Social Media Buttons



What's new?

What's new?
Pledges for my new beer book - Miracle Brew - are now closed. Book is out 1st June and available for pre-order here.
I've been accused of attacking cask ale. Here's what I actually wrote - decide for yourselves.
News about my next books!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Eleven things I learned this Dry January

I can have a drink again the day after tomorrow. I might do, I might not. OK, I probably will. The lure of the hop, the anticipation of the crisp smack of the bittersweet apple, have been mostly dormant for the past four weeks, but now I'm so close to the finishing line, I'm getting thirsty again. I probably won't drink the day after. Because whatever I do, and whenever I have my first drink, I won't be going back to my old habits - not completely. Here are eleven things about drinking that I've learned over the last month and want to remember for the rest of the year.

1. Not drinking is amazing
In the first few days, you notice the better sleep, the higher energy, the greater clarity of thought. My blood pressure, which landed me in hospital in October, is now verging on normal. After a couple of weeks, you realise you're thinking differently. You're more in the moment, more thoughtful, more connected. This is not always pleasant. But like the physical benefits, it does feel like it's doing you some good. My old mate, star of Three Sheets and Australian beer legend David Downie likes this side of things even more than he liked beer. This short account of his own experiment parts company with my own but has much in common, and is well worth a read for anyone who enjoys a drink, whether you ultimately share his path or not.

2. I’m not an alcoholic
No physical withdrawal symptoms, no cravings, no obsessive dreaming of drink, no problems being around people who are drinking. I drink for many reasons: because I'm stressed, because I'm relaxed, because I'm happy, because I'm sad, because I'm with people, because I'm alone. The times I've missed drinking the most are times relaxing with friends who are drinking, and that's good because that's when I should be drinking - something I can't say so easily about some of the other times. I stumbled once, at a drinks industry event where the invitation clearly specified there were soft drinks available, and was wrong. Not even being able to get a glass of water, I cracked. But I drank less than I normally would. I didn't feel compelled to carry on afterwards. I simply got back to not drinking the next day.

3. Many people are defensive around their own drinking
If you're angry or annoyed with someone who is taking time off drinking, maybe you need to ask yourself why.

4. Each to their own
I take a month off every year because I drink heavily over the other eleven months. If you only drink a couple of days a week, or you stop after one glass, or any other permutation which means you are genuinely pretty sure you're not overdoing it, you probably don't need to do a #Dryathlon, whatever misinformation bodies like Alcohol Concern might spread. Your relationship with your alcohol consumption is your own business alone (unless it reaches a stage where your actions harm other people).

5. The eternal party you think you're missing out on is not really happening
The social media networks we create for ourselves mean that every few minutes someone is telling us about the awesome beer they are currently enjoying. If we're not drinking an awesome beer, we can feel like we're the only ones missing out. But it's just an illusion created by lots of people all drinking at different times and in different places. Not a single one of them is partying as hard as the aggregation of them makes it seem.

6. It’s an age thing
Lots of people drink heavily in their late teen and twenties. It's a cultural norm, and it's good for you. Lots of people then drastically reduce their drinking when they have kids and settle down and need to be sober enough to drive everywhere, or simply feel that propping up the bar every night is not a good look for someone with a family waiting at home. At some point, the childless among us need to stop drinking like 24 year-olds and recognise that, like fashion and hair styles, there's a different way of doing it when you're older.

7. It is possible to socialise without drink
It just takes some getting used to. Alcohol is a welcome social lubricant in many situations. Some of those can be almost as good without that lubricant. A scattered few might even be better.

8. Elderflower cordial is the hophead's methadone
Nice and strong, with sparkling water, it seems I'm still a five-pints-a-night man. See also: spicy Virgin Mary, various proper loose leaf herbal teas.

