’  or other ‘not drinking’ choices for health or lifestyle. 

The Big Retreat Wales co-founders (Amber & Diana) are known to love a cheeky tipple - that's why they run the most amazing Gin Workshops you'll ever find at a Festival!

With over 22 years experience in the Premium Drinks industry, Diana has imbibed an incredible bank of knowledge on all things drinkable.  Amber was keen to find out  - what’s all the non-alcoholic thing about -  should we all be doing it - and (more importantly ) what’s a good non-alcoholic drink to pick?  

As part of Sober October, we catch up with Amber & Diana at  Treehouse Towers  where they're busy planning the 2020 gin element of next years Festival - it's the  site of the most amazing Gin Collection we've ever seen!

A: What’s with this not-drinking - is it a just a trend?

D:  No, not at all.  Surprisingly enough, the drinks industry has been encouraging us all to drink less alcohol for well over 10 years.  There have been campaigns on “Staying in Control “Don’t see a good night wasted” - and do you remember the recent  'Guinness Clear'?  Launched as part of Rugby 6 Nations this year, it tries  to normalise and encourage drinking moderately, pacing yourself with water.  The government has also been trying to get us to drink less - with trends to put up the minimum prices of alcohol and other headlining campaigns around health & not drinking.

A: So is this what we are reacting to?  Campaigns from the Drinks Industry and the Government?

D: Not completely.  We never like being told what to do - in the UK this has been evident since at least the 17th Century. Any government led initiative has had little impact at time of launch - its normally something people have to land on by their own choice (or forced upon them - like the World War 1 Pub closing times that set our pub opening times for the following 70 years) 

A: So - who is drinking less?

D: It seems to be a trend led by the younger consumer.  Whilst the older amongst us might remember the excitement of being able to have that first drink (legally) in a pub at the age of 18, our younger consumers are not so excited.  It could be that they have had regular access to alcohol in the home - so it doesn’t seem like such a milestone. Plus the younger generation are rejecting values and habits of the older generation.  Add on the need to save for housing, holidays and other and the appeal of ‘too much’ alcohol doesn’t hold so much sway. Also, they are a generation that embraces and accepts peoples’ lifestyle choices - peer pressure is not there to ‘go on - have a drink’. And don't forget, many school curriculums featured topics on drug abuse  - including alcohol - for well over 10 years - that generation is growing up. 

A:  Is there anything else behind it?

D: Yes.  We are a visually conscious society - with easy access to Social Media and instant postings. The thought of having ‘drunken’ shots posted by friends or bystanders is engendering a real feeling of wanting to stay in control - not be the one ‘shamed’ on social media for being t**ts up in the gutter. 

And as you get older, you get more responsibility - young families are deciding that they don’t want to wake up with hangovers and have to deal with small children who (we know) are on the go from dawn till dusk.  Ditching the hangovers means that family park runs, walks and activities are not dependent on the ibuprofen and bacon butty supplies & waiting for fuzzy heads to clear.. 

Pub habits have changed significantly over the past 15 years too. The pub used to be the place for Friday night socials, buying in rounds. We hardly ever drank at home.  That’s now reversed - we drink more at home these days.   Also with the costs of drinks in bars, buying in ‘rounds’ is less common. Buying in ‘rounds’ is a peculiarly British thing to do anyway - and can lead to competitive drinking . You don’t find that behaviour so much in other countries - in fact other nationalities think this habit leads to much bad behaviour (think stag & hen do’s in Spain…..)

Just a simple Google about Not Drinking will turn up any number of articles about “100 Days sober” “I gave up for 2 years - here’s what happened to me” “I drank 4 bottles of wine and was still functioning”  - it seems any number of journalists are confessing their drinking habits and how they go on on their quest to be alcohol free for 100 days/2 months/ a year.  Their journeys are illuminating.

A: What do you mean?

D : We do form habits quite easily.  It’s easy to fall into the habit of drinking every night. Building up a patten of behaviour - seeing drink as a reward “I’ve had a hard day - I deserve this” mentality.  It’s a slippery slope - and also - once you move into ‘coupledom’ you can easily lead each other astray - the ‘one more drink’ mentality - or “we might as well finish this bottle - it won’t keep” etc. In reality, you don’t ‘need’ the drink.  Think about the occasions you drink - and specifically if you think you are drinking too much. See if you can identify when you loose control - for women its normally after 3 drinks - for men it’s 4.  Your body will start to send you signals - being tired or thirsty. These are signals to slow down and stop - to drink water. But people ‘push on through’ - and drink more alcohol. This affects your brain function.  The more you do it, the more your brain adapts. and stops sending the signals.  

Change your mindset and vocabulary and change your habits.  Make your first drink in a social situation a non-alcoholic one. Your ‘treat’ could well be a Mocktail - mint, ice, sparking water, dash of bitters -  or glass of alcohol free wine or beer.  What you’re saying is that you need a treat - a reward - well pick something else other than alcohol (& no, don’t replace it with bars of chocolate!) Find time for a 15 minute workout, a 10 minute jog - something to make you feel good.

