The No-Alcohol Renaissance

Whether you’re in the culinary industry or simply looking to be social, if you choose not to drink alcohol, there used to be only two choices you had: either skip out on the bar with your friends, or sit there with an overly sweet Shirley Temple or Coke while your friends sip on carefully curated cocktails. 

In the past ten years, however, there’s been an explosion in non-alcoholic drink options — whether for home consumption or at the bar. Part of this new trend may be that more people are choosing to reduce their alcohol intake, and part of it may be the beverage industry riding on the coattails of successful innovations like La Croix sparkling waters.  

This week’s edition of Weekly Bites is all about giving love and attention to the amazing non-alcoholic drink options out there! 

Why would people choose a non-alcoholic drink? Some may be looking to reduce their alcohol intake, especially with events like  “The Dry January” challenge gaining more followers every year. Non-alcoholic options are especially popular with people who enjoy the complex tastes that alcoholic drinks offer, yet are looking for a way to indulge without the morning hangover. 

Others might have a complicated history with alcohol and prefer to completely abstain, or never drank alcohol to begin with, whether for health or religious reasons. For those who don’t drink at all, these beverage innovations provide fun new experiences, especially when being social. 

We gathered two articles all about the new no-alcohol craze, especially because including non-alcoholic drinks at your restaurant, bar, or hotel is an important step towards inclusivity. You may just be surprised by how popular these options can become!

Big alcohol needs to get sober

Non-alcoholic beverages are taking a big gulp out of the beverage market, and the big alcohol companies want in on the action. 

Bon Appetit’s article “Big Alcohol Is Bracing for a More Sober Future” credits the wellness industry for saturating the market with non-alcoholic drinks. Keep in mind that it was written in 2019, and it projected a growth in non-alcoholic beverages of 32% from 2018-2022. 

It’s important to note that people are not drinking less. Instead, the beverage world is following the general trend away from the mass- produced towards higher quality, artisanal, smaller batches.

Seedlip’s 2015 debut of liquor alternatives snagged our attention, with beautiful botanic-heavy branding and the use of words like “aromatic”, “top notes”, and “mouthfeel” that are usually the purview of the wine and spirits world. Some no-alcohol brands focus more on the health benefits of their products, while others lure their audience with the promise of a replacement for the ritual aspect of preparing a cocktail. 

With the rise of shrubs, drinking vinegars, kombucha, liquor alternatives and more, big names in alcohol are making moves of their own. 

AB InBev, which owns brands like Corona and Budweiser, have pledged to increase their low or no-alcohol options to at least 20% of their global beer volume by 2025. Other beverage giants – like Distill Ventures which owns Smirnoff, Jonnie Walker, Tanqueray and more – are responding by investing in and buying alcohol alternative brands. 

The queer history of kombucha 

Kombucha, a fermented tea, is not technically alcohol-free, nor was it developed to be an alcohol substitute. Kombucha is now a grocery store staple, but it was originally brought to the U.S. in the early 90s. The Queer History of Kombucha outlines a history of kombucha in the U.S. that’s less well known. We’re including it on this Weekly Bites because kombucha has become a favorite among people who don’t consume alcoholic drinks. It’s becoming an increasingly common sight to see at least one kombucha available on tap at breweries.

Kombucha does have some alcohol in it (less than .5%), so it may not be suitable for people who are avoiding alcohol due to pregnancy or other health issues. Kombucha is considered halal according to Islamic law, but of course you should use your own comfort level and community guidelines when deciding whether to drink kombucha or not. 

Norman Baker was among the first people to preach the power of kombucha in the U.S. Baker came from a background of spirituality and healing, so when he discovered kombucha he claimed that it could heal all sorts of diseases. 

His approach was reminiscent of the “All is One” ramblings of Dr. Bronner’s, mixed with the particularly 90s cult-like marketing strategies. One of those strategies was to ship off SCOBYs (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast – the start of all kombucha) across the country. 

In The Queer History of Kombucha, author Mayukh Sen talks about the little-known history of kombucha in queer communities: “The drink gained particular favor among members of the queer community of Los Angeles with H.I.V. and AIDS, whose only medical option for treatment was azidothymidine (AZT), an antiretroviral medication. During a time when H.I.V. and AIDS patients were pathologized as victims of an incurable gay cancer, kombucha was a folk remedy that presented an ideal sanctuary from the snare of Western medicine.”

Kombucha does not, of course, cure any disease. Sandor Katz, a queer farmer and kombucha maker in Tennessee, is working hard to counteract some of the harmful misinformation that Baker spread. Katz, who has lived with AIDS since 1991, says that fermented foods and drinks like kombucha have been an integral part of his healing, not because kombucha is a  miracle healer, but because of its healthy gut supportive properties. 

With the hundreds of ‘booch brands available and an even more impressive array of flavors, it can be easy to forget this part of the history of kombucha in America. 

Some of the biggest kombucha brands out there in stores are GT’s Synergy, Health-Aide, and Kevita. When thinking about which kombucha to store in your establishment, try to find opportunities to collaborate with local ‘booch brewers. It’s a great way to showcase local flavors on your menu. 

Healthier together — we were at NRA!

We wanted to drop a note about how important community is in the restaurant and hospitality industry. We loved seeing all of you at this year’s National Restaurant Association show! 

May was Mental Health Awareness Month, and being able to make in-person  connections reminded us about how important community is for mental health and wellbeing. 

With the long hours and stressful business decisions, food and hospitality hasn’t always been the best industry for mental health. At Chef Works, we’re devoted to fostering the kind of community where we can all lift each other up, and provide the support we deserve. 

Here are 3 tips for mental health support that you may find helpful: 

  • Work on getting enough sleep (we know that this can be very difficult but small steps turn into bigger steps) ) 
  • Set aside some time for you to unwind, even if it’s just 15-30 minutes
  • Take the time to sit down and have a meal — really! One calm, non-hectic meal. Take your time. Enjoy the meal and breathe. 

Whether it’s normalizing non-alcoholic beverages, or creating more opportunities for building connections, how would you help improve mental health and mental health awareness in the industry?


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