9. The anti-drink lobby is in complete disarray
There's nothing like a heavy drinker taking a break and being fine with it to illustrate the utter confusion among the anti-drink lobby. Parts of this lobby have mounted a massive campaign to persuade everyone to give up in January. Others say that if you feel the need to do this, it proves you have a problem. Other still say it might be bad for you because it encourages you to drink like a bastard for the rest of the year. I even read one article which tried to argue that an increasing number of people giving up alcohol in January was solid proof of more people drinking to greater excess - yep, that's right - a rise in the number of people not drinking is proof that those people are drinking more. Some people simply drink a lot because they enjoy it, and are not alcoholics, and can stop as and when they need to. The more militant neo-prohibitionists hate this, because it disproves so much of their bullshit about the perils of booze. And that alone is reason enough to go dry for a month.

10. The pro-drink lobby is in complete disarray
As I wrote in a recent Publican's Morning Advertiser piece, pubs don't always cover themselves in glory in January. Heavy drinkers provide pubs with most of their profits over the year as a whole. Many of them go further than that by blogging, tweeting and otherwise spreading the word about how great their locals are. Often, these same people then get abuse when they decide to put their health before the pub's profit for just a few weeks. That's just plain nasty. Pubs are very quick to say they offer so much more than beer, and rightly so. If that's true though, it shouldn't be the end of the world if some of your regulars decide to temporarily abstain from alcohol. Maybe if pubs offered a decent range of soft drinks at sensible prices Dry January wouldn't be such a financial problem. We Dryathletes still want to go out and see our friends in the convivial environment we love. 

11. Drinking is amazing
By the second week you start to feel like a cultist praising the virtues of abstention. By the third week, you start to notice that everything is bright and shiny and hard. Perhaps a little TOO bright. It's natural and healthy to sometimes want to fuzz the edges and turn the lights down to mood. I've missed that. But I've missed the sensory experience of drinking - the aromas and tastes of good beer, cider, wine, sherry and the occasional malt whisky, and the stories that go with them, the associations they have, the connections they make, the contemplations and flights of fancy they inspire - a whole lot more. Drink is special. It should feel like a treat, not something that's so much a part of your routine that you hardly notice it, let alone appreciate it. 
The end of my Dry January neatly coincides with a trip to Chicago next week for the American national cider conference. While I'm there, I'll be taking in a new Lagunitas brewery opening, visiting Goose Island, and cramming in as many craft beer bars as I possibly can among the many wonderful US craft ciders. When I get back, I'm straight into looking at the drinks finalists for the Food and Farming Awards, then visiting Brew Dog in Aberdeen... and so it goes on. A rich and varied drinking life, and one that I want to be able to enjoy for many years to come.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

If you aren't spending this weekend in a muddy field shouting at a tree, why not?

It's wassail weekend. We covered Wassails in World's Best Cider. I also wrote about different wassails for the now-defunct magazine Fire and Knives. Below is one edited piece that's an amalgam of three of my favourite wassails. Photos by Bill Bradshaw. If you've never been to a wassail, now's the time to start.

A man wearing a facial disguise, a coat that looks like it’s made out of 1970s wallpaper and a top hat with flowers and ostrich feathers on it advances towards me with a lit blowtorch, his eyes gleaming in the firelight. 

There would be no point trying to run – we’re up to our ankles in sticky mud. We’d be blind outside this circle of firelight. And we’re in the middle of a field, miles from the nearest village.

The man with the blowtorch raises it above my head and lights a torch I’m carrying. Soon there is a procession of us carrying yellow flames that give surprising illumination against the night.

Strings of light bulbs adorn the naked apple trees, turning them silvery and petrified, faerie-like. 

We gather around a large, hot bonfire, a poker protruding from its embers, and the drizzle loses its spirit-sapping powers completely if you get close enough to the flames.  Someone plays a jolly tune on an accordion – and then everyone falls silent.  The Wassail Master of Ceremonies takes the poker from the fire and plunges it into a wooden pail brimming with cider. The liquid steams and foams, spewing onto the grass.  The MC carries the pail solemnly towards the oldest apple tree in the orchard, steam flowing down its sides like a witch’s cauldron.

