Anyone for Dry Tueday?

It’s a cruel world that rewards the wine merchant who has crossed the finish line of December’s festive mania with Dry January. Of course, giving up is the new giving in. 

It feels as though abstinence hasn’t been so fashionable since biblical times. These days we give up shaving for Movember, meat for Veganuary, alcohol for Dry January, smoking for Stoptober – it’s the secular reinvention of Lent. Most of these abstainathons are in the name of a good cause, but in our age of plenty, these all-or-nothing contests of discipline have become more widespread.

The dramatic temperance of Dry January is the equivalent of the crash diet: it provides the strong feeling that you are really “doing something”, while being totally unsustainable for folk who enjoy a drink or two on a regular basis.  

Many do it to prove that they can, although most are probably as addicted to alcohol in the same way they are to cheese, lie-ins or Game of Thrones. Nonetheless, the successful exercise of such discipline is rewarding, and it often rolls over into extra pleasure on days when you do drink, indulging in it a little more, cooking something new, or spending a little more on a bottle.

Yet as the saying goes, a mind once stretched never regains its original dimensions. Once you have experienced the pleasures of great wines, beers and spirits, the impulse for pleasure will always be there, because nothing tastes like them. Underneath all the marketing hype, the niceties of terroir and the celebrity of winemakers and unicorn wines, most wine drinkers drink because they like the taste.

In recent years, the low/no trend in drinks in both the on- and off-trade has generated much excitement, and marketing for such items is in full flow after Christmas. Of course, it’s a trend aimed squarely at people who do drink alcohol and want something to replace it. Most of my friends who don’t drink, just drink water, tea, coffee or Coke. They’re not aware that there are non-alcoholic drinks out there that cost more than alcoholic ones while not even being subject to alcohol duty.

On paper, low/no is the Holy Grail: all the ritualistic and flavour benefits of alcoholic drinks without the side-effects. Too good to be true? I think so. None of them live up to the expectations that those of us who have formed our tastes around alcoholic drinks have come to expect. Seedlip is the
standard-bearer, but is a triumph of marketing cues over substance. Only someone who desperately misses the craft gin-shaped hole in their evening would buy Seedlip’s expensive alternative.

Besides, there are plenty of better non-alcoholic drinks around than the ones designed to look and feel like alcoholic drinks. One that certainly deserves more exposure is tea. The finest teas are the closest thing to wine in terms of variety and distinctiveness. For wine nerds, single estate tea also has a much clearer sense of something like terroir than the industrially produced low/no alcohol products coming on to the market.

Whether you drink water or Darjeeling on non-drinking days, for those concerned that they need more discipline with their drinking, Dry Tuesday is a good way to kick things off. It’s an achievable way to begin, and over the course of a year, it adds up to over 50 days - considerably more than a January. By taking one day a week, it also feels less punitive than a month at a time, eventually making it easier to add another day off if you want to. Ongoing moderation might not be quite as big a statement, but applied to both drinking and non-drinking, it beats Dry January any day of the week.

Jason Millar is the retail director at independent wine merchant Theatre of Wine. He can be contacted at  jason@theatreofwine.com and found on Twitter @jasondmillar

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