The great non-alcoholic taste test

Non-drinkers are afforded little choice when it comes to adult drink options. Source: iStock
Non-drinkers are afforded little choice when it comes to adult drink options. Source: iStock

If you're an adult who doesn't drink, you're inevitably stuck sipping a Coke or some overly sweet mocktail. Six-month pregnant Grethe Kemp delved into the world of non-alcoholic beverages to see if any are bearable.

Despite stats revealing we’re a nation of heavy drinkers, South Africa still has a large adult population that doesn’t drink. This includes our Muslim community, those who don’t consume alcohol for their health or mental wellbeing and those who want to cut down.

A growing number of people practice pacing – alternating booze with non-alcoholic beverages when they’re out partying so that they don’t get overly trashed. There are also signs that millennials drink far less than the generation before them.

Read more: Who am I without a glass of wine?

And yet non-drinkers are afforded little choice when it comes to adult drink options. Inevitably we stand around sipping an Appletiser, Coke, or an overly sweet mocktail that only a 5-year-old would enjoy. I’ve sampled some of the leading non-alcoholic drinks on the market. And while they’re not exactly great, some are tolerable. Here is my foray into the world of non-alcoholic beverages:

Bavaria Non-Alcoholic Regular Malt Beer
R75 for a six-pack
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Bavaria is available in most supermarkets. Many swear by it, but it’s just not for me. It’s got a deflated taste that’s made worse by how flat it is as a beverage. The peach, apple and strawberry flavours are only slightly better.

Savannah Non-Alcoholic Lemon
R83 for a six-pack
....-
For me, this is by far the best non-alcoholic drink available. It’s crisp, refreshing and though it doesn’t taste like alcoholic Savannah, it’s a tasty drink in its own right. Its ad campaign was awesome.

Heineken 0.0
R79 for a six-pack
...--
Of the non-alcoholic beers I’ve tried, this one is by far the best. It doesn’t have the deflated taste of some other non-alcoholic options, resembling the light and refreshing character of alcoholic Heineken.

Becks Blue non-alcoholic beer
R79 for a six-pack
.----
This is another non-alcoholic beer I’d rather avoid. I can describe it in no other way than that it’s a beer that got tired. I become instantly depressed when I have to drink this.

Robertson Non-Alcoholic Pink
R75
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Would you pay R75 for overly sweet, sparkling grape juice? Then don’t waste your money on this one.

Castle Free
R60 for a six-pack
..---
A good price point and slightly better than some others on the market, but not a winner by any stretch of the imagination. What’s worse is that these non-alcoholic beers are still bursting with calories.

The Duchess Virgin Gin & Tonic
R80 for a four-pack
..---
I know many people love this, especially women, but I’m not a fan of The Duchess. The world’s first non-alcoholic gin and tonic, it comes in varieties of Botanical, Floral and Greenery. I find all of them unpleasant and can never have more than one as my mouth starts puckering like a dried juniper berry. You might have a different experience.

  • Prices from Norman Goodfellows website

OTHER OPTIONS TO TRY

If you want to steer away from non-alcoholic drinks entirely, but still want something to sip on that isn’t a soft drink, these make for a relatively satisfying substitute:

Woolworths Spring Drink
R8.99 from Woolworths
Unlike flavoured water, Woolworth’s “Spring Drink” has no sugar and no preservatives, but the way it’s flavoured will make you think it’s been sweetened somehow. It’s a trick of the senses, and it works. It’s really one of my favourite products on the market right now. It comes in coconut and pineapple; litchi and ginger; ginger and lime; strawberry and mint; and rose flavour. The coconut and pineapple is the best, in my humble opinion.

Woolworths cucumber tonic
R16.99 from Woolworths
Cucumber and tonic water are a fantastic, refreshing pairing and they come together nicely in this Woolworths variety. Though it might be too bitter for some, this is a refreshing option that’s proven to be a life saver when I’m out and about and surrounded by drinkers. The adult packaging makes it look like booze, so you’ll get fewer questions.

A rock shandy
Did you know rock shandy is a uniquely South African drink? Made with soda water, lemonade and a dash of Angostura bitters, this is my go-to drink when I’m eating out at restaurants.

INDIE BRANDS COMING UP:

It’s the independent market that’s really been innovative when it comes to producing non-alcoholic spirits. Unfortunately, these drinks are also more difficult to find. Us teetotallers can’t just dash into a liquor store if we want variety. We have to plan ahead, order online or make a long trip to a Makro if we want any of the drinks below. Nevertheless, they look like they could be worth the hassle:

Ginifer Sober Non-Alcoholic Distilled Dry Gin
R260 at takealot.com
A gin that’s not alcoholic? How does that even work? Ginifer Sober Non-Alcoholic Distilled Dry Gin describes itself as a blend of juniper berries, coriander seeds, green herbs and spices, and can be drunk with tonic water just like regular gin. The jury is still out on this one, with some online reviewers saying it tastes exactly like gin and others saying it doesn’t taste like gin at all. It also comes in a Hibiscus variety, which one Yuppiechef reviewer said is a better pick.

Zari Sparkling Grape
R50 at zari.co.za, selected Spars and Pick n Pays
Made from Cape seedless Muscat grape juice, the beautifully packaged Zari is described as having “naturally sweet and aromatic flavours that offer a refreshing ready-to-drink infusion of the best of Cape sunshine and soil”. It’s apparently really good, with Womenstuff.co.za writing that it “offers a more complex flavour profile than other sparkling grape juice products on the market”.

Artemis Uplifting Botanical Alcohol-Free Cocktail
R79 for a pack of four at yuppiechef.com
Described as a “refreshing, invigorating non-alcoholic drink infused with Sceletium and Sutherlandia”, Artemis is based on the taste of vodka and bitter lemon. Online reviews look positive, with people impressed that it is low in sugar. Some, however, said it’s for people who like a bitter taste in their drinks. Sounds like my cup of tea.

Almost Zero Wine
R59 at Makro
Non-alcoholic or de-alcoholised wine is famously bad. I mean, just read this review of Lautus Savvy Red by a Food24 writer: “The palate was sour and very astringent, with a chewiness from the tannins that reminded me a lot of over-brewed, cold black tea. I could only manage two sips.”

New on the market, Van Loveren’s Almost Zero comes in Radiant Red, Wonderful White and Ravishing Rosé, and reviews so far have been good, with a Womenstuff.co.za writer saying she was “pleasantly surprised by the delightful drink”. Hmmm, I might try this out.

PERHAPS NOT

John Ross Virgin Distilled Botanicals
R399 at yuppiechef.com
Though I haven’t had it myself, the two reviews I’ve seen of the steeply priced John Ross Virgin Distilled Botanicals were bad, with people calling it “disappointing” and “overpriced”.

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