Drinking is foundational in the social lives of many, but plenty of people choose to abstain from it too. Andrew Nolan and Nathan Young discuss ways we can still socialise alcohol-free.
Drinking is something of a societal backbone for many people. Even as we’ve grown out of drinking in parks and the like, a huge amount of people seem to bank on bars and nightclubs to make up much of their social habits. Clocking out of work, or finishing that essay, and following it up with a few pints is a familiar ritual in most adult age groups. Even with bars closed, the cementing of Zoom drinks as a practice highlights how far-reaching alcohol is for many. It’s interesting to see just how ingrained the pastime is in our social lives. Thankfully, there are plenty of means to go or stay alcohol-free without having to sacrifice our social lives.
The opening of bars like The Virgin Mary will play a huge role in changing the social narrative. I remember personally reading confused comments surrounding the venue when it opened, the most prominent being “A bar with no drink? What’s the point?” And on a very surface level approach, the question can be justified. But it cannot be understated what a venue with this setup can accomplish. Remember, you’re not going to be sat in a café or a youth club; this is a bar. The appearance, atmosphere, culture, it's all there. Places like this not only give people another option but provides a setup already familiar with many of its attendees. This opens up an experience welcoming of not only those abstaining from alcohol but their friends who aren’t. Some people enjoy getting drunk, that’s fair enough. But by providing an establishment so familiar it becomes a lot more accessible for a group of friends to spend their night here, without it being too dissimilar and jarring for those used to bars. Now, charging pub prices for non-alcoholic drinks is an argument for a different day, but nonetheless, the bar is promising for many who don’t favour a drink.
This might be cheating because the venue does sell alcohol, but it is far from the focus. Token is an arcade just off the Smithfield Luas stop, and it’s a personal favourite spot of mine. I’ve been a plethora of times, but I’ve never actually drank there; the vast collection of old arcade games is more than enough. And a few games with friends is something everyone can get on board with. Put simply, I’m not inviting you to Token for a session, I’m inviting you so I can smoke you on Mortal Kombat, alcohol be damned.
Establishments shifting away from alcohol as their selling point will have a ripple effect on how many of us socialise. Even without quitting entirely, these options becoming normalised makes it much more viable to ditch drinking as a social crutch. Like I’ve said, there’s nothing wrong with an occasional pint, but being able to socialise without it not only allows for a healthier outlook on alcohol but allows our abstaining friends to not feel so isolated as they sit with us in the same pub each weekend.
Personally, I enjoy drinking immensely. From a glass of something with a meal to the heavy session of a birthday, alcohol is my drug of choice. I have long held, however, that a good shindig is one where everyone has a good time, and nothing more. Therefore, whether it is for just one person, or everyone in attendance, having non-alcoholic mocktails on offer is vital. Friends and comrades may wish to avoid drinking for a variety of religious and health reasons, and it’s good form for you, as a host, to accommodate these people.
The price of booze being what it is, fresh, high-end ingredients still work out cheaper per drink for mocktails than mid-tier ingredients do for a cocktail. Take advantage of this! Make fresh Orgeat syrup at home by blending 200g almonds and 660g hot rose water, straining the solids out through a cloth, before blending again with 500g sugar. This can be shaken with homemade lemonade and served over ice, or used as an amaretto substitute for more desserty drinks. Make berry syrups by adding an equal part of raspberries or blackcurrants to your sugar-water solution and boiling it before straining. These can be used either as substitutes for liqueurs or to add colour and flavour to other drinks. The trick is by preparing ahead of time fresh syrups and juices, your mocktails can be as delicious and beautifully crafted as your cocktails.
Some of you are aware that Shirley Temple said, later in her life, that the mocktail named for her career as a child star: “The saccharine sweet, icky drink?...all over the world, I am served that. People think it's funny. I hate them. Too sweet!”. This shows the difficulty in relying on juice and syrup to make up for the lack of booze- some people just prefer sour or bitter things! A good response is to make a muddled cucumber drink of cucumber and oregano, add a pinch of salt, some honey and much more lime juice. Shake well, and serve. Voila, far less sickly-sweet.
Finally, there is always the option of simply making virgin cocktails or classic recipes without the booze. Be careful here, as the flavour of most spirits is an important part of the drink, and missing it will make the whole thing unbalanced. The best two classic candidates for virginity here are the Piña Colada and most especially the Bloody Mary. Without the spirits, these drinks become a tropical slushie and a chilled spicy tomato soup. Both of these drinks are so old that there are a thousand variations online, so why not find new ways to spice them up and give them that extra something?