How to be sober during the silly season (plus alcohol-free drinks put to the taste test)

Sobah takes the booze out of beer, but the hops and malt are still front and centre.
Sobah takes the booze out of beer, but the hops and malt are still front and centre.  Photo: Supplied

 Timing, as they say, is everything. Giving up booze during the festive summer weeks seems about as sensible as volunteering to be backstage wrangler at the kindergarten non-denominational nativity play. It's an activity on a cultural par with vegan cheese and forest-bathing. It's a non-sequitur to good times; the Naltrexone hit to good cheer.

Or so it seems when on your first, tentative, Bambi-like steps to social sobriety in the months that moderation forgot.

So why forgo alcohol at the time of year when it seems the entire world is foraging in an Esky and even the inflatable Bunnings pool comes with built-in beer stubby holders? Well, you might be preggers, or you might be bringing in the new year's health kick early (this year it'll be different, oh yes it will), or like mine, your liver might have just turned 46 years old, which – metaphor alert – makes it the exactly same age as Gough Whitlam's "It's time" campaign.

Forget saving your efforts for Ocsober and Dry July and all those virtuous abstemious months based purely on their amenability to the catchy portmanteau. Join the growing tribe of people turning away from alcohol, saying "Choose Life" (sorry, showing my age) and waking up without a hangover.

You'll quickly find that not drinking, like death, is a great leveller. Your nearest and dearest will assume you're simply trying on a trend, like boyfriend jeans or flatform shoes, and try to shove a drink at you at every opportunity (suggested response: push their hand away and knowingly say "Misery loves company, hmm?").

You could drink oceans of tonic water with lime and pretend you're actually drinking a stiff G&T while also reducing the risk of malaria. But really, it's not so much about fooling those around you as fooling yourself. And the growing number of booze-free booze options flooding the market might even convince your brain it's party time.

Suspend disbelief with a nip of Seedlip.
Suspend disbelief with a nip of Seedlip. Photo: Supplied

Just remember: successful non-drinking is not the same as simply not drinking. Not drinking is the sound of one hand clapping. Non-drinking is putting your best game face on and adding maracas and a sombrero. Just try not to think too deeply about the fact Donald Trump is a non-drinker. Good luck.

Sobah

Is it un-Australian to drink alcohol-free beer? Well, back when it was boiled to remove the alcohol, the answer was a definitive yes. But the good news is that, unlike wine, beer is pretty happy when it's delivered with lower levels of alcohol. Take the booze out of beer and its main flavouring ingredients of hops and malt are still front and centre. Sobah (good name, by the way) is the brainchild of Gold Coast-based Gamilaraay man, Clinton Schultz. The range of three beers brewed with native ingredients – Lemon Aspen Pilsner, Finger Lime Cerveza & Pepperberry IPA – make it the no-alcohol beer of choice to survive festival season.

sobah.com.au

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Score: 9/10

Good for: Keeping your cred at the next backyard barbecue.

Alcohol-free wine

Ladies and gentlemen, three of the most depressing words in the English language. Alcohol-free wine is not wine; it's grape juice sold in a wine bottle. Take the alcohol out of wine and you're left with a sugar bomb. Despite the growing popularity of the section of the beverage market it has little to recommend it. Sorry.

Old faithful: Mineral water with slice of lemon.
Old faithful: Mineral water with slice of lemon. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Score: 1/10

Good for: Cooking; giving to toddlers.

Sparkling water with lemon

Hello, old faithful. Tap water begone, this is bang-on festive fizz with added citrus kick. All you need is whole heap of imagination. This is the Yogalates of non-drinking options; the smug, "see how little I need to be satisfied" statement of non-drinking intent. Go home; no one at the party likes you anyway.

Seedlip's newest alcohol-free spirit, Grove 42.
Seedlip's newest alcohol-free spirit, Grove 42. Photo: Supplied

Score: 3/10

Good for: Hydration; minuscule amounts of vitamin C.

Seedlip

Not drinking reaches the level of cultural fetish with this English alcohol-free spirit cunningly designed to be drunk instead of gin in cocktails. It's been described as a non-alcoholic gin analogue: same herbaceous complexity, no alcohol content. Bonus: the apothecary-like design gives the same "I'm about to have a really good G&T" endorphin rush. It's made much the same way as ordinary gin, including a six week-long copper pot distillation and filtration process for each individual botanical, and the resulting product has no calories, no sugar or artificial sweeteners or flavours. Sure, it's as expensive as the real thing while raising the existential question of whether having a drink is inextricable from a gentle booze buzz – but it also tastes like the real thing and provides the satisfying element of ritual; hell, even try dusting off the word "mixologist" from the naughty corner and see if you can get away with it.

Currong Comestibles Riberry Shrub.
Currong Comestibles Riberry Shrub. Photo: Supplied

seedlipdrinks.com

Score: 10/10

Good for: A convincing suspension of disbelief.

Lemon, lime and bitters

It's the classic alcohol substitute drink that's here for a good time, not a long time. Kids love it because they can pretend they're drinking a cocktail – and the 0.0001 per cent alcohol content once a few drops are diluted into lemonade is a real kick. Creative adults might try to pretend they're in possession of a tequila sunrise rather than a glorified soft drink. But sustain an entire evening on the LLB and you'll wind up with a serious sugar rush, tooth decay and a cracking headache. And don't even think about subbing in soda water instead of lemonade – that's just boring and sad.

Score: 5/10

Good for: A cheap sugar buzz; type-2 diabetes.

Currong Comestibles Riberry Shrub

The current trend for native botanicals in food and cocktails is doing good things for non-drinkers too. Witness this cordial made from riberry shrub – otherwise known as the fruit of the lily pilly tree. The vinegar-based cordial makes for a good grown-up drink that balances its sweetness with a tart, spicy complexity that's hugely appealing. The best recipe is a no-brainer: ice-cubes, a shot of cordial, soda water, a slice of lemon. Consume.

currong.com.au

Score: 9/10

Good for: Making a decent pink drink that fashionably offsets an all-white outfit; staving off scurvy.

Sin Ko Nah tonic syrup.

Sin-Ko-Nah tonic syrup. Photo: supplied

Sin-Ko-Nah Tonic Syrup

It's the all-important bittersweet calling card that grabs you about Sin-Ko-Nah, a heavy-hitting syrup made from a recipe dating back to the 1820s infused with cinchona bark and added citrus and juniper berries taking it the extra flavour mile. All you need to do is add a slug to a good quality tonic water. (Just don't get it confused with the company's gin & tonic soap bar, made with the spent botanicals. Results could be messy.)

sinkonah.com

Score: 10/10

Good for: Sipping smugly while everyone else gets drunk; pouring over panna cotta.