First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 12th January, 2019
How are you getting on with your dry January? Alcohol is something of an occupational hazard for a drinks writer; it is my job to drink, or at least taste, the stuff on a very regular basis. Mine is one of the few jobs that permits you to pour a glass of wine, whiskey or beer at 9.30am. While most of us dutifully spit out everything we taste, I know that a little alcohol passes into my bloodstream with every mouthful. Hence I never drive to tastings, and keep a close eye on my consumption.
I have no problem with the concept of a dry January, but it is not really practical for a wine writer. Instead I try to avoid alcohol, when possible, for the first three days of each week throughout the year. Padraig O’Morain’s thought-provoking article in the Irish Times health supplement on dry January rang a few bells for me. My own trigger is to pour a glass of wine at about 6.30pm, when I start preparing dinner. When I first cut out drink, I avoided this impulse by making dinner earlier, by having much simpler, easy-to-prepare meals or by having a soft drink instead.
One of the biggest problems with going dry is what to drink instead. Leaving aside the effect it has on your senses, alcohol does actually make a drink much more complex and interesting. I have never enjoyed sweet fizzy drinks, and while I like water, it can become a little boring after a while. Non-alcoholic wine, led by Torres Natureo, has become so much better, as have alcohol-free beers. Seedlip leads the way as a gin alternative. The range of soft drinks has expanded hugely in recent years so there are plenty of options, many of them made here in Ireland. For me kombucha and water kefir are probably the most interesting. You can make them at home, providing you can get hold of a scoby, but there are plenty available in our shops and supermarkets.
However, making your own drinks is so much more fun and not at all difficult.
It may seem strange but vinegar makes a great base for homemade cocktails; a few teaspoons of the exquisite Irish-made Wildwood balsamic vinegars, or any of the great Irish cider vinegars (I love The Apple Farm or Llewellyn) add a savoury tang to any drink. My current favourite is made simply by leaving a few sprigs of rosemary to macerate in water (still or sparkling) for a few hours in the fridge, sometimes with a few slices of lemon or lime and a teaspoon of vinegar. If I am feeling summery, slices of cucumber and fruit, fresh mint and other herbs make for a fantastic, interesting refreshing drink.
SynerChi Ginger & Lemongrass Live Kombucha
Organic, vegan kombucha from Donegal. A delicious, lightly sparkling drink with a lovely spicy kick and a lip-smacking dry finish. From SuperValu; Circle K; Boots; Spar; Londis; Avoca; Donnybrook Fair; Morton’s, Ranelagh, Dublin; the Good Food Store, South Great George’s Street and Ballsbridge, Dublin; Fresh; McCambridge’s, Galway; plus health stores
King of Kefir Cucumber, Mint & Thyme
Made in the Chocolate Factory in Dublin, this is a fascinating complex drink; you certainly get the cucumber and herbs, with a funky touch and an off-dry finish. See kingofkefir.ie for stockists
The Happy Pear Wild Berry Kombucha
Intense fresh crunchy redcurrant fruits with a lightly funky spicy dry finish. Very refreshing. Not cheap but delicious.
From The Happy Pear, Greystones, Co Wicklow, and Clondalkin, Dublin 22
Mariko Sparkling Sencha Green Tea
With no calories or sweeteners, this is the least expensive of the drinks featured. Brewed in Co Mayo, this is very pleasant; an effervescent, fragrant drink with light tannins on the finish.