Forget cola and water: this is how you replace alcohol with your meal

De Saboritz Spumante mooi gepresenteerd
Red wine is delicious with a big steak and we toast with sparkling white wine when there is something to celebrate. The real connoisseur drinks gin with oysters and mussels. But it's Dry January and we know more and more about the damage alcohol causes. What do you drink with your food if you don't want to drink alcohol for a while?

Why do we want red wine with red meat? The tannins in such a full, complex wine, the rough feeling in your mouth and the heavy taste match well with a piece of meat that also has a strong mouthfeel. Sink your wry teeth into a piece of fatty meat with a lot of structure: that's tasty.

Chinese quince also tastes complex and full

Food and drink reinforce each other if you do it right, says Joyce Bielderman of the Utrecht restaurant Héron. You won't make every guest happy with only alcoholic drinks. So the restaurant has special non-alcoholic juices on the menu, invented and made by Bielderman.

To accompany a fish dish with garum, she came up with a drink of cherries, Chinese quince and elderflower: that also gives a tart mouthfeel and a complex, full taste in your mouth.

Pork knuckle with green juice

Bielderman combines the pig's trotter on Héron's menu with a grassy juice of apple, lovage syrup and kefir. "That freshness works well with a fatty meat dish."

A crazy drink on the menu, says Joyce, is amazake (a fermented grain drink) with carrot juice, water kefir and walnut syrup. "That puts a filmy layer on your teeth, just like a creamy dish with whey on our menu, and is therefore a nice combination."

Anyone who is pregnant, wants an alcohol break, wants to be fresh the next day, doesn't like alcohol, you name it: those people also want something special in their glass, says Bielderman. "You don't need alcohol to enhance a dish."

Non-alcoholic liquor store

Really good alternatives are quite difficult to find, says Frederike de Groot. She started the first alcohol-free liquor store in our country, World of NIX. At this liquor store they look for the very best replacements for alcoholic drinks such as gin, wine, beer, whiskey or champagne.

"We cannot give you the buzz of the first drink," says De Groot. "You don't want that either, because the idea was to give up alcohol for a while."

“Realize that with a non-alcoholic drink you are drinking a different product,” she says. “Alcohol gives a drink body and it is extracted into non-alcoholic wines. So it tastes different. You have to let go of the idea that you can drink the exact same thing but without alcohol. It is a voyage of discovery within a new category, and with us you can taste everything yourself first."

Join in with your glass of bubbly

So no buzz, and no hangover either. You have to explain an alcohol-free life less and less often. "But it's nice if you can participate in the social aspect of drinking," says De Groot.

"Toasting with your flute full of bubbles, drinking a nice red wine at a dinner party and holding a tasty cocktail in your hands at a party, that is more fun for many people than sipping a glass of water for hours."

Coke does nothing to your food

Cola, orange, water, milk: these drinks consist of one component and are therefore usually too thin for your food, according to juice sommelier Joyce Bielderman. "It quenches your thirst, but doesn't do anything else with your food."

"What's on your plate consists of many flavors, structures, mouthfeel, it's hot or cold - it's even more exciting if your drink goes well with that."

Want to experiment with flavors yourself? Fermented drinks such as water kefir, kvass and kombucha are a great start, and you can brew them yourself.

"They have a nice, fine bubble, are freshly sweet and you can put all your own favorite flavors in them," says Bielderman. "At Héron we only use products that have been picked and processed in season; lovage and mint, for example."

"If you want to experiment yourself, you can add lemon peel to your water or fermented drink, or ginger, cinnamon, red pepper. Or try a syrup of rosemary, lavender, a dash of coconut water, sprigs of mint, or a stick of vanilla."

Cheese with tea

Whether something goes well with your food takes a bit of trial and error, says Bielderman. A rule of thumb to remember: food pairing is war or peace. Or you go with the taste of your dish: a creamy, fatty drink with a creamy dish, a fresh and sour juice with salty oyster. Or you go exactly the opposite: a green, fresh juice with a juicy, heavy piece of meat.

"Try a cheese board with a cup of tea. You probably think that port tastes best with it, but this is a very tasty combination. If you want to combine food and drinks perfectly, also think about hot and cold."

Would you like a glass of chocolate milk with stew or a pompous beetroot juice with a bite with your oyster? Bielderman: "Make sure you do it when you feel like it. That you have a nice evening is priority one. I would take a sip of water in between."

Don't feel like brewing your own? Tips from the alcohol-free liquor store

For your aperitif: Blood Orange Spritz, a classic Italian bitter. Mix with non-alcoholic bubbles for a Spritz.

For a cheese board: Saboritz Sparkling Sober, a spumante from Veneto with pear, green apple and elderflower.

With a meat roast: Cognato Red, a South African wine with a hint of the smokiness of a braai.

For creamy risotto: Saicho Hojicha Sparkling Tea: Seaweed, hazelnut and a delicate smoky flavor.

As a digestif: Three Spirit Nightcap. Made from tree saps, aromatic plants and valerian. Drink it over ice.

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