top of page

Drinking Without... Drinking Is Kind of a Party

Adults are swapping wine, beer and spirits for non-alcoholic or low-alcohol alternatives that don’t compromise on taste.

Customers enjoy non-alcoholic drinks at a fictional bar called Zero Proof
Asking the bartender to accommodate a mocktail version is out. Ordering a zero-proof beverage made for the sober-curious customer is in. Illustration by Tim Le

A growing number of people are getting a buzz from not getting buzzed, and the options to satisfy their sobriety are multiplying.

This year, the U.S. non-alcoholic drinks market is expected to surpass $90 billion in revenue, according to Statista. Nearly 152 million people in the U.S. will consume non-alcoholic beverages by 2028, when projected market volume is expected to grow to $273 billion.

A number of factors are driving growth in the non-alcoholic beverages category, and founders and CEOs point to the mainstream health and wellness movement as the leading one.

“There is this knowledge base of health and wellness that wasn't there twenty-five, even fifteen years ago,” says Brooks Addington, CEO, TÖST, a brand selling non-alcoholic sparkling beverages.

On Instagram, TÖST counts about 37,000 followers, 45 percent of whom are between the ages of 24 and 45. Beyond the U.S., the brand sells in South Korea, Iceland, Nigeria, Mexico and Canada.

“This is a global movement,” Addington says.

Sheetal Aiyer, CEO of Boisson, a retailer of non-alcoholic beverages, says consumers are more health-conscious and experience-driven than ever. Boisson sells direct-to-consumer via its website and bricks-and-mortar locations in Cobble Hill, Williamsburg and the West Village.

“People are much more concerned and considerate about what they put into their bodies, where things come from and how that impacts them on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean people don’t want to have an experience,” Aiyer says. “What we and several others in the space are trying to do is capitalize on what the alc-bev industry did very well: They made it about the occasion.”

Sales data supports the idea that consumers are revenge spending on experiences, including eating out and drinking. In November, eating and drinking places, defined as the primary component of the U.S. restaurant and foodservice industry, registered $94.7 billion in total sales on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the National Restaurant Association, citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In the nine months leading up to November 2023, eating and drinking places saw sales increase 8.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis. During the same period, non-restaurant retail sectors saw a 1.7 percent sales.

The health-conscious patron abstaining from alcohol has more options than ever – and they’re made with her in mind. Frankie’s 457 Spuntino now serves Phony Negronis from the non-alcoholic brand St. Agrestis. Dae recently hosted an in-person event sponsored by Aplós, another non-alcoholic spirits brand. 

Asking the bartender to accommodate a mocktail version is out. Ordering a zero-proof beverage made for the sober-curious customer is in.

At Talea in Cobble Hill, non-alcoholic beer is on tap, and the menu includes a flight of non-alcoholic beer. The women-owned brewery began offering their non-alcoholic beer flight in January 2023. This year, sales of the flight have more than doubled.

“There are so many reasons you don’t want to drink, but you shouldn’t feel like you have to stay at home,” says LeAnn Darland, co-founder, Talea. “We want to promote a balanced lifestyle. That means you can come in and have a non-alc beer, maybe another beer, a glass of wine, or not.”

Talea’s flagship taproom and brewery are in Williamsburg, with additional taprooms in Cobble Hill, West Village and Bryant Park. The Cobble Hill taproom operates like a café during the day. On a recent morning, customers bought coffee from the bar and worked from bar tables on their laptops. The taproom offers programming, such as yoga and stroller meets, designed for a variety of unlikely customers – moms, for example – who practice wellness.

Balance and moderation are core to the psychographic of the growing set of consumers buying non-alc. According to Nielsen IQ, 82 percent of people who buy non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits also purchase products containing alcohol.

“Our biggest demographic is people who drink,” says Lauren Dickerson, regional manager for the Northeast U.S. at Lyre’s, an Australian non-alcoholic spirits brand offering “base spirit” substitutes for gin, tequila and whiskey. “Most people are looking for an option to slow down their drinking.”

Lyre’s refers to this demographic as “switchers,” meaning people who might be “switching within the night between alcohol and non-alcohol, or doing Dry January or Dry July, or just want to take a week [off from drinking] and sleep better,” Dickerson says. The company sees the greatest opportunity to grow its customer base in Gen Z.

Lyre’s best-selling product is American Malt, a whiskey substitute, though Dickerson notes the Amalfi Spritz, a non-alcoholic take on the Aperol Spritz, is trending.

“[Amalfi Spritz] is probably my third-highest sku in the New York area,” she says.

Sales of non-alcoholic spirits are growing, with non-alcoholic beer leading the overall category. Non-alcoholic beer accounted for the majority – 85.3 percent – of sales of non-alcoholic drinks in the U.S. between August 2021 and August 2022, according to Nielsen IQ. 

While beverage conglomerates with robust operations and other resources might seamlessly go to market with a non-alcoholic beer, Talea’s co-founders found the process “challenging and expensive,” Darland says.

“It took us a while to find a service that's able to take our finished beer, run it through a vacuum distillation process and spit out non-alc beer,” she said, noting Talea’s brewery doesn’t have the machinery for this process in-house. “It’s basically taking our finished product, adding another 50 percent of costs onto it, but the result is a non-alc option.”

Whole Foods is currently testing Talea’s non-alcoholic beer in a handful of its stores. 

The flavor profiles of Talea’s non-alcoholic and alcoholic beers are meant to appeal to people – especially women – who don’t normally enjoy the taste of lager or IPA, says Tara Hankinson, co-founder, Talea.

“We're known for our sour beers, [which] are tart and use fruit,” Hankinson says. “If you normally drink a glass of wine or a cocktail, this beer is the closest thing to your preferred drink of choice. It's the bridge we're extending to people who aren’t beer drinkers.”

Advances in distillation technology are integral to closing the taste delta between alcoholic favorites and non-alcoholic alternatives. Prima Pavé, whose non-alcoholic sparkling wines have won 13 awards in the past 18 months, takes a “vineyard to bottle approach” in Italy, where its wines are produced, says Marco Marano, co-founder.

“It starts with sustainably farmed grapes, depending on which expression,” Marano says. “Every bottle goes through the traditional wine-making process, so you're getting that complexity, that mouthfeel, that quality and sense of terroir.” 

There are a number of ways to dealcoholize wine, including spinning cone technology and high heat distillation. Prima Pavé uses a “low and slow method,” Marano says.

“It takes weeks, it’s more labor-intensive, but we feel that it preserves the character of wines,” he says.

More from Court Street Journal:

330 views0 comments


bottom of page