A Gentleman’s Guide To Drinking A Bit Less
The opening of The Grill, New York, 2017. Photograph by Ms Angela Pham/BFA/REX/Shutterstock
Whatever your individual situation, the picture as a whole is clear. Government figures last year found just 57 per cent of people in England had drunk alcohol the previous week, down from 64 per cent in 2006. The American National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows a similar trend, including notably fewer adolescents binge drinking or using alcohol at all. Which isn’t to say that we’re all ready to cut it out quite yet. Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A nice crisp Sierra Nevada pale ale on a summer’s day. Champagne. Gin and tonic. A well-made daiquiri. Amontillado sherry with Spanish jamón. Guinness in Dublin. Negronis in Milan. Martinis in New York. These are among the pearls of humanity. To forgo these over a lifetime would be, for some of us, like slicing off three or four fingers. But if we examine our livers and our migraines, we could probably contend that we’d like to drink in a more careful, controlled way. And if you do want to enjoy a few more clear-headed mornings, you needn’t throw out the Babycham with the bathwater, so to speak. Here, with a little help from some experts, we show you how.
DRINK, BUT LOWER THE ALCOHOL
Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but ABVs (alcohol by volume) have been creeping up and up. Climate change has led to more sun in some wine regions, which means sweeter grapes, which means more sugar to convert to alcohol. There has been an average two per cent ABV increase in wines these past 25 years or so. Craft beers typically come in at five to six percent – sometimes much more – as opposed to the four per cent more common for lager and traditional ales. And some of us have started mixing all that up with cocktails, which are typically 20 to 25 per cent ABV.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. “When I don’t want a heavy night, I drink vermouth (15 to 18 per cent ABV) over ice or with tonic or soda to lengthen,” says Mr Alex Kammerling, bartender and booze entrepreneur. “If you are sticking to the government-recommended guidelines, you can still have 2.5 of these versus one pint of average-strength beer or one cocktail.” Mr Kammerling’s own spirit, Kamm & Sons, a blend of herbs and botanicals, including ginseng and manuka honey, comes in at a modest 33 per cent ABV, which makes it a good base for a shim, the term for a low-alcohol cocktail. Otherwise, try ordering a 3.7 per cent pale ale as opposed to a 5.6 per cent IPA, or a 12 per cent pinot instead of a 15 per cent malbec. It adds up.
TAKE A LOOK IN THE MIRROR
“I find appealing to people’s vanity the most effective way to help them cut back,” says Ms Rosamund Dean, author of Mindful Drinking. “Most alcoholic drinks are full of sugar, which attacks collagen in the skin, leading to a wrinkly, sagging face. A pint of beer has as many calories as an ice-cream. Imagine how fat and gross you’d feel if you had two or three ice-creams several times a week.” Ms Dean says she now thinks of alcohol a bit like cake. “If it's a birthday or a celebration or a dinner party, then, of course, I will eat cake and drink alcohol. But I no longer open a bottle out of habit every night.”
DON’T TRUST WILLPOWER ALONE
The science of willpower is inconclusive. There are studies that show that willpower is like a muscle that can become depleted through over-use. There are others that suggest it can go flabby if you don’t use it enough. But what you can easily do, weak, suggestible fool that you are, is change your environment. Ever since I wrote my cocktail book The Spirits, my kitchen has resembled the back bar of a medium-sized speakeasy. It’s just too tempting to pour myself a glass of El Dorado rum while prepping fish fingers. I recently banished all bottles to the attic. I am not constantly reminded how delicious El Dorado rum is and, if I do want to drink, I have to make a special effort. It’s simple, but effective. Likewise, studies show, perhaps surprisingly, that social media can help. Dieters who talk about their dieting with supportive communities online lose more weight than those who don’t. So, share. Tell all your friends you’re cutting down and public shame will work its magic.
ONE NIGHT ON, ONE NIGHT OFF
If you’re on a night out, there is no need to be all or nothing about it. And while in the past, the teetotaller was limited to crap orange juice and sugary sodas, there are far more options out there now. In fact, non-alcohol hooch is among the fastest-growing sectors in the booze industry. Nanny State, the 0.5 per cent beer by BrewDog, is among its top sellers. Stowell Press does a nice line in 0.5 per cent cider. If you’re partial to an Aperol Spritz, try Crodino, the non-alcoholic aperitivo by the Campari group. Bees Knees makes non-alcoholic prosecco that is actually pretty celebratory.
There are also non-alcohol drinks that don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are. One of my favourites is /shrb, a non-alcoholic apple cider vinegar-based drink designed to go with food. Another is kombucha, the fermented tea thing that has a depth of flavour and subtlety reminiscent of wine. “Kombucha is an ideal alternative to alcohol due to the complexity of flavours created through the fermentation process,” says Mr Adam Vanni, founder of Jarr Kombucha. “Ours is naturally fruity and akin to a sparkling wine or cider. It also happens to be a fantastic mixer. Our passion fruit kombucha goes especially well with white rum or cachaça and our ginger variety is good with a dark rum and bourbon.” So you can at least booze in a more healthful way, right?
CHANGE YOUR MINDSET
“Another effective way to cut back is to stop beating yourself up if you do overdo it,” says Ms Dean. “So many people fall off the wagon of moderation and then decide that alcohol has ‘won’, so they slide back into heavy drinking. Many of the feelings brought on by a hangover, such as anxiety, shame, low mood and regret, are the kind of feelings that make you more inclined to hit the bottle again anyway. Try and reframe a boozy episode as a positive thing. It’s an opportunity to identify your triggers and work out why you over-drank, so you can avoid doing it again in the future. It’s really all about mindset. Cutting down on drinking will make you happier, healthier and more productive. It will give you better skin, a better body and more money in your pocket. There are really no downsides. Don’t see moderation as a drag. It’s an unequivocal joy.”