Now, the Morris men carry the queen on their shoulders and deposit her at the base of the tree.  She takes a pitchfork with a slice of toast speared on its prongs and dips it into the pail, then raises it into the tree and teases the toast free from the prongs, leaving it in the branches of the tree to attract robins, who will in turn attract good spirits to the tree. The crowd raises a hearty cheer, and scores of flashlights fire, freezing raindrops in the air like diamonds. 

The Queen’s reward is a hearty drink from the cider pail, something she accomplishes so enthusiastically it earns her another cheer.  She pours the remains around the base of the old apple tree, giving back the fruits of last year’s harvest to its roots.  And now the entire crowd is gong batshit-crazy, banging sticks, cheering and ululating, scaring away the evil spirits from the tree. Five men in flat caps and neckerchiefs stride forward, raise shotguns and fire two volleys into the branches, the retorts so loud I feel it in my chest rather than hear it.  Orange sparks fly, smoke fills the branches, and the air is thick with the smell of cordite.

And that’s when it happens.  Reality shifts.

Mythology often talks about ‘liminal’ places.  Liminality, from the Latin limen, or ‘threshold’, basically refers to a transitional state during a rite of passage. Anywhere from an airport terminal to TV’s Twilight Zone could be described as a liminal place.  Throughout our history we’ve spun tales of the existence of other worlds parallel to ours own, various heavens and hells and, especially, the world of faerie. Normally these worlds are entirely separate from ours and it’s impossible to pass between them at will. But there are certain places – liminal places – where the walls between the worlds are thin.  A little magic seeps through and the edges, the margins of our world, become infected by it.  Normal rules bend, and at times don’t apply at all. 

In our search for liminality, for mental freedom, we’re rediscovering that childlike ability to simultaneously believe and disbelieve in magic.  And as the cordite fills the air and the thick smoke hazes the faerie-lit trees, for a few minutes I genuinely believe – I know – that we have succeeded in driving evil spirits from this realm, back through the liminal space to the dimension where they belong.

Everyone else knows it too. Tomorrow we’ll completely accept that the apple harvest is down to weather patterns and soil, judicious stewarding and farming technology.  But not tonight.

Or maybe it’s all just a good excuse to get pissed.

As the younger children start to file out home, happy and tired, the Fallen Apples take the stage and do a brief soundcheck, West Country style:

Harmonica player (blasts a note): Z’at sound oroight?

Audience: cheers

Guitar (strums a chord): Z’at sound oroight?

Audience: cheers

Bass (plays a few notes): Z’at sound oroight?

Audience: cheers, and then before the cheers have chance to die down, the band launches into something so stupidly bluegrass-catchy that there’s a moshpit where families were standing only seconds before.  Cider flies through the air in golden arcs.  The farmyard mud is stamped into submission.

It’s late by the time they finish their set, but over in the big barn, the Skimmity Hitchers are just getting going. These are the kings of the genre known as ‘Scrumpy & Western,’ possibly because they invented it.  In the hands of these funnier, modern day Wurzels (a band they’ve supported), My Girl Lollipop becomes My Girl Cider Cup, and Ring of Fire becomes, well:

I drank down a lovely point of cider
It went down, down, down and my smile it grew wider
And I yearns, yearns, yearns,
For a pint o’ cider
For a pint o’ cider

By the time Monkey Man is somehow impossibly improved by its mutation into Badger Man, and a fully-grown man in a badger costume takes centre-stage, the audience has abandoned its earlier moderation.  Everyone, myself included, has their own two-litre carton of Jungle Juice hooked over one thumb.  Plastic glasses long since hurled through the air, we drink straight from the spout.

As the set nears its end, the audience reaction, while enthusiastic, sounds strangely incomplete. Then I work out what it is: people are too drunk to clap.

One of the nice things about this wassail is that it requires no crowd control. By midnight, the crowd is simply too wankered to carry on, and everyone makes their way home happily, haphazardly, with wide, warm grins on their faces.

