Teetotal Tipples

Being ‘off the bottle’ no longer means having to glug childish, sugar-laden sodas. Alcohol-free has undergone a serious upgrade, and a slew of artisanal, natural alternatives is on hand to quench your thirst.

It’s official: Alcohol isn’t cool anymore. According to 2018 trend lists, the recent health craze that has taken over social media now extends to beverages, with the non-alcoholic type becoming the tipple of choice for many consumers, particularly millennials.

Not only are they concerned about the effects of alcohol on their body, but they are tired of spending their precious weekends hungover, with the fallout of skipped gym sessions and poor food choices.

Ruby Warrington and Biet Simkin, co-founders of CLUB SÖDA, an event series for the “sober curious,” say that alcohol may also feel out of place in a health-obsessed culture. “People are investing a lot of time and money in their well-being – physical, emotional, mental – and then drinking a bottle of rosé on a Friday night. For more and more people, the obvious disconnect is being revealed.”

Another motivator for millennials to reign in their drinking is a craving for authentic experiences and connections. According to Eventbrite’s 2017 report ‘Brighter Futures: Challenging perceptions of Millennials’, the current generation deems it “pathetic” to over-drink and are shifting their focus away from socializing with alcohol. Forty-two percent of 18-24-year-olds said they drink less alcohol than three years ago and instead would rather save their money to attend events or experiences. And not just because of the hangovers.

Forty-two percent of 18-24-year-olds said they drink less alcohol than three years ago

With mindfulness, mental health and positive self-image being major talking points in society at large, millennials are less inhibited about opening up than previous generations. Frankly, alcohol often doesn’t fit in with the image this generation wishes to embody and portray.

“It’s not that alcohol is required for fun to be facilitated, it’s that (traditionally) it’s used for people to reduce their inhibitions. Today, millennials have found different strategies for overcoming and diverting those inhibitions,” says report contributor, Dr. Ben Fincham, senior lecturer in Sociology at The University of Sussex and author of “The Sociology of Fun.”

With ‘mindful drinking’ events like CLUB SÖDA and sober raves like Morning Gloryville popping up in London and New York, there are now social events and media platforms where like-minded people can connect. The aim is often not to cut out alcohol completely but about cultivating “mindfulness around drinking and questioning what effort they are putting toward bliss in their life, other than shooting mezcal down,” Simkin says.

Since the change stems from health-consciousness, millennials are not replacing alcohol with sugar-laden, calorific fizzy drinks. Instead, they are opting for small-batch sodas, flavored sparkling waters, cold brew coffee and fermented beverages like kombucha. Handcrafted beverages with complex, natural flavors and sophisticated packaging are filling retailers’ shelves, and the onus is on bars to create refreshing alcohol-free options that not only taste delicious but look ‘insta-worthy’, making the consumer feel part of the in-crowd.

Handcrafted beverages with complex, natural flavors and sophisticated packaging are filling retailers’ shelves

Just look at Seedlip, the world’s first distilled non-alchoholic drink, with its artisanal aesthetic and mature flavors: Garden 108 is “a blend of hand-picked peas & homegrown hay” and Spice 94 is “a complex blend of aromatic, Jamaican all spice berry and cardamom with two barks and a bright citrus peel finishes.” Designed to be mixed with tonic and a garnish, they’re a far cry from fizzy pop at a kids’ party. In 2016 Seedlip became the first non-alcoholic product to win investment from Diageo, the world’s largest distiller, in its 250-year history.

The Cayman Islands has a strong culture of happy hours and sundowners. Something about the beautiful weather makes a cocktail seem even more appealing. But with the warm climate comes the constant pressure to be beach body ready at the drop of a hat and that in turn makes it a very health conscious place to live. With fitness communities like CrossFit and F45 going from strength to strength, not to mention the runners striding up and down Seven Mile beach morning, noon and night, it is nearly impossible to ignore the health and wellness attitudes of people here.

Espresso ‘MartiNO’ made with non-alcoholic spirit, Seedlip. Photo by Rob Lawson.

As a result, local bars have been upping the game when it comes to non-alcoholic options that look as good as they taste.

“A health-conscious lifestyle is becoming more and more popular, I think this is the reason non-alcoholic cocktails are booming,” agrees Gabor Molnar, Anchor & Den’s head bartender. “The soda industry is changing worldwide, and consumers are turning more towards handcrafted sodas made from natural ingredients instead of the traditional huge brands.”

“In a hotel the clientele is very diverse; we have a lot of guests who don’t drink alcohol and it’s important for us to offer them something that is tastier and more exciting than the usual soda pops that they can get just about anywhere,” he says.

With a focus on making as many ingredients from scratch in-house as possible, Anchor & Den has created a list of natural handcrafted sodas, pairing flavors such as passionfruit and ginger or blueberry and basil. Gabor says: “The idea to incorporate non-alcoholic beverages came naturally. There is definitely room to grow. There are a lot of talented and curious bartenders on the island, and experimenting with flavors is fun even without alcoholic ingredients.”

“There are a lot of talented and curious bartenders on the island, and experimenting with flavors is fun even without alcoholic ingredients.”

Coccoloba’s drinks menu includes a Mint Fizz – a zero-alcohol mojito with lime, mint and soda – along with a ‘fruitaholic’ punch and iced teas. Kirk Market has also expanded its selection of fruit-flavored waters and handcrafted sodas, which come in stylish, muted packaging. Look out for Belvoir Fruit Farms, which offer an array of fruit pressés, cordials and “wines without the hangover” (Shiraz, Chardonnay and Rosé varieties), and Spindrift, a line of canned sparkling waters flavored with fresh fruit (“yup, that’s it” the slogan proclaims). In a bottle of Firefly’s botanical juice, meanwhile, you might find rosemary, green tea and kola nut, but not a drop of alcohol.

Smaller stores such as Jessie’s Juice Bar are producing cold brew coffee, cold pressed juices and kombucha as clean alternatives to the usual sundowner.

Health trends aside, there are of course plenty of other instances when whipping up a non-alcoholic punch or a couple of mocktails can win you an invitation to the next party – pregnant women, designated drivers and teenagers will all welcome a refreshing sip.

At home, take inspiration from books like “Mocktails: The Complete Bartender’s Guide,” available at Books and Books. Author Kester Thompson creates “refreshing soda- and juice-based blends that forgo the alcohol but keep the flavor.”

So, whether it’s the odd night-off in the build up to a sporting event or a longer break from the booze, ordering the non-alcoholic option thankfully no longer means being stuck with an uninspiring Coca-Cola or a sickly-sweet Shirley Temple. Cheers to that!

Tips:

  • Make a sparkling sangria with a combination of fruit juice and La Croix. Garnish with fresh fruit and lots of ice.
  • With endless flavor fusions available and without the added cost of spirits, it’s easier to try unusual mocktail combinations without the fear of getting it wrong. Try pineapple juice topped with ginger beer.
  • If you don’t fancy forgoing the alcohol, you can still enjoy the vast range of premium mixers on the market. Swap out soda water for La Croix to get a fruiter taste or mix Fever Tree Elderflower tonic in your G&T for a floral-botanical twist.