Spencer and Sobriety

Spencer and Sobriety

Did you give booze the boot in January? Or did you wobble from the wagon? I’m not here to judge. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be all or nothing - moderation is the key.

If you drank more than usual last month, or lost your resolve to abstain, you’re definitely not alone. When the coronavirus struck in March 2020, figures show that most Brits hit the bottle. During the first, strict lockdown, sales of beer, wine and spirits were up 67% compared with the previous year.

It’s hardly surprising. The extra pressure of juggling homeschool and childcare, money and job worries, health issues, anxiety and loneliness, and the sheer monotony of life in lockdown, all became an excuse to drink - even though we all know, deep down, that drinking can make life harder, not easier. 

It might be controversial to say that the word ‘alcoholic’ is widely misused and often paints an unfair picture of a person’s drinking habits. According to the NHS, someone drinking in excess of 14 units of alcohol per week abuses alcohol and is technically an alcoholic. This amounts to less than a pint of beer per day. So, by this definition, is a large proportion of our student population alcoholic?

In today’s society - and particularly in the UK - there remains a stigma around choosing not to drink. It’s often met with people having to justify or explain why they are abstaining. It’s a nightmare for women in the early stages of pregnancy, for instance. If you choose to cut down your alcohol intake, or if you choose to not drink at all, people should perceive it positively, and it is not something that needs to be questioned.

Alcohol effects everyone differently, so to have the same parameters for all people of varying ages, shapes, sizes, or fitness levels completely misses a highly nuanced scenario. The person who is able to drink a few glasses of wine and remain fully operational, is not the same as the person who has to spend a day in bed, recovering from drinking the same amount. There is no one size fits all approach. We must find a way of changing the stigma and the language surrounding the personal preference or choice of every individual to pass on alcohol.

I’m not denying the worrying health implications associated with excessive drinking. Everyone should be aware of these. In the past, I have referred to myself as an alcoholic, due to the sheer volume that I used to consume on a weekly basis. However, having distanced myself from alcohol over the last three years, I have come to realise that an all-or-nothing approach may not be the way forward. Finding a sustainable level of balance in life, is altogether a healthier approach than depriving oneself of something entirely. This does not mean that I’ll be drinking again. It's simply, in my humble opinion, a better and fresher way of looking at sobriety. The concept of having the option to drink and choosing not to is important: it’s about control. 

Anyone can have a good reason to avoid or reduce their alcohol intake. After 2020, many of us will have started 2021 with a sore head, coupled with fresh resolve and ambition to change destructive habits. There is a growing tribe of people who are seeking out alternatives and the statistics speak for themselves. Despite many people drinking more at the start of the lockdown in March 2020, the Low & No alcohol category reported an uplift of 32.5% in the same period compared with 2019 (Nielsen).

In 2019, I founded CleanCo, the low ABV spirits company, to give people the option to ‘drink clean’ without compromising on taste. For many years, we’ve had two main options at the bar: full-strength alcohol or soft drinks - and nothing in-between. The soft drinks category is dominated with fizzy, high sugar beverages with a taste level that’s also aimed at teenagers and children. No wonder they don’t provide a satisfying alternative to a grown-up, alcoholic drink. 

At CleanCo, we aim to bridge the gap between desire and compromise and we’ve seen how this has been done in other areas. For example, Quorn and Linda McCartney used to dominate the meat-free market, and a nut roast would replace the turkey on the Christmas table. Now, we have Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger. The gap between the real thing and the alternative is now so minor, we can all enjoy what legitimately feels and tastes like a cheeseburger with purely plant based ingredients; the experience, the aroma and the mouthfeel is comparable. 

CleanCo is the Beyond Meat of alcohol. What we have created is the opportunity to enjoy a full flavour, no compromise cocktail that will give you the sensation and ritual of an alcoholic drink without a detrimental level of alcohol.  My aim from the beginning was to give people choice. A choice that will enable them to find a balance so they can live life to its full potential.  By drinking ‘clean’ during the week, or by interspersing your standard G&T with a CleanGin on a night out, you can moderate your alcohol intake without feeling like you are missing out.

Despite my personal experience, I fully appreciate the cultural significance of alcohol. But, for me I just prefer to live my life without it. Most CleanCo products contain 1.2% ABV. I drink these on a regular basis and can tell you that I have never felt even the slightest effect from the alcohol. 

To put this into perspective, you would need to consume over 31 CleanGins for every single G&T, or 47 double CleanGins per pint of beer. Once mixed, your drink will clock in at around 0.3% ABV, which is considered alcohol-free almost everywhere in the world. 

However, if you have an alcohol dependency issue, CleanCo probably isn’t for you. We aim to mimic the sensory cues that you would expect from an alcoholic drink, if you feel like you may be triggered, please don’t risk it. 

CleanGin has an unmistakable, crisp, botanic flavour that’s as refreshing, enjoyable and relaxing as the nearest alcoholic equivalent. Made using a complex distillation process that harnesses essential flavours, it has a classic taste, comparable to London Dry Gin with a fresh slice of lemon - with over 30 times less alcohol.

I still cook using alcohol and I’m around alcohol regularly, but I still consider myself sober. After all, sobriety for me, is simply, not being drunk. By spreading the CleanCo message, I’d like to think I can help people improve their productivity and gain more control of their lives, by reducing their alcohol intake without missing out on the experience, flavour and satisfaction of a real G&T. 

Giving up alcohol is hard, but it’s always worth trying again. So, if dry January went out the window, a “cleaner” February - or March, or April  - can still be done.

— Spencer