But that’s not the best thing about wassailing. The best thing is simply that it’s here, it happens. Wassail simply sticks up two fingers to the most depressing time of the year. It says, yes, I know party season is over, but we’re going to have a party anyway, a really big party, and we’re going to hold it in a farmyard, in the middle of winter, and it’s going to be really good.

And while I’ll admit it might be the drink talking, I can think of no more laudable triumph of the human spirit.

Monday, 13 January 2014

If you love craft beer, set it free.

1989. Thursday.

We gathered in the hall of residence common room after gobbling down dinner quicker than usual for our weekly sneer at Top of the Pops. What depths would the Stock Aitken and Waterman 'Hit Factory' have sunk to this week? Would its bland fare be distinguishable from last week, and every other week? Would there be any wavering from the template of happy synths peddled by the bland mainstream year in year out, lowest common denominator music that offended no one except those with good music taste like us?

Doubtful. We proto-Beavis and Buttheads would just have to make this week different from last week by upping the level of our competitive 'witticisms', annoying the rest of the room who didn't see anything wrong with what they were being spoon-fed.

And then this happened.

The most exciting band on the planet monkey-walked into your living room and said, "Nice, we'll take it."

In days when there was no internet or i-Tunes, when pop and rock musicians were never in the tabloids, when all you heard on TV and radio was safe top 40 hits and you had to seek out specific record shops to buy the music you liked and specific clubs to hear it in public, suddenly the Stone Roses were on Top of the Pops because they were in the charts.

It felt like a revolution was happening. I expected the Domestic Bursar to come in and confiscate the TV.

And while we were still reeling from that,  a few minutes later this happened:

Now we were screaming and hollering. Cars were set alight in the street outside. Bros and Go West were strung up from lampposts. Dave Lee Travis was executed with a bullet to the temple while he knelt at the feet of Shaun William Ryder, who looked down and threatened to "Lie down beside yer and fill yer full o' JUNK." Or so it seemed for those glorious two and a half minutes as Kirsty MacColl, who everybody loved, played kingmaker, nailing her colours to the baggy mast.

We had won. We had taken over. So what if Fine Young Cannibals were on next? The indie kids had staged the most marvellous coup, and no-one - not even we indie kids ourselves - had seen it coming.

Afterwards, it was puzzling to feel somewhat deflated. Let down. To feel a sense of loss. Since I'd arrived at uni a few years before, wearing black overcoats and breton caps and listening to the Mighty Lemon Drops and the Bodines had been a lifestyle, an identity, a way of stating my opposition to the bland, bourgeois mediocrity, to the people who got drunk at university because that's what you were supposed to do at nineteen, and then got married and got jobs as accountants after graduation because that's what you were supposed to do at twenty-two.

So it was confusing, after the dozen or so indie kids at St Andrews Uni swapped our Joy Division overcoats for Stone Roses flares and hoodies, to see all the other kids - corduroy clad, U2-loving students and casual, wedge-cut townies - do the same. We could no longer tell who was in our tribe. And then our tribe didn't exist any more. We liked music that was in the charts, and lots of other people liked it too. That was surely a bad thing. And yet privately, it felt good.

The music and beer analogy. Works every time.

Just before Christmas, analysts Mintel released their latest report on the UK beer market, and it's all about craft beer.  I didn't have chance to write about it at the time, and you were probably too drunk to read it anyway, but it deserves some attention from everyone who thinks craft beer is something to be debated and argued over rather than simply drunk and enjoyed.

