The best alcohol-free drinks for summer: Eight to try

It can be wise to be sceptical of drinks trends. It doesn’t, for instance, seem that long ago that the wine world was trying to convince us that Viognier was the next big thing and that didn’t play out too well. And as for water sommeliers…

But sometimes a drink or a category deserves all the attention that comes its way – and that’s very much the case with the rise of alcohol-free.

Unless you’ve spent the last five years in the deepest Champagne cellar in Epernay (not, perhaps, out of the question for some readers), you’ll almost certainly realise that zero alcohol is a trend. Barely a week goes by without another survey, news report or piece of market research explaining how sales of booze-free beer or fizz sans whizz are growing at a phenomenal rate.

Around a third of all pub visits are now alcohol-free (Low and No 2023 | KAM Insight report), while just over half of us are intending to cut back on our alcohol consumption over the next year.

It’s true that a growing number of people are giving up or not starting drinking alcohol in the first place. But much of this shift comes from moderation. A growing number of ‘sober curious’ drinkers who can’t imagine life without Barolo, but also don’t want to have to lie quite so flagrantly to their doctor about their alcohol consumption.

In the past, avoiding alcohol was a pain. It meant imbibing either water or soft drinks full of sugar. Or even de-alcoholised versions of wines and beers that should probably have come with a nil-by-mouth warning on the bottle.

A new era

But that’s completely changed. There are a lot of genuinely good, sophisticated alcohol-free drinks out there now. Some are mimicking or inspired by alcoholic equivalents. Some are long-established traditional alcohol-free drinks styles (such as shrubs, kefir or kombucha). And others are joyously different to anything that’s gone before.

But the best thing is, they taste like they are made for grown-ups. They have tannin, bitterness, acidity, fruit, spice, structure and depth… All the characteristics you’d expect in your favourite alcoholic tipples. It genuinely is one of the most stimulating areas of the world of drink.

The category is growing fast too. This year, a business partner and I set up a drinks competition dedicated entirely to the area – the World Alcohol-Free Awards. We couldn’t have done this even three years ago because the numbers (probably) and the quality (for sure) wouldn’t have been there.

But our judges were knocked out by what they found. There were a lot of really, really good entries, from all over the world. This is very much a global trend, not a regional one.

Buying alcohol-free

Unless you live in Sweden, where Systembolaget is doing a brilliant job with alcohol-free, you won’t get most of these drinks in mass-market retail. So be prepared to buy bottles direct from the producer or from the growing number of specialist online retailers that are springing up, particularly in Europe, North America and Australia.

The US-based alcohol-free guru, Laura Silverman, has also put together a brilliant map with hundreds of venues and retailers all over the world on her site Zero Proof Nation. It’s well worth a look.

In the recommendations here, I’ve gone for drinks that I can imagine you wanting to sip on a warm terrace, or while the smoke from a barbecue roils into the air this summer. Brilliantly, you can drink as much as you like. You can’t get drunk, and you won’t get dehydrated. Drink them exclusively or mix in the odd glass of booze. Either way, they’re a brilliant addition to the summer experience.

Bottles and cans of drink

The best alcohol-free drinks for summer to try

Agua de Madre Lemon & Ginger Kefir Water

£10/75cl Abel & Cole

If you want something citrusy and invigorating but without caffeine, sugar or alcohol, this is a good bet. The flavours of lemon and ginger are subtle and because it’s water-based it’s naturally light, with just a hint of funky kefir…

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The best alcohol-free drinks for summer: Eight to try The best alcohol-free drinks for summer: Eight to try *The best alcohol-free drinks for summer: Eight to try