Alcohol-free: why temperance drinks are making a comeback

temperance drinksThis was an excellent piece in The Guardian word of mouth blog as Lent started in mid February – another excuse to give your liver a rest if you need to 😉

Booze. We’re so over it now. Not only is the government trying to wean us off our swift halves with its new alcohol guidelines (so good luck with that, then), but there’s been shocking exposure of “Britain on the Booze”, and a “dramatic rise” in the number of young teetotallers shunning their alcopops and Bacardi Breezers.

Add Lent to the cocktail and the self-righteous whiff of abstinence is definitely in the air, so what better time to stock up on your temperance drinks? The Temperance movement started in the early 19th century, mostly in the industrial north, as an antidote to the voracious boozing of the day – and, allegedly, to sober up the workforce.

I have always been a lover of these old-style botanical brews: the sweet furriness of cream soda, the aniseedy kick of dandelion and burdock, the medicinal-smelling sarsaparilla that tastes ever so faintly of toothpaste. For one thing, they have a depth of flavour you don’t normally find in soft drinks, although, apparently, Coco-Cola and Vimto started life as temperance beverages.

Then there’s the scent of bubbling oranges filling the kitchen with a knuckle of ginger, a pan of stewing blackberries, sticky and sweet. I like the names too: black beer and raisin, rhubarb and rosehip, blood tonic.

Temperance drinks were big in aromatics, so if you want to make your own, stock up on your spices and extracts; cloves, nettle, cardamom seeds, liquorice, essential oils. For a glimpse of the real thing, head to Fitzpatrick’s in Rawtenstall, Lancashire, thought to be the last temperance bar in the UK and founded in 1890. Here, herbal brews were supped for their reputed medicinal benefits too (lemon and ginger for the immune system, for example, nettles for the kidneys. But let’s not even mention the sugar). If foraging is your thing, tug on your wellies and don’t be afraid to dig (although do get the permission of the landowner).

For dandelion and burdock, look out for burdock’s large, furry, heart-shaped leaves and boil with dandelion roots sweetened with sugar, two spoonfuls of black treacle and lemon juice. Many temperance cordials use syrup as a fruity base. Try this simplified peach syrup from Bertha Stockbridge’s 1920 prohibition classic “What to Drink”: simmer 10oz of peach slices with 8oz of water and 8oz of sugar for 30 minutes, then strain. From there on, the world of flower power opens up. Don’t be afraid to experiment. The Anthologist in London does a whole range of cheeky tipples made from its homemade syrups and infusions, which you can make from pretty much anything: vegetables, herbs, even meat. (It even does a bacon-infused, non-alcoholic bloody mary.)

Beware of making them too sweet, however – a common mistake, according to the great mixologist Tony Conigliaro. So combine the lemony-tartness of hibiscus with zingy raspberry puree. Purists can check out the original 1904 “Recipes for Temperance Drinks”, which includes gingerette, peppermint cordiale and Boston cream, although I think I’ll pass on Mrs Hibbert’s Temperance Brandy, which is basically cinnamon powder dissolved in a wineglass of hot water.

Mostly, I like to keep it simple: hot Luscombe ginger beer with a splash of grenadine and a squeeze of lime juice. One of the tastiest temperance drinks I have ever had was a violet and jasmine crush at The Botanist in Leeds, the blend of mint, violet and jasmine syrup with lime juice, apple juice and soda water was like a mouthful of honeyed sunshine. Who needs gin?

Loved this!  And the sub header: “compared with more modern soft drinks, traditional botanical brews may be old-fashioned, but they are packed with flavour and anything but boring”  If you do feel like a a botanical non-alcoholic brew with a whiff of gin about it – may I recommend Seedlip? 😉

Postscript: 10am This time 5 years ago I was about 5 miles into running the London Marathon!!  For me preparing for that event in my life was where this journey all started …..

4 thoughts on “Alcohol-free: why temperance drinks are making a comeback

  1. Great post 🙂 And timely, too, as I have quite a bit of trouble finding good AF beer in my area, maybe the selection will broaden as their popularity grows? Or maybe I should get more adventurous and try other AF alternatives? xx

    1. There are some great AF alternatives Lori – have you tried Kombucha? I’m pretty sure that’s widely available and is worth a try 🙂 xx

  2. Hi Lou!
    I am in awe of anyone who can run a marathon!
    The most I ever ran was 4 miles, and not for a long time!
    The hard part for me is looking for low-calorie drinks, as I am older and don’t need so many!
    Of course if I stopped eating ice cream I could drink some of these fancy drinks!

    1. Sensitive teeth keeps my ice-cream consumption in check Wendy! 😉 xx

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