Just how tough can it be to give up drinking alcohol after a lifetime working in journalism and higher education public and media relations?
I was left with little choice but find out after a consultant cardiologist said an electrocardiogram (ECG) showed I had ‘heart failure’ and told me “to desist from further alcohol consumption”.
I suffered from breathlessness and showed other warning signs like wheezing when lying down and waking up gasping for breath for some months.
This got worse after my first trip abroad since the COVID-19 pandemic to report on the International Association of Universities (IAU) conference in Dublin in November 2022, and my GP warned me it might diagnosed as ‘heart failure’, but that could cover many things.
At first, the medical people thought it was asthma and gave me an inhaler but a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which I was familiar with from my cancer-fighting days, showed that my heart wasn’t pumping properly and I had a narrowing of the arteries to put it in layman’s terms.
I wouldn’t say I was a big drinker, not compared to many previous work colleagues, but I did like a beer with hard chesses like Cheddar at lunchtime and wine with most evening meals.
It all added up to treble the recommended guidelines of no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.
At first, I turned to soft fizzy sugary drinks like Fanta Lemon or Orange and fruit juices and drunk more water, herbal teas and coffee.
It actually wasn’t too difficult to start with. The beta blocker tablets and pills that I had been prescribed to keep my blood pressure down and my heart ticking made me feel doolally and tipsy and put me off any thoughts of needing alcohol as well.
Side-effects from medication
I was warned there might be side-effects and as a precaution I gave up driving the car for most of January and handed my daughter the car keys.
It helped that I started my new non-alcoholic life in ‘dry’ January and supermarkets were overflowing with low or zero alcoholic alternatives.
However, few pubs or restaurants serve more than one or two big brand non-alcoholic alternative beers or lagers like Lucky Saint and you end up drinking lime and soda or herbal tea while going out.
Non-alcoholic wines are awful and just as expensive as the proper stuff, so best avoided!
However, once I had experimented with several the non-alcohol beers, lagers and ciders I found a couple that were both drinkable and less expensive than their alcoholic siblings.
Best low or zero alcohol drinks
So, what are my recommendations for low or zero alcohol alternatives?
I prefer a drier cider, a more citrus-flavoured beer and continental lagers with a hint of bitterness and a stout like Guinness. So, my taste buds may differ from yours!
My favourite by quite some distance is the Guinness 0.0%.
I wasn’t sure at first, and while it is not completely the real thing it is quite incredible how close a copy it is.
It has the same smooth taste and head and is probably more refreshing than ‘proper’ stout.
It really is Guinness, just without the alcohol, made with the same natural ingredients; water, barley, hops, and yeast before alcohol is removed through a cold filtration process.
So, 9 out of 10 for Guinness for producing a zero-alcoholic stout that sells for less than its alcoholic big brother (I’ve found it for £4.50 for four cans, but it usually sells for £5).
Next are two alternatives competing for second place, both getting 8 out 10.
The first is Leffe Blonde 0.0%, which is low calorie as well as being an interesting, slightly fruity and spicy version of the popular Belgian lager – minus the alcohol.
It will not be everyone’s taste, but I recommend giving it a try. It sells for around £4.50 for six 250ml bottles. Don’t write it off on first taste. It should grow on you.
Also getting 8 out 10 is Stowford Press, an award-winning dry refreshing apple cider which is the most alcoholic of my low or zero alcohol suggestions having 0.5% ABV. The 500ml bottle has 0.3 units of alcohol and I suggest you don’t have more than two bottles in one sitting if you’ve been told to give up alcohol.
But, it is the most refreshing of my top three, especially on a hot day, and tastes like real cider with a modern bittersweet twist.
Another interesting low-alcoholic alternative to try is even more of an acquired taste. The ERDINGER Alkoholfrie is a cross between an energy drink and weissbier (white beer) that only Germans could think of making.
It actually has 0.5% alcohol, but seems less alcoholic than the Stowford Press cider, and has a rich malt, slightly spicy flavour.
It is ‘isotonic’ containing vitamins B9 and B12. I think people like me with heart conditions should only drink it in moderation as it an energy drink. It gets 7 out of 10.
Finally, the best that I’ve found so far for those looking for something that tastes like a proper English beer is also one of the cheapest, normally selling at £1.30 or £1.50, but I saw it for £1 on offer at my local Tesco’s.
It is Adnam’s Southwold Ghost Ship. It has a citrus taste and smuggles away almost all the alcohol in a reverse osmosis process. This allows the brewers to make the 4.5% version and then remove the alcohol.
I find one or maybe two are quite enough, which is fine as the beers, lagers and ciders with low or zero alcohol are less addictive and you only need a couple to quench your thirst. Handy, in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.
Hope that helps anyone taking their first steps on the low or zero alcohol course. Now to get pubs and restaurants to follow supermarkets and start selling more of the stuff!
- This is the first in what I hope will be a series of blogs about living with heart disease and will follow the pattern of my Cancer-Talk blogs which I wrote on this website while fighting bowel cancer from 2015