Sunday, 20 July 2014

The large print giveth, the small print taketh away*

The other night I tried alcohol-free wine for the first time, and I wanted to write about it because my reaction surprised me.

To back up: I haven't had alcohol for almost 7 months. I don't have cravings, and the occasional pull to drink feels mostly like a fleeting nostalgia--I don't pay it much heed, and it passes quickly.

But I had heard people talk about alcohol-free wine, and I wondered whether it was any good. I also wanted to see whether sharing a bottle of it would have any of what I remember as the pleasure of sharing a bottle of wine--the romance of sitting at a lovely dinner sipping wine and talking, not the guzzling wine alone late into the evening thing, which I'm glad to be done with. (I know the wine and romance thing is a big myth, but myths aren't all bad, and I was curious.)

My partner--who still drinks, though not a lot--was game to try it. We settled on a Spanish cava-style bottle that said "alcohol free" and "0.0%" on the label, and we kept our hopes in check. As it turned out, the fake wine wasn't very good. It was way too sweet, a bit like the Baby Duck my family used to drink at Christmas when I was a kid. But as it was a fizzy wine, once it was opened it wouldn't keep, so we drank it, easily agreeing that our usual soda/lemon/bitters concoction was much better. It was an experiment we wouldn't repeat.

But here's the weird part. As I was sipping the the last little bit, I felt a little strange. First I tried to dismiss it as my imagination. Then I started to wonder whether there was something about the moment that really was like drinking wine, in a way that was somehow different from our usual drinking sparkling water out of wine glasses. But it didn't make sense to me, and my partner wasn't getting it. And then I started to sense an all too familiar feeling--I was happy and relaxed, and I knew I'd have a little more after all if there was any left in the bottle. So I looked at the label again, and yes, it said 0.0% alcohol, but on the back of the bottle, in very small print, it also said, "Contains less than 0.4% alcohol." That's not quite zero. Even with the tiny amount of alcohol in that "alcohol-free" wine, it seems I could feel it.

I'm so absolutely surprised! I would have scoffed at the idea that such a tiny amount of alcohol would cause any reaction. I've had desserts with a drop of booze in them, and I use bitters in my fizzy water and cook with wine all the time. I'm no purist. But this was different. And I didn't like it. I was horrified that, even while agreeing that it didn't taste good, I was starting to get a little inkling of wanting more. It was just a trace of that old familiar feeling, but it was there, and I want absolutely nothing to do with that, ever again. I'm not much given to certainties, but I'm sure about that!

This was a valuable lesson to me. I know lots of people who quit the booze drink alcohol-free drinks, and I think we're all going to react differently to them, so I don't expect everyone would feel the same. And yes, someone might say, maybe it wasn't the trace amount of alcohol that affected me. Maybe it was psychological. I don't know. Alcohol is a powerful drug, but minds are powerful, too. I don't much care which it is. I won't try that again. And I'll be careful to read the fine print next time I see something that claims to be free!

Peace and love and sparkly days to you all.( *And thanks to Tom Waits for my post title. Peace and love to you too, Tom!)

16 comments:

  1. Ew.. spooky… so spooky….. to sense that pull .. YUK! That's super creepy. I have always thought non-alcoholic beer or wine might fuck with my brain so I stay away from it.. xxx

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    1. Yes, Mrs D, it was a creepy awful feeling. I've had NA beer before and it was fine, but I didn't love beer the way I loved wine. Anyway,YUK is right! We don't need anything messing with our hard-won, reclaimed brains. No more for me, thanks! xo

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  2. It's an interesting one. I've avoided alcohol free wine and beer just because I want to move on and be a true blue non-alcohol drinker -- and get fully immersed in that experience. I also expect the taste to be disappointing. It's pretty shocking that you had to search the fine print to see there actually was alcohol content in it though -- you'd think that should be on the front in big type!

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    1. Yes, I didn't know about the labelling info at all. The Canadian gov't website says this:""Dealcoholized" means that the alcohol content has been reduced to less than 1.1 %, which is considered to be an insignificant level." http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/labelling/food-labelling-for-industry/alcohol/eng/1392909001375/1392909133296?chap=16. I do think low alcohol isn't taken seriously at all, though obviously if one is avoiding alcohol, a half or one percent can add up. Anyway, that's a lesson learned. I guess avoiding altogether is both tastier and easier! xo

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  3. I also have had some NA wine in the past and while it was OK, it certainly isn't something I'm dying to pick up from the store. I get that. And I don't think it's bad to steer clear of it, especially if it actually isn't alcohol free! That's messed up. I know that some beer is .05% so I am always quick to check that but the wine I had is a "big hit in Saudi Arabia" where alcohol is forbidden. It never even dawned on me to check to make sure the NA wine didn't have a bit of alcohol in it. Icky indeed but thank so much for the heads up!

