Giving it up for Lent

I am one of those people who like to keep Lent. Not just a bit of dieting disguised as piety, but making a serious attempt to address imbalances in my life, my attitude to others and my spiritual relationships. Usually, this involves trying to reign in instincts I have realised I indulge, or pushing harder against my habitual torpor. It might outwardly look like "giving something up," but it has a higher purpose and deeper meaning for me. This year, having become concerned about my relationship to alcohol, I have decided to lay off drinking for the six weeks of Lent. As well as giving my liver time to rest and renew, it will - I hope - allow me to develop a more disciplined approach to my use of alcohol and find strategies to support that discipline.

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to Janet Hadley, a sober coach. The purpose of our meeting was professional - she was due to come on my radio show and we were meeting for an introductory chat. During the conversation, I became aware of how much I take it for granted that social occasions will revolve around alcohol. As Janet put it, "Alcohol is the one drug we are encouraged to use." Our conversation tapped into my niggling sense that I drink too much too frequently and was another step towards my decision about Lent. At no point in our conversation did Janet criticise or disapprove of my use of alcohol, she simply maintained a factual focus on other people's choices (including her own) and the impact on them of our society's assumptions about social drinking. 

I have written before about the range of reasons people choose not to drink alcohol. Some may decide they need or would like a temporary break from it, such as Dry January. Others may need to avoid alcohol for religious or medical reasons, or during pregnancy. Others may be driving or just wanting a night off. There are so many reasons that it should not be considered noteworthy or questionable when someone chooses an alcohol-free drink.

I am fortunate to have come into contact with Janet, and with John Mee, a specialist distributer of alcohol-free and low-alcohol (﹤0.5%) drinks. They have given me some great hints and tips for maintaining my alcohol-free Lent throughout the six weeks, including strategies for maintaining motivation and facing challenging environments. Through them, I have been able to try a huge range of alcohol free beers, ciders, wines and other, thoroughly adult drinks. You can hear me tasting my way through some of them with John and Janet here - My aim is not to renounce alcohol altogether. I am, after all a drinks professional who makes a living out of my knowledge of alcoholic drinks. However, they have opened my eyes to several exciting possibilities when I am out (or in) with friends, and I'm looking forward to my Lenten abstinence being reflected in my post-Easter drinking habits.

The availability of alternatives to alcoholic drinks continues to grow. This year, I have noticed that one no longer asks "Do you have any alcohol-free beers?" but "Which alcohol-free beers do you stock?" People now assume pubs and bars will have at least one option, if not two or three. The independent sector, unsurprisingly, still leads the way. My local craft-beer-led pubs all stock at least four or five alcohol-free beers, and one of our nearby breweries has invested strongly in a new low-alcohol pale ale. Using a patent yeast strain they have developed in-house, Cold Bath Brewing Co., in Harrogate (UK), has recently launched a brew called simply "1571." It has all the flavour you would want from an English pale ale, crisp hops and purity of taste, but contains (naturally) less than half a percent alcohol. It is also (unsurprisingly for a brewery owned by a keen cyclist) isotonic, actually boosting your hydration after exercise, rather than reducing it as alcohol would.

Image courtesy of Cold Bath Brewing Co

Buy 1571 pale ale here:
Janet Hadley's coaching practice:
John Mee's Alcohol Free Drinks Company:


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