Mintel's research uncovered some interesting stats:

  • One in four British adults has drunk a craft beer at some time in the last six months - that's around 13 million people.
  • 35% of all beer drinkers believe craft beer is worth paying more for, because they associate it with higher quality.
  • 50% of beer drinkers expect that a craft beer will taste better than other beers.
Our collective failure to agree on a definition of craft beer doesn't seem to be doing craft beer any harm. But whatever that definition is, we probably can't hold on to ideas about size and scale of brewer for much longer. 40% of drinkers say they aren't sure what the term 'craft beer' actually means, and 45% of drinkers say they would find craft beers more appealing if they knew more about them, so there is a need for greater clarity. But at the same time, 40% of drinkers also say they would be keen to try a craft-style beer for a large brewer.

This is where we get back to Madchester taking over Top of the Pops, and I get to be a sensible middle-aged man again rather than an over-excitable music snob. 

Bigger brewers are risk-averse and can never hope to have the same flexibility and intuitive approach to brewing that smaller brewers have. But big brewers can provide widespread training, information and education that drinkers are saying they want from craft beer.

Should craft stay small? Is it wrong that it's going mainstream? I'd be interested to hear from any craft brewers, as opposed to drinkers, who think their potential market should stay small and niche. Much as I loved the Mighty Lemon Drops and the Bodines at the time, they're probably driving cabs now. Ian Brown is a multi-millionaire.

Alan McLeod has been writing a lot recently about the problem of taking craft beer too seriously, culminating in a new ebook co-authored with Max Bahnson, The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer. And while I fear Max and Alan may be in danger of taking 'not taking craft beer too seriously' too seriously, you should definitely give it a read.

We don't own craft beer any more than ten indie kids in St Andrews owned the Stone Roses. People want good beer, and they think that means craft beer, and I for one think that is the most exciting news I've heard in a long time.

But there's also a message here for the big brewers as they no doubt increase their forays into craft through 2014.

The amount of beer we drink overall is still decreasing. According to Mintel, 31% of beer drinkers claim to be drinking less than they did a year ago, versus just 13% drinking more. People are drinking less but better. 

But better has to mean better. 

There's a meltdown of old distinctions happening in the beer market: on the one hand, drinkers are increasingly happy to drink beers from brewers they are unfamiliar with - and this extends into lager and nitro-stout. In 2013 we saw many small and regional brewers launch their own "craft" lagers and Guinness clones, because many drinkers no longer need a multi-million pound ad campaign to tell them what to drink. 

On the other hand, drinkers are perfectly happy to try a craft-y beer from a big brewer - so long as it is genuinely better than the mainstream.

As far as the drinker is concerned, big can do small and small can do big - just so long as you are true to what 'craft' promises. As Mintel's beer and cider guy and author of the report Chris Wisson says, 
"Rather than focusing on size, craft should be more of an ethos which stands for high quality and artisan skill, giving the consumer a different drinking experience... as prices of many drinks continue to go up, many drinkers are looking for discernibly higher quality to justify the cost. Focusing on the quality of ingredients such as hops and the brewing process should help brands to convey their superior quality to beer drinkers."

But that means you actually have to use decent ingredients and processes in the first place, rather than just pretending.

As social media gives the public more of a voice than ever before, any brewer paying lip-service to craft and cynically exploiting it will be called out and ridiculed. With beer choice no longer determined solely by the size of the marketing budget, and more craft beers from smaller brewers on the bar, quality will out and sub-standard beer simply won't cut it, whoever it's brewed by.

Any big brewer who ignores craft beer in 2014 (laughably, I've heard some still privately dismissing craft beer as an East London fad) is an idiot. Anyone who does craft beer and executes it badly is a fool. And anyone who thinks that craft can and should remain the preserve of small, independent brewers and a tiny band of devoted aficionados is sadly misguided.

No doubt it's going to be a bumpy ride, and there are bound to be those on all sides who fly in the face of that last paragraph and prove me right. But I think that for anyone with an open mind, 2014 is going to be a great year for beer.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Think you, or someone you know, is the best drinks producer in Britain?

Food and drink. It's lovely.

Are you frustrated by how the mainstream media always seems to ignore beer and cider? Are you a wine lover who wishes more people were aware of how good English wine is? Following my post yesterday, do you wish there was more focus on interesting soft drinks? Or are you excited about the imminent boom in microdistilleries?

