It’s midsummer, we’re in the middle of a heatwave, and the World Cup is on. In other words, Britain is in a near-permanent state of sloshed—until the hangovers come the next morning.
But on this hot lunchtime in July, chef Anna Jones says it doesn’t need to be like this. Her new drinking manual, The Modern Cocktail Guide, published on cocktail website The Bar, proposes an alternative to the alcoholic excess of the sesh: mindful drinking.
I’m in Jones garden and she is mixing me a Mexican Tom Collins, complete with chili pepper garnish. I feel a slight sense of panic when the drink looks almost ready. How will I mindfully drink it? Am I meant to spit it out into a bucket after taking a mouthful?
Luckily, Jones steps in to explain.
“For me, mindful drinking starts by linking into my cooking, as I definitely practise mindful cooking—although I don’t go into my kitchen and think, ‘Hmm, I’m going to do some mindful cooking now,’” she laughs and continues: “It’s essentially taking the time and effort to make a drink with the same creative energy that I make food with. It’s about honouring that person you’re making it for—even if it’s just for yourself. So taking that extra time to choose a nice glass or layer the flavours like you would a dish of food. Then it’s about relishing every mouthful, and appreciating where it’s come from.”
Indeed Jones, who basically transformed the way Britain looks at vegetables with her vegetarian cookbooks A Modern Way To Eat and A Modern Way To Cook, believes that the food trend of recent years is now spreading to alcohol.
“What is happening in drinks now is very much influenced by the food scene,” she says. “When you look at the whole world of natural wines or cocktails, I think people are much more focused on provenance—where their wines or ingredients that go into their cocktails come from.”
Mindful drinking isn’t an entirely new concept. Last year, journalist Rosamund Dean wrote a book advocating a more thoughtful approach to alcohol consumption and low-to-no-alcohol movement Club Soda put on two Mindful Drinking festivals last year, due to high demand. There has also been a rise in teetotal bars across the UK, including Redemption in London, Brink Bar in Liverpool, and Nottingham’s Sobar. Their popularity reflects recent statistics that show that a fifth of UK drinkers—that’s about seven million people—are cutting down on their drinking behaviour, and that 16 to 24-year-olds are drinking way less than any other age group.
It’s all a far cry from 2010, when the Government cracked down on binge drinking, which it felt was spiralling out of control. Mandatory licensing conditions were enforced, and drinking games in pubs (remember the “dentist’s chair”?) and all-you-can-drink-for-a-tenner deals were banned. Landlords who did not ID customers also faced stricter penalties.
Eight years on, Jones thinks that there has been a huge shift in drinking culture.
“I think we’ve moved away from those days,” she says. “The generation of people who are out drinking now do it in a completely different way. People are a bit more aware and responsible, especially because of instantaneous social media. Plus, I think people increasingly now just want to have a couple of nice drinks—craft beer, cocktails, or a lovely wine—and they’re looking for that extra special something that they can sip and hold on to for half an hour.”
I tell Jones about a club in my hometown of Norwich that offered unlimited budget spirits for £10. The police often had to be called to control the people fighting and vomiting on the street outside, and it was eventually shut down.
"Just like our relationship to food has changed, so has our attitude to drinking has. We’re all much more conscious about how and what we drink now.”
“I remember venues like that when I was at uni!” she says. “Ugh, the idea of going somewhere to drink as much as I can for £10 actually makes me feel ill now. I just don’t think those places exist any more because just like our relationship to food has changed, so has our attitude to drinking has. We’re all much more conscious about how and what we drink now.”
I nod my head in what I hope is a wise manner and take a small sip of my chili-spiked Tom Collins. The long drink has a gentle spiciness, which blends pleasingly with the tangy citrus from the lime and ginger syrup. It’s super-refreshing and—crucially for mindful drinking—not weapons-grade strong. As Jones explains, mindful drinking isn’t about lecturing people into going totally sober, it’s about appreciating what’s in your glass.
“Put most simply, it’s about changing the way we think about alcohol and about how we drink it.”
This generally starts with moderation, she says, whether that’s taking a break from drinking, swapping an alcoholic drink for a low-alcohol or soft drink, or enjoying quality over quantity with one or two delicious cocktails, rather than nailing round after round of industrial-strength negronis. (Yes, I feel a little seen right now).
When I do further research into mindful drinking, I find one online guide that suggests examining your mood before reaching for a drink. There’s even a handy acronym: “Think HALT: am I Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? or Thirsty?” If you are any of these things, it recommends doing something about it first. This all seems rather obvious, but it’s not something many of us bother to unpack before ordering a bottle on auto-pilot in the pub.
Another aim of Jones’ Modern Cocktail Guide is to show how easy entertaining at home with mindfully made drinks can be.
“Entertaining can be something people actually find super-daunting and they think cocktails only live in in fancy cocktail bars and cost a lot of money and are a hassle to make,” she says. “I think the Instagram generation of everything looking perfect has led to a lot of pressure—people think your house has to look perfect, you need the right cushions or throw, and the food has to be perfect to have friends over, which is just silly.”
So, this modern way of drinking should focus less on social media, and more on actual social interactions?
“Yes!’ Jones smiles. “It’s about creating lovely social experiences, by that I don’t mean doing anything fancy, but just sitting on a picnic blanket with friends, or having a few people round for a couple of drinks and snacks on a Friday.”
Her current favourite tipple is a gin and tonic, and she switches up what she muddles into it as the year goes on. Right now, she says, “I put in weird herbs growing in my garden like lovage and sweet cicely, which add really interesting botanical notes to it. Then as we move towards Christmas, I like to put in blood orange, bergamot, and clementines for a slightly bitter touch.”
Mindful drinking definitely means no drinking on an empty stomach, which is handy, as Jones has just brought out a plate of tacos to go with my drink. They’re stuffed with fresh salsa, crisped black beans, a limey coleslaw, and charred courgettes. The perfect accompaniment to a Mexican-inspired cocktail.
“In the food and drink worlds, there always seems to be so much bad news—like what you shouldn’t be eating or what’s bad for you,” says Jones. “But we just need to remember that eating and drinking together is about joy, sharing, and fun.”
I’ve definitely hit my mindful two-drink limit now, but honestly, I could probably sink a bucket of Jones’ Mexican Collins. It seems I’ve stumbled at the first mindful drinking hurdle—if only these cocktails weren’t so delicious.