Review: How to drink without drinking, by Fiona Beckett

The veteran food and drinks writer has produced a fine manual for novice and expert alike

Words by Cayla Viner

Over a quarter of 16 to 24-year-olds – and half the world’s population – don’t drink at all, says Fiona Beckett in How to drink without drinking. Religion is no longer the central reason behind sobriety; there has been a surge of people becoming ‘sober curious’, with more and more of us pledging to detox. Dry January is just the start of it.

As a 19-year-old I understand the desire for more alcohol-free options. My father, however, is a wine professional, and he and other older family members are sceptical about the growing market for “low and no” drinks. That was before I introduced them to this book.

Beckett is a veteran food and drinks writer (she is the Guardian’s wine critic, has a hugely popular blog matchingfoodandwine.com, is the author of 23 books, and has written in every issue of Club Oenologique), and she weaves her experience into her introductions – whether it’s learning how to make shrubs in Bristol or tasting syrups in Barbados. This instils confidence.

How to drink without drinking is beautifully illustrated and presented, and is topped and tailed with useful introductions and appendices (“Best bets at the pub”; “Best bets in a restaurant or bar”), and (increasingly rare nowadays) a decent index. Beckett assumes her readers want to own the subject as comprehensively as she does. She includes detail on how to make sugar syrup, what oils and flower waters to stock, and a section on “useful kit”: cocktail shaker, funnels, fine sieve, measuring spoons.


Read more: Six easy non-alcoholic cocktail recipes

Food writer Fiona Beckett
Fiona Beckett

The recipes are rich with possibility. From Habanero Mary to Hibiscus Agua Fresca and Tepache (Mexican fermented pineapple juice), via twists on classics like Piña Colada and Gin & Tonic, there are drinks to knock up quickly on a Monday night, and drinks that require serious preparation.

But each recipe is no longer than a page, which makes every drink feel achievable for novices and connoisseurs alike. The design may be simple but this is a grown-up book – Beckett doesn’t compromise on the complexity of ingredients and flavours, and often the non-alcoholic version of a classic cocktail is a good deal more demanding than its boozy original.

Take her NG&T. Juniper is a required component of gin, of course, but it always comes ready added. Not so with Beckett’s concoction. After hunting down juniper berries – the vital botanical for replicating the gin, which I found in a tiny deli in London’s Belsize Park – I was set. I was glad to not be making the Mojito, as finding ‘kaffir’ limes might have been more of a challenge.

Often the non-alcoholic version of a classic cocktail is a good deal more demanding than its boozy original

The clear and concise instructions meant every step ran smoothly. The sugar bubbled and dissolved into a sweet liquid and the citrus rinds added a powerful shot of zing; despite my family’s initial scepticism, my creation was, to their surprise, a great success. The taste of juniper in my homemade syrup pierced through the tonic, creating a refreshing and very drinkable combination. “You don’t even notice there’s no alcohol” was a response from one of my tasters. Beckett knows exactly what she is talking about.

Dry January is nothing more than a memory but for those of us still sober curious. We don’t need to worry that bars and pubs have taken down their “Dry January specials”. From food and drink pairings such as duck and wild cherry cordial or a Chinese with a lychee martini, sober tips to make a smooth lifestyle change, and an extensive list of the best alcohol-free brands, How to drink without drinking has got it covered.

How to drink without drinking by Fiona Beckett is published by Kyle Books.
£15.99, www.octopusbooks.co.uk