What to drink when not drinking

02:20, Feb 24 2014

The most uncomfortable person in a bar late at night is almost never the person being hit on the by seedy old man. 

It is not the glassy, trying to weave their way through the scrum of swillers to the safety of the bar with a sky-high stack of glasses in each hand.

It is not even the owner, nervously thinking of a way to kick out the high-spending regular who has had far too much to drink without offending them so much they never return.

No, the most uncomfortable person in a bar late at night is the person who is not  drinking alcohol.

Most people call it ''not drinking'', but those on the wagon usually have a beverage of some sort in their hand.

But it will almost always be something full of sugar, bland and available almost everywhere else.

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Zero-alcohol drinks are almost always the worst section of any drinks menu at a bar.

Any time I read through it, I see the same things: cola (full of sugar), lemonade (also full of sugar), a diet alternative to those two (it never tastes the same), fruit juices (quite often sugar masquerading as fruit), and water.

While I often am responsible enough to have just one or two beers before driving, those who are not - or choose not to drink - could do with something a bit more interesting.

Which is why it is hardly surprising to see Lion getting into the non-alcoholic market, with the launch of Hopt next month.

The marketing blurb says it is a ''sobering truth'' that people are living ''healthier lifestyles'', which apparently equates to being ''more likely to drink water instead of soft drinks when they are socialising''.

Lion claims Hopt has less than half the amount of sugar than regular soft drinks, which I guess is supposed to be a big draw card for those with ''healthier lifestyles''.

Never mind the fact that Lion makes the Smirnoff and McKenna ready-to-drink ranges, and we all know the reputation RTDs have.

Lion also should not try kid anyone into thinking they are offering Hopt solely for keeping people healthy.

In this article on the Hopt range, Lion is quoted as pushing the following company message.

''[The non-alcohol drinkers] often leave early because their existing drink choices are too sweet, boring, gassy or childish and project a lack of commitment to the occasion resulting in a sense of disconnectedness. This can mean their entire group leaves.'' 

To me, that translates like this.

''We need to keep the beer/wine/RTD drinkers in Lion-tied pubs to make money, so lets do it by attracting their mates who do not want to drink alcohol.''

What does appear to be a big plus for Lion is the flavours Hopt will come in: salted lychee, pear and basil, watermelon and mint, and elderberry and herb.

Those flavours, while sounding like something Rekorderlig would bring out, are far more interesting than the standard lemonade or cola.

I imagine they will be especially popular in bars which do not offer mocktails, or ones that do but the bar staff find them a hassle to make.

All four drinks will contain hop extracts, which should hopefully keep the hop heads out there happy when they are taking part in Dry July.

However, non-alcoholic ''alternatives'' are nothing new.

Bitburger in Germany produces Drive, a 0 per cent beer which is the official drop of the German football team.

While a noble move, I do pity the footballers for having to be subjected to something which is overly sweet and thin.

I think they should just take a leaf out of Luis Suarez' book.

After all, the man is in brilliant form, scoring 23 goals in 21 league games.

My only other experience with a true zero-alcohol beer was at Beervana last year - and it did not end well.

Garage Project's Straight Edge was, I said at the time, ''terribly sweet, with a disgusting hop tang and an aroma akin to a student flat at the end of O-Week''.

But there is an alcohol-free drink made by a New Zealand brewery which I would happily drink, even when offered the choice of it or beer.

Kereru Brewing, based in Upper Hutt, makes a birch beer.

Similar to root beer, Kereru's combination of malt, various kinds of sugar, wintergreen and star anise took me back to the days when I would eat aniseed balls by the handful while walking home from school.

There is also the Mac's range of non-alcoholic drinks - funnily enough, owned by Lion - with the tart Green Apple my pick of the bunch.

A call for suggestions through Facebook threw up a plethora of other options (ginger beer, Six Barrel Soda and coffee among them), but the most obvious choice came from Andrew Childs of Behemoth Brewing Company.
''H20 bought to you by 'straight out of the tap brewing company'.''

Manawatu Standard