Dry January: How do St Albans pubs rate for alcohol-free drinks?
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St Albans is famous for its pubs, but which are the best ones to go if you don’t drink alcohol, or just fancy a break from it? To find out I took the Herts Ad’s Becky Alexander and a group of friends to almost every one of the city's pubs and did the hard graft. It took us five nights, and a lot of crisps, but here are our findings!
I’ve lived in St Albans for 10 years and been a non-drinker for two years, after being a heavy drinker most of my adult life. I still love pubs. I still want to meet up with friends, have a laugh, and be around other people. I want to support these vibrant local businesses and feel part of the community.
Many non-drinkers want more sophisticated flavours than orange juice, coke, or lime-and-soda. We want proper alcohol-free (up to 0.5%) beers, wines, ciders and spirits. There are over 300 of these on the market and they are often fantastic. You would hope that St Albans hospitality industry was, well, hospitable; welcoming everyone by serving the drinks they want. Are they? And which are the best St Albans pubs for alcohol-free (AF) adult drinks?
Best for lagers
35 of the 38 pubs served at least one lager. The three most common are big brand lagers: the over-perfumed Heineken 0.0, the chemical-tasting Becks Blue and the not-too-bad Peroni Libera. 11 pubs served only one of these and no AF drinks from any other category. This is disappointing and includes some very popular pubs. I won’t name them, but it’s time they realised that serving just one low-quality AF lager is nowhere near good enough to welcome the palettes of alcohol-free adults and their wallets.
Our joint category winners are The Lower Red Lion, Fishpool Street, which served both Erdinger and Warsteiner, which are great, and The Robin Hood, Victoria Street which sold both San Miguel and Erdinger. Honourable mentions go to Dylans, George Street for selling Galicia Estrella and The Craft and Cleaver, Catherine Street and the White Lion, Sopwell Lane for selling the outstanding Lucky Saint, Official Beer of Dry January®.
Best for ales
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Many St Albanites love their real ale and it was always my drink of choice. Most AF beers are served in bottles, because the secondary fermentation in a cask would develop additional alcohol, which we don’t want. But there are some amazing AF bottled craft ales. 16 of the 38 pubs served at least one ale.
Our joint category winners are the King Harry, King Harry Lane, which served two Big Drop ales, the Craft and Cleaver for serving Beavertown Lazer Crush and Big Drop Citra, and the Mermaid, Hatfield Road for serving the excellent Adnam’s Ghost Ship 0.0 and the outstanding Stone Cold.
An honourable mention goes to The Lower Red Lion for being the only pub in St Albans serving AF ale on tap and it’s a great choice: Big Drop’s Pale Ale which is bright, full flavoured and delicious.
Excitingly, Dylans is planning a ‘tap takeover’ in January when all of its tap beers behind the bar will be alcohol-free.
Best for cider
Nine pubs served an AF cider, but the definition is being pushed a little! Quite a few places served Old Mout and Kopperberg AF ‘ciders’ which come in apple or berry flavours. Our party tried both of these and didn’t particularly like them. They tasted like fizzy apple juice and an even more sickly version of Ribena: OK for those who like very sweet things, but not particularly sophisticated and with no proper cider taste. However, two proper cider-tasting AF ciders, Thatchers and Stowells, can be found in St Albans pubs.
Our joint category winners are The White Hart Tap, Keyfield Terrace and The Speckled Hen, Hatfield Road, which both sold Thatchers; and The Crown, Hatfield Road which sold Stowells (which I should note is 1.0% so doesn’t strictly count as AF).
Best for spirits
There are some fantastic AF spirits. Some do an incredible job of producing the taste of whiskey, rum and gin. Others have their own unique flavours. Some of the best are by Lyre’s, the Official Spirit of Dry January®. Another popular brand is Seedlip. Could we get these in St Albans pubs?
Our category winner was undoubtedly Dylans which served no less than nine AF spirits, mainly versions of gin. Honourable mentions go to Alban’s Well, Chequer Street for serving two Seedlip spirits and Tanqueray, and The Craft and Cleaver which served a Lyre’s and a Seedlip.
Best for cocktails
AF cocktails, sometimes called ‘mocktails’, can be absolutely stunning drinks, with a subtle balance of different tastes. They can be dry, sweet, fruity, or creamy/coffee-based.
Our joint category winners are The Slug and Lettuce, Victoria Street and The Snug, French Row which both serve at least five mocktails. Honourable mentions go to Alban’s Well and The Portland Arms, Portland Street, which both served two cocktails. Unfortunately, no pubs in St Albans serve the brilliant pre-mixed drinks by Mocktails, the official cocktails of Dry January® which come in cans.
Best for wine
AF wines are in many ways letting the side down. There are some excellent sparkling wines out there and it was disappointing that not one St Albans pub could serve us a glass of AF fizz. No producer has quite nailed the production of a still wine that has a taste profile close enough to alcoholic wine. There are some really pleasant AF wines out there, but just be aware that they will taste different. They have less complexity but can also be more refreshing.
Only one St Albans pub served an AF wine, so it is our category winner: The Speckled Hen. In fact, they served three – a white, a rose and red – all in single serve bottles.
Our overall winner is the pub that serves the best range of AF drinks across the categories. This goes to The Speckled Hen. It serves Speckled Hen ale, three lagers, two ciders (including a proper one), three wines, and a gin!
Honourable mentions go to The Slug and Lettuce (one lager, one ale, one spirit, one ‘cider’ – albeit these drinks are the slightly lower quality options – and five mocktails), Alban’s Well (two lagers, one ‘cider’, three spirits and two mocktails), and The White Hart Tap (two lagers, two ales, two ciders and a gin).
So, some pubs are doing a great job, but quite a lot are missing a trick and failing to cater for us all. Why not stock more options; and tell your customers about them?
For more information on taking part in Dry January and for reviews of hundreds of alcohol-free drinks, visit www.alcoholchange.org.uk