This year I'm delighted to be once again judging the drinks category in the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards, along with wine writer Victoria Moore. As the official blurb says, "From pioneering brewers to traditional distillers, wine makers to juice producers. We want to hear about the people using carefully sourced ingredients and skill to produce an outstanding drink. From producers bringing new ideas to the world of drink, to businesses keeping traditions alive, tell us who deserves recognition in 2014."

In 2012 our three finalists were the Kernel Brewery, Once Upon a Tree cider, and the Kilhoman distillery. We had to sideline some pretty amazing drinks producers to get to that list, and if we could have then split the award three ways we would have - it eventually came down to a very close vote, which Once Upon a Tree won.

Me and Val Warner with last year's winners. I actually think I may have lost weight since this was taken.

Beer has done really well recently - as well as Kernel coming so close, the award has been won by Bristol Beer Factory and the Wye Valley Brewery in recent years. Last year the showing from wine was very poor, and Victoria wants to change that - as do I. But I also want to make sure that beer and cider do as well as they did last year too. We had for more brewers and cider makers enter than any other drinks category.

The judging is extremely rigorous. The judges from all categories come together to agree with each pair of judge's shortlist and the eventual winner. This year, that means a producer could be discussed by the likes of Sheila Dillon, Richard Corrigan, Valentine Warner, Charles Campion and Raymond Blanc. It's great exposure, even if you don't win. And if you make the final three, you'll be featured in a Radio 4 programme with me and Victoria.

These awards are for everyone. Anyone can nominate their favourite producer by filling in the entry form on the BBC website. And just to clear up any confusion arising from that wording, producers are welcome to nominate themselves.

NOM-inations (sorry) opened yesterday, with a programme which you can listen to here. Entries close on 27th January, so you have to be quick (but the form is easy and straightforward). The winners will be announced at a ceremony in May, which looks likely to form the centre of a series of food and drink events.

This award transforms the businesses of those who win it. And the more producers that enter, the more we show the rest of the world how vibrant beer and cider (and everything else) are. There are of course other categories if you also know a great market, food producer, farmer etc.

So go on, make my life agony as I try to choose a winner from the very best of British drinks!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Dry January

This is the strangest time of the year to be doing what I do.

With grim inevitability, we are told that we should all stop drinking alcohol for a month, just to prove we can.

Just as inevitably, those of us who decide to do so are met with sometimes extraordinary hostility by those who don't want to.

Both sides are now pissing me off.

Any reader of this blog knows where I stand on the cynical creep of neo-prohibitionism. My last blog post is just below this one if anyone has any doubt.

But I try to go dry for January every year, and have done so for years - since long before it became a piece of nonsense to beat people with.

I drink too much. I counsel that we should feel free to drink more than we are told. I rubbish the distortion of data that suggests we're all drinking ourselves to death. But even by my own more relaxed standards, I drink more than is good for me. I am two stone overweight and am on medication for high blood pressure, and this is related to the amount of alcohol I drink. It's an occupational hazard, and it's also more than that. Going dry for January is my way of proving to myself that I still control my relationship with booze. When I do it, I lose weight. I sleep better, and have more energy. When I start drinking again, my tolerance is lower and I drink slower and less frequently. And gradually, through the year it creeps up again, until over Christmas my alcohol consumption is excessive by any standards, and January provides a reset.

When I talk about this, it's amazing how many people seem to know more about my body and my psychology than I do. The neo-prohibitionists would argue that the above paragraph proves I'm an alcoholic - that if I need to stop drinking for a month, that proves I need to stop drinking altogether. Some idiots even try to say that dry January is dangerous because it encourages people to drink with abandon for the other eleven months of the year - a point of view that garners headlines every year despite having absolutely nothing to back it up.