There was a great MTV Campaign recently aimed at 18-24 year olds - Weekend Not Wasted  swapping hangovers for adventures!  

A:  So - are the big drinks companies really worried about this?

D:  Um, no.  That would be like thinking a car manufacturer isn’t looking at eco-cars. The Big Drinks companies have innovation departments who have invested in this emerging trend.  They study consumer behaviours, they predict and they invest in brands that they think have spotted a trend.  Diageo (the world’s leading premium drinks company) for example, was a key funder of ‘Seedlip’ right from the beginning - and have just bought a 50% shareholding. The big drinks companies would also like us to drink less - but drink better.  It’s not in their interests to have reports of us getting caned on their drinks - it’s not good PR. They take it very seriously and work with the government and not-for-profit organisations (eg Drink Aware) to get across a message about being in control of your drinking. And don’t forget - it’s not just about the UK market when you’re an international drinks company. 

A: What brands of non-alcoholic drinks should we be trying? 

D:  When this is an emerging sector - so it’s one to explore.  For those of you who have been in our Gin workshops at The Big Retreat Wales, you will know that my personal opinion is that a lot of these are the most expensive cordials you will buy.  The cost of alcoholic gin is driven by tax and duty (as much as 50% of a bottle cost dependent on strength).  That’s one of the reasons why craft gins are so expensive. Now - take out the alcohol, and you are paying £15 - £25 or more for a bottle of distilled cordial type drink that you dilute with tonic or mixer.  The production costs will be minimal.  That being said, they offer a taste, flavour and delivery reminiscent of a gin - and you can serve it is a glass to look like a gin.  

We are visual creatures, so these alt-gins deliver on the ‘Instagramable’ scale and you don’t stand out as the proverbial billy-no-mates on a pint glass of lime & soda. You look like part of the party, you blend in. Whilst we are all individuals in a world that supports individuality, we do still like to feel part of the crowd, part of our ‘tribe’

Seedlip and Cedars are a good place to start exploring this category - see if you like those. A relatively new UK start up is Borrago (Latin for Borrage)Borrago's founder is Tom Tuke-Hastings. He started off in food - writing cookery books, running a food .com and doing the occasional bit of food TV presenting. He has always loved entertaining and celebrations and even wrote a whole book on ‘The Art of the Vodka Jelly’ - now anyone who understands the art of the vodka jelly is bound to make a good tipple!  I'm currently  enjoying this one - (it even comes with a packet of borrage  seeds for the garden to encourage bees)  - and they are working on their own honey for use in cocktails. 

 Treat these non-alcoholic-"gins"  like a gin - posh glass, plenty of ice and a premium mixer. It’s a bit like the gin category was some years ago - people are spotting the trend and moving quickly, so you will find increasing choices on the market - check out the supermarket shelves. 

A: What can Festival-goers expect from the Bars at our Festival next year?

D:  We love to offer choice. Drink or don't drink - it's your call. Alongside our traditional bar and craft Gin bar, we are introducing  ‘The Mindful Bar by Caro B' situated in our Feel Good Field. Caro is developing some superlative drinks for us. We will be offering drinks that are inclusive to all.  With a carefully selected range of crafted low alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks we will be offering drinks through the day to allow conscious connection to thrive and create a wonderful experience for all those involved

At The  Mindful Bar, low and non-alcoholic drinks are to make you feel good, whether this is your mental or physical health and there will be fun pop-up themed sessions at the bar that you can drop in and delve into in between your other activities. 

These can range from creating your own drinks at home, understanding how fermented drinks are good for the gut, kombucha floats and mocktail making.

It’s important to us that we accept a balance. Choosing not to drink is a personal choice. Manage yourself, make your own choices. And respect your friends who chose to drink less - don’t pressurise them  with ‘go on - you know you want to’ !

A: Does this mean you’re not doing Gin Workshops at TBRW 2020?

D: What? No!  Thought we’d take a look at Post Brexit Gins!… See what’s going on in Non- EU countries - if that’s who we’re going to be dealing with…

A:  Anything else?

D:  yes - we’re going to take a closer look at this ‘What Do I Drink When I’m Not Drinking’ - and explore what’s out there on the market. We’ll do some tastings, find our favourites and give ourselves some knowledge to make a choice next time we want a ‘spacer’, a night off the alcohol - or simply manage our alcohol intake . We will look at these distilled alt-gins - as well as a lot cheaper cordials - to find our favourites! I’m going to line up some super ones to taste at The Big Retreat! 

A : Sounds great  -  can’t wait! Pass me a Borrago and Tonic! 


 If you would like more information on Not Drinking - check  out DRINK AWARE

Join  Diana Dredge in the Cookery Tent for Gin and Alt-Gin workshops in May 2020


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