“Wow… it’s actually busy!” This is my initial reaction as I stand in the middle of Spitalfields Market on a Saturday afternoon watching people milling around picking up drinks from trays, chatting and laughing while lounging on deck chairs. There are beer, wine and gin stalls as far as the eye can see. But rather than putting myself in the middle of some kind of messed up temptation alley, I can actually drink everything in sight. This is a booze festival with a difference, everything on offer is non alcoholic. This is my first time at The Mindful Drinking Festival, but it has been running for 4 years now and with each one getting bigger than the last.
I’m sometimes taken aback by my own naivety when it comes to being sober, it can often feel like I’m a rare breed. None of my friends in London are sober. In fact, I only know a couple of people (Hi Gabe) who are actually sober at all. So I’m shocked to see how popular an alcohol free event is. But should I be?
A quick google search says no, I shouldn’t be shocked at all. I’m flooded with recent articles and interviews on the topic. Tee totalism in the UK is on the rise, with 21 per cent of adults abstaining completely and lower drinking levels across the rest.
This explains the popularity of today’s event and also the vast amount of non alcoholic options that are available to try. There’s everything from soft drinks like Kombucha and sodas through to alcohol free wine, beer and spirits.
There are plenty of offerings from small independent brands but there’s also a noticeable presence from the big brands. Heineken 0.0% have sponsored the event, and Gordons are on hand with their new ultra low G&T. With the explosion of the alcohol free market in the past few years, it’s a smart move on their part.
It’s apparently a great time to be sober, there are more non alcoholic options available than ever before. But with so many options it was hard to know where to start. Luckily for me I had seen that Nirvana Beer Co had not one, but 2 new beers on offer that I was desperate to try so they were my first port of call. The first beer I tried called Zen & Berries is a really fun creation made in partnership with London Fields Brewery. It’s fruity, sour, tangy and a refreshing twist on a non alcoholic beer that’s perfect for summer. Second is their new Ananda “Buchabeer” The first of it’s kind, it blends kombucha with their tantra pale ale to make a beer that tastes great but is also actually good for you! If you’re a kombucha fan like me then this is a great version of the classic taste to try.
Next I headed to a botanicals tasting event hosted by Fever-Tree Tonic. I only heard about and tried non alcoholic gin for the first time a couple of months ago and loved it. So I was really excited to find out that there were going to be 7 different non alcoholic “spirits” available to sample. Each was presented to us by a spokesperson for the brand and I was blown away by the passion that these creators and owners had for their product. Each one had it’s own unique identity, taste and story. However, they shared a common bond, most had started to create their own alcohol free drinks because of their own personal frustration at not being able to find a decent alternative when out with friends. It’s safe to say that I could relate, I rarely want to drink fizzy juice on a night out and I don’t always want a dusty old Becks Blue that a confused looking bartender has unearthed from the back of the cellar. These “spirits” provide an exciting and sophisticated alternative that is definitely missing currently.
After a lot of sniffing and sipping it was hard to pick a favourite, each was delicious and had it’s own unique flavour. I have to say that Sea Arch & Berkshire Blend definitely left me wanting more. Berkshire Blend had such an enjoyable rounded subtle spice to it, while still being light and citrusy. Plus, 5% of Berkshire Blend’s profits go to Mind, so you can enjoy a good drink and a good deed at the same time! For the gin lovers I think Sea Arch was the closest to the real deal. I paired mine with Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water and ice for a classic G&T. I also loved their branding “More Beautiful Without”… I want one of their cool shirts!
After all that tonic, I had little room left for any fizz, but as we all know I can never resist a (non alcoholic) beer and new kids on the block Braxzz from Amsterdam caught my eye. They had a couple of different IPAs available and they were so good I left with both! The Orange IPA was my stand out purely because it tasted unlike any other beers I’ve tried while remaining true to it’s IPA roots. Blindfolded I genuinely don’t think I’d know it was 0.2% and not a regular IPA. I’m super excited to see what’s going to come from them in the future, definitely my one to watch!
My last stop was with the super cute Soda Folk who satisfied my sweet tooth with a whole range of American inspired sodas. I loved the Root Beer as it was the most authentic tasting version I’ve had outside of the US itself. Each soda has been dedicated to someone remarkable, they all have their own story which you can read about on their website, it’s sure to bring a smile to your face.
By the time it came to leave I was feeling really inspired and also kinda ill from the sheer volume of liquid I’d consumed. However in all seriousness to meet so many people with their own stories, their own businesses and passions all united under one common factor of sobriety, was really powerful. One of the biggest struggles that I’ve found with being sober is that 99% of the time I am the only one or at least it feels that way. The Mindful Drinking Fest served as a strong reminder that I’m not such a rare breed, I am not alone and I am actually one of many.
Huge thanks to Club Soda for arranging the Festival and to everyone who took the time to talk to me throughout the day.
Remember to donate to my JUST GIVING page for Mind The Mental Health Charity
Good news Glasgow! The next Mindful Drinking Festival is coming your way. Check it out!