As of 2020, 38% more people chose to lead a sober lifestyle compared to last year. Consumers are also buying wellness beverages more than ever before. (I mean, say hello to the $4.5 trillion global wellness economy!). 

“People’s careers in hospitality are changing because they are feeling the effects of many years of hangovers and getting sober and they also want to extend their options [to people who are sober]. Also, people want to drink something delicious that also helps their mental health, which is what these wellness drinks offer,” said Bianca Bosker, author of Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste. Because of these reasons, the hospitality business has been growing to meet its sober customers’ demands. 

More Alcohol-Free Options in Bars

“I’ve been in hospitality for the better part of a decade, and not being a big drinker myself, I have always been on the lookout for options, just for me. But as time went on, I was meeting more and more people who didn’t drink, wanted to slow down, or wanted drinks that were low in alcohol,” Haritha Gnanaratna explains about why he and his partner started Temperance Cocktails non-alcoholic drinks (though they are temporarily closed). 

“As time went on, I was meeting more and more people who didn’t drink, wanted to slow down, or wanted drinks that were low in alcohol.”

It goes without saying: Sober bars like Getaway in Brooklyn, Sans Bar in Austin, and non-alcoholic spaces like The Assemblage are on the rise. “2019 was the year sober bars and nightlife spaces evolved into places that are actually fun to socialize,” Katie Way writes for VICE. There are also places like The Rebel Coast Winery and Chicago’s Kumiko, which offer mocktails and replacement drinks that promise to exude similar alcoholic effects, in addition to their alcoholic drinks. 

“I was saddened by the number of guests who had a look of embarrassment when asking for [a mocktail at a regular bar],” Julia Momose, Kumiko’s bartender and the author of Spiritfree: A Manifesto, told Eater about why she started serving spirit-free drinks. Beyond that, music venues are more conscious of expanding their drink menus to include non-alcoholic beverages. Some of these drinks cost upwards of $13, but people are willing to pay the price for a better nightlife experience. Most notably, liquor brands like Corona and Heineken have teamed up with wellness companies to produce non-alcoholic beverages. It may seem like we’re moving the needle in the right direction — but not everyone thinks so. 

Liquor Brands Introduce Non-Alcoholic Options

If alcohol brands harmed people, how do sober people feel about buying their non-alcoholic beverages?

“Brands are capitalizing on a cultural moment. From Dry January to the sober curious movement, sobriety is becoming a full-fledged trend (for better or worse) and these companies see a financial opportunity in it, rather than the countless lives they’ve harmed in marketing alcoholic products so heavily,” writer Sara Radin, who stopped drinking to better her health, explains. 

Caroline, a writer who’s been sober for six years has a similar stance. “Selling non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks shows a lack of understanding of the sober community entirely. In my experience, no one in recovery would drink faux alcohol,” she explains. “If booze companies start selling something normally non-alcoholic like soda or juice or sports drinks, I’d have no issue at all,” she concludes. Still, other people see this controversy differently. 

“Selling non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks shows a lack of understanding of the sober community entirely. In my experience, no one in recovery would drink faux alcohol.”

Are More Alcohol-Free Options Better for Sober Folks?

“I actually love seeing nonalcoholic drink sections popping up on menus! They certainly weren’t the norm when I was getting sober, and it made me feel really alone and ashamed every time I scanned a drink menu and only saw alcoholic options,” Sara Levy, a writer focusing on sobriety and culture explains. “I felt like I didn’t belong, and always felt self-conscious ordering water or soda when everyone else was getting cocktails. These days, I’m more comfortable and still usually stick to seltzer, but I think non-alcoholic bars and drink menus are a great step towards creating more inclusive spaces for sober people,” she adds. 

Melissa Woods, a writer who’s 15 years sober doesn’t demonize alcohol or the brands who sell it. “They didn’t hurt me; I have a disease while a lot of people can socially drink [without a] problem. That said, as a recovered alcoholic, I don’t drink any non-alcoholic beverages such as wines, beers, mocktails. It’s too close to the real thing for me to go there. I never drank for the flavor!” she says. 

If you’re looking for a space to meet up with likeminded people, then going to a non-alcoholic bar or ordering a mocktail at a bar that serves alcohol may be something worth considering. However, buying non-alcoholic beverages produced by liquor brands is based on how you view these company’s influence on one’s alcohol use disorder and the culture of drinking as a whole.