Beverage marketing gurus of the world have been noticing the rise of the non-alcoholic drink market growing beyond the usual catchment of designated drivers, recovering alcoholics and pregnant women.
“Today’s consumer is saying that they can drink alcohol, but they just don’t want to,” Dave Deuser told Forbes in October.
Deuser is the CEO of sales at German brewing giant, Radeberger. The company is launching the first non-alcoholic beer of its 150-year history in January.
As non-drinkers are growing beyond a tiny niche market, beverage producers are providing consumers with an ever-expanding range of options. Retailers are stocking their shelves.
For years, non-drinkers were stuck with pop cans, sparkling apple juices and sketchy “near beers.” Beverage designers have now mastered the 0.0 per cent alcohol lookalike, crafting distilled beverages, some packaged like luxe high-end liquor, with prices to match.
Everything from imported and craft beers boasting 0.0 per cent to distilled botanicals (not to be drank neat) are on Whitehorse shelves. Some of these distilled botanicals are made from seeds and nuts, spiced and balanced for high tones and low tones, with the same care accorded fine perfumes and whiskies.
At Riverside Grocery in downtown Whitehorse, one will find strong-looking cans of Sober Carpenter (0.3 per cent alcohol), Crazy D’s Sparkling Prebiotic and tall bottles of Vyne in the drink cooler. Lower down, cans of new mocktails under the brand Sparkmouth.
At the very back of the store, in the juice section, you’ll find Clever Distilled Gin, Lumuette spirits and Curious Elixirs sitting beside the vegan Ceasar mix.
The Yukon Liquor Corporation is even offering to special order bottles for your private selection, and Yukon Cocktail & Bar Supplies on 2nd Avenue will have all the tools and implements to stir things up.
Takes all types to make a market
Many credit the pandemic with the rise in sobriety, but others recognize that the “sober-curious” movement had legs long before 2020. Tired of hangovers and regrets, even the non-addicted started recommending drink substitutions and trial periods of abstinence.
The trend developed more steam thanks to COVID-19. Finding themselves drinking more, some people paused and began experimenting with not drinking to see how life feels without the party lubricant. Many began for a short time and found they are feeling happier and healthier without their usual evening beers, or party-harder weekends.
“I wasn’t an alcoholic, I just thought I would quit for a year and see what happened,” George, a Yukoner who asked to be identified only by his first name, told the News.
“I felt so much better and was exercising and I lost weight. Then I decided I would just not drink for another year.”
That was three years ago.
“What I didn’t expect was the hard time I got from my friends, thinking there was something wrong with me that I didn’t have a beer when we went out for a drink,” he said.
Another woman expressed a similar sentiment.
“I quit for a bit over the summer and felt great. I wanted to keep going, but there is just so much alcohol up here — it’s everywhere. I couldn’t keep it going.”
Another woman, a recovered alcoholic, expressed disdain at the Yukon’s preoccupation with liquor and disregard for non-alcoholic options—bars without mocktails, and hosts with nothing but soda cans pulled out from the back of the fridge as an afterthought.
“Give me a virgin mojito any day. It’s really good drink, but only two bars in town offer it. I love mocktails,” she said. “I didn’t stop drinking to stay home.”
Making not drinking normal
Emma Eaton, a manager at Yukon’s mental wellness and substance use services, says its important “not to push people” to have a drink over the holidays.
It’s important to offer a wide range of drink options, right from the very start, and not to pry as to why someone doesn’t drink, she said.
Eaton says it is important for people who don’t drink to feel included and still feel part of an extended family or group of friends. One way to do this is to give them the same kind of glass, but with a non-alcoholic drink it.
“People who are not drinking don’t want to feel singled out,” Eaton said.
Christmas can trigger memories of past holidays gone terribly wrong, disappointments, and embarrassments. For those in early recovery, it can be a hard time to socialize, and to know when and where to not socialize.
It’s important to give people in early recovery enough space to make a phone call, leave or whatever they may need to stay comfortable and sober during the holidays, she explained.
Eaton also challenged people to be creative and design holiday activities around something other than drinking – board games or outdoor activities. She also thought people might have alcohol-free gatherings to stay healthy or honour the sobriety of people who may be in recovery.
The goal “is to make not drinking seem just as normal as drinking,” she said.
Contact Lawrie Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org