Mashing in

This month, Charlotte Cook is (mostly) off the sauce, and ponders the industry's attitude to drinking.


Over the past decade, I don’t think that I have voluntarily gone a full week without at least one beer. It’s a big part of my life, I enjoy it and I don’t see anything wrong with having a bottle of beer while cooking, and sometimes it’s just the antidote you need after a long day. Beer is often the first thing we order after touching down on a sunny holiday, and nothing marks the start of the weekend better than a cold pint with colleagues. But when I was recently prescribed some anti-anxiety medication to help take the edge off the spiky disquiet, my GP recommended taking three weeks without any external intoxicants, and that, dear reader, meant no beer. 

I’d love to claim that I stuck to this medically prescribed prohibition religiously, prioritising my body and mind above all, but I did allow myself a bottle of Wildcat ale when I was at home in Scotland. This beer reminds me of home more than home itself, and the comfort and familiarity offered by a bottle of this delicious brown ale did my mental wellbeing more good than abstaining would have. I also had a few glasses of wine with friends after reading a particularly chilling piece of news, rationalising that this was better for my mindset than sitting alone in my flat with a cup of tea. I think on both counts I was correct. 

I otherwise didn’t find the reduction in alcohol too hard. I’ve always been a fan of moderation when consuming booze, but even I was surprised by the overwhelming net positive I’ve felt since really cutting down. 

I have always suffered from insomnia, even as a small child, when all my parents could do was take me to the library multiple times a week to pick new audiobooks to listen to on my tape player to pass the long night away. This lack of sleep hasn’t improved in adulthood, and I’ve tried every meditation, pillow spray, sleepy tea and potion I can get my hands on in the pursuit of a full night’s sleep. After eight days of zero alcohol I finally slept through the night, and then most nights after that. Even without drinking every day or to excess it seems that alcohol affected my sleep, and I was shocked by how much. 

The reset did me good, and I have extended it voluntarily

I am not the biggest fan of alcohol free beer, I think it has a very valuable place and I’m delighted at the range available now, but it’s just not my preferred non-tipple. I much prefer a lemonade or other pop, and I have got quite invested in seeking out and trying new, and decidedly adult, soft drinks. There are so many out there these days, using herbs, fruit and spices and even hops to create complex, bitter and satisfying drinks, so that you can feel like you’re drinking something special and not missing out by not drinking alcohol. 

Despite the positive impact on my sleep, and my new found love of a Maltese soda called Kinnie (like an alcohol free Aperol Spritz) I don’t think I will ever go completely tee-total. I’m a brewer, so beer is a pretty big part of my life, and I also enjoy it and think I can enjoy it in moderation. At times before I started on the medication I did feel that I had drunk to excess at inappropriate times, on a weeknight before work for example, meaning that I wasn’t at 100% the next day, or the night before weightlifting training, which actually puts you in a bit of a dangerous situation. Both of these things are more important to me than getting drunk, and getting a new PB when you’ve had a great sleep and feel really motivated to lift is a wonderful feeling. 

The reset did me good, and I have extended it voluntarily. The medication still hasn’t made a huge impact on my anxiety, but my much improved sleep and the resulting productivity and refreshed feeling has made it slightly easier to cope. As an industry, we have normalised daily drinking and heavy sessions at taprooms. I most certainly do enjoy a couple of pairs of pints of really good beer, but my sincere hope is that as the industry continues to mature, the attitudes towards temperance will also come of age. It is a hard enough industry to thrive in without the added pressure to drink and the resulting difficult work day the next day, and the trend towards lower ABV beers and breweries producing their own soda is a really great step towards this goal.

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