Drink: RICHARD EHRLICH'S beverage REPORT

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The Independent Culture
Some people regard the phrase "healthy drinking" as a contradiction in terms. Either you're drinking alcohol or you're not drinking in the strict sense of the word. It's like what Peter Dorelli, head barman of the American Bar at the Savoy hotel, says about the difference between a Martini and a Gibson (a martinoid drink made with a cocktail onion instead of lemon peel). A Martini, he avers, is a drink; a Gibson, by contrast, is "a beverage".

I disagree with Mr Dorelli about Gibsons, but I do see the point in distinguishing between drinks and beverages. When I went along to be interviewed for what later proved the worst job of my life, ghost-writing for a health- food guru in New York City, the teetotal Mr X asked whether I'd like "a beverage". He wanted to make it clear that he was not offering something interesting but something "healthful." I requested "any fruit juice," only to discover later that Mr X believes they contain harmful sugar. His beverage is herb tea. You can't win.

When I'm in the market for a beverage rather than a drink, I normally stick with my two favourite liquids in the entire world - cold water or hot black coffee. Fancier substitutes are designed to make you feel as if you're drinking when you're merely beveraging; they strike me as pointless. But a recent trip to New York gave me a pair of good ideas about alcohol- free drinking. One was home-made ginger ale, made by boiling fresh ginger and sugar, then mixing the resultant syrup with fizzy water and ice. The drink is currently fashionable, and can probably be found any place where there's a good bartender; I had it at the Noho Star on the corner of Bleecker and Lafayette Streets. The other potation was a juice made from grapes, pears and banana, drunk with pleasure at that greatest of rarities: a restaurant featuring healthy grub that actually tastes good. It's called Josephina, and it's at 1900 Broadway. The ginger ale I've adapted using preserved ginger in syrup; the juice I have made using mango, banana and fresh-squeezed orange juice.

On the other hand, some of us will still be thinking about the strong stuff now. If you're one of them, take advantage - while stocks last - of some good buys currently available from Majestic Wine Warehouses. They're still selling wines bought in their great Swedish coup, the purchase of stocks from the former state-owned drinks monopoly, and heading the bill this month are three 1989 petit chateau clarets: Graves de By (pounds 6.99), de Lisse (pounds 7.99), and Fournas Bernadotte, Haut-Medoc (pounds 8.99). From other sources they have two bargains in Australian Semillon, Crooked Creek (pounds 2.99) and Penfolds Barrel-Fermented 1994 (pounds 4.99 from pounds 6.99). Or pick up the January list from Layton's (0171 388 4567), featuring 10 to 25 per cent reductions on some tip-top wines. While most lie within the means of ordinary mortals, the leftovers from a private cellar of stupendous clarets are strictly for zillionaires and fantasists. Chateau Margaux 1982 for pounds 5,287 a case? Now that's what I call a drink.

HOME MADE GINGER ALE

this will yield 3 or 4 drinks

100g (4oz) preserved ginger in syrup.

Put the ginger pieces in the blender with a few small spoonfuls of syrup. Add around 50ml (2fl oz) cold water to aid mixing, then process till it begs for mercy. Pour around 30ml (2tbsp) over ice in a tall glass and dilute with cold fizzy water to a strength of around 8:1. The ginger will keep perfectly in the fridge, so it's worth making extra while you've got the blender out.

MANGO, BANANA AND ORANGE JUICE

1 large, ripe mango

juice from half a small lemon

1 banana

juice of 1 large orange

Working over a bowl to catch the juice, peel the mango and cut off the flesh in strips or chunks. Squeeze the stone to extract every last bit of juice, then lick your fingers and wash your hands. Put the mango in your blender with the lemon juice and banana (chopped into manageable pieces) and process till completely smooth. Add the orange juice, blend quickly, then dilute with around one part water for every two of fruit juice (or more orange juice if preferred). This doesn't keep well, make it to order.

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