Mix it up: Low alcohol cocktails mean you can behave yourself without being a bore

 
Philip Salter
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The Adonis cocktail comes highly recommended

It's at this time of year that the puritanical prohibitionists start to circle. They can sniff out your Christmas excesses from 100 paces, and know that the New Year brings not only promise but promises, too. Dry January, sadly, isn't a prayer for clement weather.

On top of the proselytising pressure to forsake alcohol for a month, we’ve recently learnt that the British Medical Association thinks we’re drinking too much the rest of the year as well. It's slashed its recommendations, suggesting we keep our drinking below 14 units of alcohol per week – that's six small glasses of wine or five pints of 5 per cent ABV beer. And you're not even allowed to save up your ration for a Friday night binge, apparently.

Around this time every year, I write a contrarian column extolling the virtues of drinking. Not just the minor health benefits of drinking a little, but the way it forges and supports friendships and binds communities together, which, let’s face it, is particularly useful for us uptight Brits.

I stand by those columns, but as much as I hate anyone trying to stop me taking calculated risks, I don't doubt that a sizeable amount of people would prefer to consume a little less alcohol in 2016. This is something that cocktails can help with. And don't worry, you don't need to go virgin – just low alcohol.

When it comes to alcohol content, it's all about that base. Most cocktails are built on vodka, gin, whisky, tequila or brandy, which tend to have ABVs of around 40 per cent and there isn’t much you can do about that.

This means beer and wine-based cocktails are the obvious place to start, but anything normally drunk as an aperitif can be used to make low alcohol cocktails. A Rosé Spritzer – sparkling rosé, with a dash of elderflower liqueur and a few drops of Peychaud’s bitters – is a simple cocktail (if a little summery for this time of year). More suitable for these bracing months is the American light – equal parts Punt e Mes and Aperol topped up with soda water. It's got a kick, but the 16 per cent and 11 per cent ABV of the former and latter aren't going to knock you off your feet.

Complex sherries work particularly well for low ABV cocktails because of the depth sherry brings to the mix. The Adonis is equal parts Oloroso sherry and sweet vermouth, a couple of dashes of orange bitters, stirred over ice, strained into a martini glass and garnished with a twist of lemon.

It's unlikely to be on the menu of many bars, but any bartender worthy of the name will be able to mix it (even if they need to turn to Google for the recipe).

If, however, you find the cult of abstinence too much to bear, I suggest taking early retirement in Spain. The Spanish have a weekly guidance of 35 units for men and 21.25 for women – you might even be able to get away with one of their notoriously generous free-poured G&Ts.

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