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    1. Rebecca, I think the regulations are different in different places, but checking labels can't hurt. Thanks for the morel support! xo

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  4. I have thought about trying it, but can't find any in my small town! Perhaps for the best. I didn't drink for the taste anyway...I like the taste of other drinks better. I remember that feeling of wanting more, though. How nice not to experience that anymore. Thanks for sharing your experience with the stuff! xo

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    1. Jen, it's probably just as well you couldn't find it after all. I used to think I loved the taste of wine, but being so happy to keep drinking something that didn't taste good reminds me how much of that taste is acquired. And yes, there are lots of things that do taste better, so hooray for that! Thanks for reading. xo

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  5. I refused to use my wine glasses for anything after I quit. I wanted to divorce myself from everything drinking related when it came to me. Part of that "all or nothing mentality I posses".

    I'm not sure how I knew (someone must have told me) but I knew that NA bear and wine had trace amounts of alcohol in them so they were never an option for me.

    Oh! But I WILL have sparkling grape juice in champagne flutes on special occassions. My kids love to do that too.

    Spooky how it hit you. Excellent that you know your body so well and picked up on it.

    Sherry

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    1. Hi Sherry. Yes, spooky indeed. I appreciate your comment, as I was reluctant to post this post, worrying I sounded like I was making something out of nothing. We're such an "objective" society, and that can make a person deny their own experience in favour of what the experts say is real. But yes, I felt strange and moreish, and I'm glad I know how to notice that. I guess I'm not as "all or nothing" as you might be, but we have small cupboards and not many glasses, so our old "wine glasses" are in daily use until they smash. Funny thing is, that happens a lot less when there's no wine around! xo

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  6. I think there should be rules, tbh, about writing "alcohol free" on the label when it's not… is that over the top? Or could they just write "Very Low Alcohol" instead? My husband often drinks AF beer and I was vaguely aware that that it had a teeny tiny bit of alcohol in, I remember him saying that he needed to drink about 10 bottles to have a unit… I've just looked at the label on them in fact, and it's just as you describe. Becks Blue, it is, and it says ALCOHOL-FREE in huge letters up the side, and then in tiny writing on the top, it says, not more than 0.05% alcohol. He might have 3 of them of an evening and doesn't notice anything - but he does drink on other occasions. I think I would notice 1/3 of a unit now, too. I've felt nervous about having even the littlest amount in something, just in case it had that effect that you describe, making me want more. Think I will avoid these AF beers and wines for a while yet! xx

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    1. Hi MTM. I agree with you about the rules. In my response to Sue, I quoted the Canadian govt saying 1.1% is insignificant. But in my estimation, 15oz at .5% is about the same as having half an ounce of 12% alcohol wine, and that's enough to feel it if you're sensitive and trying to avoid wine. O was a bit creeped out buy the whole thing, and will be joining you and Mrs D and Sue and a whole lot of other lovely folk in avoiding the stuff altogether. Living and learning in process here! Hope your summer hols are going well! Take care. xo

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  7. There is alcohol in other drinks. Orange juice, in particular. It can be higher than some of these dealcoholized drinks.
    I think the mental connection to wine or beer or coolers plays a big role in the personal reaction to these drinks.

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    1. Hi Anne. thanks for reading and chatting! Yes, I've heard that about orange juice, but I never drink it. I think anything that ferments might have a trace of alcohol--I have a small glass of kombucha at times, and that seems fine. I think the thing with the wine is I drink it like wine, so I don't just have a small glass but split a bottle, and that means I'm getting about he equivalent of a half ounce of actual boozy wine. Of course, the social practice of drinking has an effect too, and as I said, it would be impossible to separate one from the other. I expect it's mental and physical, but I'm OK with not being sure which is stronger. And I still won't drink orange juice! xo

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  8. I have also looked into the alcohol-free wine option and worried that it might freak me out so have avoided it. now my risk-taking behaviour is limited to drinking cranberry and tonic out of a wine glass - I live on the edge, here!

    am trying making herb cordials at the moment in a cost and packaging cutting exercise - easy as anything and considerably cheaper than lovely Belvoir cordials. you've reminded of a combination I wanted to try so lemon verbena and thyme cordial gently heating on the stove RIGHT NOW! recipe here if you like :) xx

    http://www.pitchforkdiaries.com/2011/07/08/lemon-verbena-and-thyme-soda-syrup/

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    1. Primrose, I somehow missed answering this comment I think the recipe link sent me into a long string of recipe-looking! Many thanks for it. I made my own cordials last summer, though I have to use less sugar because I'm terrifically afraid of having a regular sugar habit. But I'm going to try some and will let you know how they go. Thanks for the moral support! xo

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