Sober October: soda, ‘gin’ and ‘beer’

As ‘Sober October’ gets underway, Peter Ranscombe rounds up some of the latest non-alcohol releases and revisits some old favourites.

BETWEEN “Dry January” and “Sober October”, it’s getting harder and harder for a drinks writer to earn a living… so, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

The latest month of abstinence is the ideal opportunity to take a look at some of the latest non-alcoholic drinks to appear on the market.

Top of the bill is the highly-anticipated Herb Garden Non-Alcoholic Spirit (£19.95 for 500ml, from The Old Curiosity Distillery, based at the Secret Herb Garden on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

The distillery has been making non-alcoholic “spirits” for other brands, including Marks & Spencer, but this is the first under its own label.

Just like with his gins, owner Hamish Martin – who worked in the drinks industry before setting up the garden – has foregone sugar, preservatives or any other additives for this drink; the sample bottle I received has a relatively-short best before date of 31 January.

It’s made in a very similar way to gin but, instead of distilling the botanicals in alcohol, they’re distilled in water.

In effect, it’s a water distillate; similar to a classic tincture, but using soft water instead of harsh alcohol.

That process is designed to concentrate the floral aromas – and it’s certainly done that.

On the nose, the drink is really floral, with notes of bergamot, orange, lemon and spicier black pepper.

In contrast, the flavours for me on the palate proved to be quite subtle, with lemon and that classic metallic gin-like tang.

The finish was deliciously dry, but I was left slightly disappointed by the texture – without the weight of alcohol the mouthfeel was, well, water-like.

It definitely benefited from the addition of a very light and neutral tonic to add body – but sparkling water would equally have the same effect.

Unlike the incredible Eidyn gin that Martin is making for Aldi, I won’t be sipping this liquid on its own.

Martin harvests all six botanicals for his new drink – calendula, cardamom, coriander, juniper, lemon balm, and yarrow – in the garden, with each botanical distilled separately before being blended.

The lemon balm is distilled fresh, while the others are dried before being used.

Pop goes the cranachan

While many people will be looking for alcohol substitutes during “Sober October”, others will just want a good ol’ fashioned soft drink – and Glasgow-based Rapscallion Soda has them covered.

Its raspberry soda was really impressive – as I discovered over the summer – and its new special edition S_03 Cranachan Sweet Scottish Smooch (£2.67) raises the bar even higher.

If you were to tell me that it counted as one of my five-a-day then I’d believe you because it tastes like the can is rammed full of raspberries.

Those fresh raspberries on the nose are joined by notes of vanilla, cream and oats, and then tangy acidity races to the fore on the palate.

Strawberry joins the raspberry on the tongue, with the oaty note following through to be accompanied by a lemon flavour too.

The best part about it is that the whole package is fresh, not cloying.

‘Beer’ and beyond

Stop press – the Scottish brewer behind the Jump Ship Yard Arm Lager in my low-alcohol lockdown libations back in May has released its second beer.

Jump Ship Flying Colours Pale Ale has all the aromas you’d expect from a pale ale – from pine and orange through to hoppy lemon – with a wee caramel twist too.

On the palate, it maybe lacks a bit of body, but the flavour is again superb, with citrus, a touch of malt and that classic metallic beer-like tang, putting it within touching distance of Jump Ship’s excellent lager.

If you’re looking for other alcohol-free options then I’d recommend revisiting Harviestoun Wheesht from my earlier low-alcohol lockdown libations, a dark concoction that should satisfy porter and stout fans.

The Sparklingly Sober Nomosa inside the Local Selects gift boxes is worth a shout too – as are the sodas from Bon Accord and the Paisley Drinks Company.

And, if you’re still looking for inspiration, then check-out the list I compiled for Scottish Business Insider magazine’s website back in January, minus any tasting notes.

Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s wine, beer and spirits – and soft drink – reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.