On the other side, people tell me that detoxes don't work, implicitly asking me to ignore the evidence of my senses and the bathroom scales. Others seem threatened, like I'm betraying the cause of drinkers somehow. And then there are those who attack January abstainers for ruining the businesses of microbrewers and closing pubs.

This last point is particularly annoying. I appreciate that a campaign suggesting we all abandon pubs for a month might anger people whose livelihoods might be damaged by it. But beer enjoys a cyclical year. In December, pubs were packed. Some drinkers and publicans complain about the Christmas 'amateur drinkers' who turn up to their pubs, packing the place out and ordering in annoying fashion as they throw money over the bar. A few weeks later the same people complain that pubs are empty.

Given that pubs know a lot of punters take a breather in January, why not cater for them? Where are the specials on interesting artisanal soft drinks? The promotions on non-alcoholic cocktails? Why not put some detox-friendly dishes on the menu? We get very indignant about the idea that pubs are mere drink shops. We spend all our time saying that they are more than that, that they are important community centres that provide many benefits.  So in January why do we then act as if beer is all they can do?

Just because I'm not drinking for a few weeks doesn't mean I'll be going to the pub any less in January. I still want to get out of the house and see friends. But when I do so I'll most likely be drinking stupidly overpriced lime and soda, having viewed and rejected the range of excessively sugary, crap-filled soft drinks available, and wondering yet again why there isn't a single dish on the menu that isn't full of fat, cream or grease.

Dry January, like Christmas and 'NYE' before it, is a result of our desire for shared experience. We are social creatures and for the most part we enjoy the knowledge and experience that we are all going through something together. The rise of social media has intensified this sharing. Most of the time that's good. But it does also create a shared sense of obligation that some of us rebel against. A month ago newspapers were full of articles about What You Must Do To Enjoy The Perfect Christmas, and every one of them had comments below from people complaining that they didn't want to do Christmas that way, but somehow felt that they were forced to against their will. Why? Now, when Dry January is suggested we either feel we must go along with it as if it's the law or we get angry and ask 'Why the hell should I?'

It's part of the infantilisation of our culture. Being scolded on a regular basis by government, the NHS, and a media that invariably refers to the recommended guidelines on alcohol consumption as limits sits alongside advertising voiceovers that uniformly sound like a parent talking to a toddler, and food packaging and restaurant menus that talk in lower case sans serif fonts about things being yummy and nom.

We buy into this infantilisation. When we nip out for a cheeky scoop, or enjoy food that is tasty but not healthy, we invariably talk about being 'naughty', as if we are children breaking the rules. When everyone else breaks the rules with us we feel like we're getting away with it. When we're given rules we don't like and see others conforming, we start behaving like children who have been caught, or stamp our feet and fold our arms and say 'Don't want to.'

I say all this because I'm guilty of it, as much as anyone. There is an inner child in me saying "Go on, go for a drink. Because you can. You can get away with it." It's not a craving for alcohol per se, more a desire to transgress some rule that is entirely in my own head.

So here's my New Year's resolution, which I offer up for anyone else to share: be a grown-up around alcohol, and take responsibility for your own decisions. If you want a drink, have one, and if you don't, don't. Going dry for January is my personal way of resetting my relationship with alcohol. If you're someone who only drinks a couple of days a week you may feel you don't need to do this. If you're someone who drinks most days to a point where you're vaguely concerned it might impact your health, think about what else you might do to counter it. Or don't, if you don't want to. If you'd rather go dry for a different month of the year, or try to institute a regimen of at least two alcohol-free days a week, do that instead. If you're content that your lifestyle is going to be way more fun than anyone else's but means you'll probably die of heart disease in your late fifties or early sixties, that's fine too.

What's right for me probably isn't right for you, as we have different histories, hang-ups and habits. But we don't have to do anything - or refuse to do it - because others are telling us to. I'm going dry for January not because of some sly anti-alcohol publicity campaign, but because it works for me and has done for years. If we were all to simply do what works for ourselves, and not try to tell everyone else what a good or bad idea their course is, it would be a happy new year indeed.