The Year of Alcoholic-Free Beer and Cocktails

Last year, something called “the new sobriety” took off in a big way and that trend shows no signs of abating. “No longer do you have to feel left out or uncool for being sober,” declared Alex Williams in the New York Times

Being “sober curious” has caught on and you don’t necessarily have to forget about cocktails, either—just the alcohol. Alcohol-free beer is more popular than ever and there are even non-alcohol whiskey and gin alternatives now. 

Ritual Zero Proof—a new company making non-alcoholic gin and whiskey products—was launched last September. Fortune reports that “it had, at the time, a six-month surplus of its product ready to roll out. That inventory sold out in six weeks. The company quickly ramped up production by 400 percent to keep up with demand. And by the end of the year, that stockpile had been largely exhausted.”

Denver may be notorious as the binge-drinking capital of the United States, but many bars in the mile-high city are now serving specialty mixed drinks that are alcohol-free, catering to a growing clientele that is turning its back on America’s drinking culture.

“For these New Abstainers, sobriety is a thing to be, yes, toasted over $15 artisanal mocktails at alcohol-free nights at chic bars around the country, or at ‘sober-curious’ yoga retreats, or early-morning dance parties for those with no need to sleep off the previous night’s bender,” wrote Williams.

On top of that general trend, many people are currently observing “Dry January.” As the phrase implies, the objective is to remain sober throughout the month of January. The campaign originated a few years ago in the UK and is now catching on in the United States as well.

“Dry January” and the new sobriety are certainly healthy trends considering America’s traditional infatuation with intoxicating liquors. “America had been awash in drink almost from the start—wading hip-deep in it, swimming in it, at various times in its history nearly drowning in it,” noted Daniel Okrent in “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.” 

Millennials and Gen Zers, however, are drinking less than older generations, in part because they are more health-conscious but also because of fears that their inebriated behavior may end up in social media posts. Big brewing companies have taken notice of this generational change and reacted accordingly. 

Anheuser-Busch InBev launched twelve new alcohol-free or low-alcohol beers in 2018. Budweiser's parent company plans to increase the volume of global beer sales from brews with lower or no alcohol to 20 percent by 2025. 

2018 was also the best in a decade for Heineken, the world’s second-largest beer maker. “One of the big drivers was its alcohol-free Heineken 0.0, which was launched in the summer of 2017, and is now seeing sales grow at a double-digit clip, reported Axios last year. “The popularity is apparently the result of a confluence of increased health consciousness among younger consumers and FOMO (fear of missing out).”

Alcohol is an addictive substance and excessive alcohol consumption may cause an alcohol use disorder. “Any potential benefits of alcohol are relatively small and may not apply to all individuals,” is the cautious advice of the Mayo Clinic experts. “While moderate alcohol use may offer some health benefits, heavy drinking — including binge drinking — has no health benefits.”

If you don't drink alcohol, don't start because of potential health benefits or to fit in. If you want to be cool in 2020, have a mocktail or an alcohol-free brew instead of that unhealthy double martini.