After last week… I suppose I should give the opposition equal time.
Realistically speaking, I’ve spent more years of my life (so far) NOT drinking alcohol, so you’d think I’d have more experience and opinions regarding sober solutions as opposed to potent potables.
Yes, “sober solutions” was a stretch. Sorry about that.
Anyway, here’s my list in no particular order, and reasons why.
I was very into tea going all the way back to high school. I’d drink from a thermos of Twinning’s “Lady Grey” through tests and lectures, and generally just take hits from it throughout the day. Why?
Honestly, I can’t remember. I went to an urban high school- “tea time” wasn’t a thing so much as “riot and knife fight time.”
Regardless, I enjoyed and collected teas all through college and afterward. It was pretty common for friends to show up at my apartment and ask me for a cup of tea to keep them up for studying, or clear their mind, or help them get over a cold.
In general, my favorite teas are black, bitter, and deep. Lapsang Souchong is all those things and more, the tea leaves having been smoked over pine boughs. The smokiness and slight acridness from the burning pitch surprisingly mellows out the tea, making it a soothing brew when hot, and bracing when iced. Currently, my favorite is “Pine Smoked Black” by Tao of Tea.
When I was a kid, my mother was very big into seltzer, but in a very strange way. She’d often get big bottles of “Vintage” fruit flavor seltzers, but she’d open them up and let them go flat on purpose, THEN drink them. I always thought it was weird- I wasn’t a big seltzer fan, but I knew soda, and soda left to go flat was just gross.
Since college, however, seltzer has been my go-to beverage whenever I want- for lack of a better descriptor- water, but more interesting and not sugary. In Connecticut, Polar seltzer in its myriad of bizarre flavors was plentiful. Now, out on the West coast, LaCroix seems to be the fizzy water of choice. With a variety of fruity/ refreshing flavors available, it’s generally what I reach for when I don’t like anything else in the soda case but I need something to wash down this slice of pizza.
V8 is proof that tastes change. I first had V8 as a kid out of curiosity, and it tasted DISGUSTING. I didn’t touch it or any other kind of vegetable juice for years. Then, my senior year of high school, I tried it again on a whim, and inexplicably it was exactly what I wanted just then. Since then, I’ve enjoyed most of its iterations- and of course, as part of a Bloody Mary. My very favorite way to drink it booze-free, however, is with a bit of lime.
4. Energy Drinks
Pretty much everyone I know saw this one coming. I don’t really drink enough of them to be especially unhealthy (roughly one a day), but I’m under no illusions- energy drinks in general aren’t great for you. I’ve gone long stretches where I had sworn them off, choosing instead to have double-brewed tea- but I almost always wind up coming back to them.
There’s really no defending this habit, except that I’m at least conscious enough of their effect on my body to be able to mitigate the damage somewhat through drink choice. My original favorite energy drink was the nerd culture favorite, Bawls. When I started trying to lose weight, however, the __ grams of sugar and 180 calories per bottle was a recipe for disaster. It was actually a personal trainer acquaintance of mine who recommended the Monster Ultra Zero series- zero calories, zero sugar, no saccharine taste. Since then, I’ve bounced between them and Bang- a recent arrival on the market that in addition to offering good flavors without sugar or calories, also has the active lifetstyle in mind by including BCAAs in their mix.
I know they still aren’t great for me, but they do the job. Energy Drinks- because crystal meth is illegal.
Look, I’m a Jersey boy. I was raised on the East Coast, where we know what the hell a “sub” is, that Jewish delis friggin’ MEAN something, and that when you go to a Jewish deli, the correct drink to get is a Dr. Browns.
Dr. Brown’s is most famous for their root beer and cream soda, and only slightly less well-known for their black cherry soda (previously called “Black Cherry Wishniack”.) For the truly faithful, however- those who have tasted its crisp, clean glory and can stand the baffled stares- there is Cel-Ray.
Cel-Ray is Dr. Brown’s celery soda, often relegated to the far corners of kosher sections in supermarkets. It is sweet, crisp, cool, and clean- and if I see it in a case, you can bet your sweet bippy I’m putting one in my face. I’ve had friends try it to mixed results. Some shrugged and handed it back with a “azoy gezunt” nod. Others winced- one even complaining that “it tastes like celery, but there’s no crunch of celery. It’s weird.”
They are a lost and forsaken people. Let us not speak of them again.
As soon as fall came to South Jersey and people started talking about Halloween and hayrides, that meant it was time for hot apple cider for me- warming/slightly burning my little hands, with a small cinnamon stick stuck in each cup to stir up the sediment and slowly steep in the hot liquid. These are childhood associations- as deep and primal to me as the feeling of cold air or the smell of low tide mixing with wet leaves.
Very few winter gatherings went by without a big pot of apple cider winding up on the stove, with rounds of orange floating about and studded with cloves, bracketed by cinnamon sticks. Of course, for the adults, there was always a bottle of Cointreau nearby to dose their own cups- I never had need of it though, even when I became old enough to drink.
8. Yerba Mate
It smells like alfalfa. Brewed up, it is bitter as sin and tastes like grass. You need lemon, honey, sugar, ANYTHING in there to help you forget that you aren’t drinking hot water from a barn trough.
God DAMN does it get you moving though.
Back on the tea train here, but yerba mate isn’t technically a “tea” as it doesn’t come from the tea plant, Camillia Sinensis. Yerba Mate is native to South America where it is famously consumed by the gauchos of Argentina, its high levels of natural caffeine not only providing them energy but helping them… “move things along” with a diet of mostly meat.
Back during one of my “no energy drink” stretches, I tried my hand at making my own, all-natural version and used yerba mate as the backbone:
Matt’s Zoom Juice
Makes 2 quarts
2 quarts of water
1 cup of loose yerba mate tea
1 cup dried mint
Lemon juice, to taste
Honey, to taste
Boil the water in a large pot. Add in the mate and mint, take off the heat, and let steep for 45 minutes.
Strain out the mate and mint. Add lemon juice and honey to taste, then chill.
For each cup, add 1 tbs of chia seeds. Allow them to bloom, and then drink.
9. REALLY good Root Beer
I’ve mentioned this before, but I really don’t go much for sugary sodas. Dr. Brown’s is about as far as I generally like to go. If there is one classic soda I’ll make an exception for, however, it’s REALLY good root beer.
I’m not talking about Mug or A&W- those just always taste like flavoring to me. If I’m drinking root beer, and it doesn’t have a direct link to childhood memories for me (I’m looking at you, Dr. Browns and Stewarts), then it needs to be handcrafted, small-batch, and naturally flavored. Here’s a mini list of my favorites:
1. Dr. Browns
5. Sioux City Sasparilla
… You kinda need it to live. It gets an honorary slot.