Consumer Trends

Restaurants and bars up their zero-alcohol game to keep pace with Dry January

Drinkers who overindulged during the holidays and the growing ranks of sober-curious consumers are gravitating toward alcohol-free cocktails this month. Operators are meeting the demand with more creative options.
no alcohol cocktails
Photo courtesy of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises

The new year is a popular time to jumpstart a healthier lifestyle, and for more consumers, that means cutting back or abstaining from alcohol. So much so, that Dry January has now become a national challenge taken on by millions of Americans—a 31-day commitment to give up beer, wine and cocktails.

Lucky for them, restaurants and bars are responding to the move with better-tasting and better-quality alcohol-free cocktails, crafting them with fresh ingredients, high-end zero-proof spirits and the same expertise that goes into a boozy drink.

There’s a receptive audience waiting to sip them.

This year, 19% of adults say they are participating in Dry January. That’s up from 13% who said the same in 2021, according to Morning Consult, a global tech company specializing in intelligent data.

Certain age groups are more likely to jump on the trend than others this month.

Share of respondents participating in Dry January

Source: Morning Consult

But Morning Consult found that the commitment is “more damp than dry,” as only half of participants plan to abstain from alcohol completely, while the rest are taking a more moderate approach that merely involves less drinking.

Nevertheless, zero- and low-proof cocktails were cited by several forecasters as one of the top trends of 2022 and they’ve become must-haves on the bar menu.

Restaurants answer the call

The Ocean Restaurant at Cape Arundel Inn & Resort on the Maine coast crafts drinks to cheer the chilly January mood. “As the snow falls and temperatures in Maine stay frigid, we have created some mocktails that transport us to a tropical island in spirit,” said bar manager Jaap Schothuis. “While spiritless, our passion fruit-and-pineapple Tropical Fizz and Mango Ginger Mule are the perfect choice for those looking to commit to a Dry January following a festive holiday season.”

At Earth at Hidden Pond in In Kennebunkport, Maine “we’re excited to kickstart the New Year serving thoughtfully crafted beverages derived from our popular cocktails, but without the alcohol,” said food & beverage director Robyn Mack. Zero-proof drinks are crafted from homemade and locally sourced ingredients, such as the Whitecap Mule (housemade grenadine, fresh lime and Maine root ginger beer) and the Port Spritzer (fresh lemon, mixed berry shrub and soda water.)

blackberry fizz

Photo courtesy of Commons Club

Although the weather is balmier in New Orleans, mixologists tend to go for warm winter flavors in January. “Spirit guide” Christy Bradley at NOLA’s Commons Club does a Spiced Blackberry Fizz combining warm winter spices such as star anise, cinnamon and allspice with blackberries to create a spiced shrub, then adding egg white and ginger beer for depth, froth and a bit of fizz.

The Why Am I Mr. Pink was created at L.A. Jackson in Nashville expressly for Dryuary. It’s made with lemon, grapefruit, cinnamon and pear syrup, then topped with soda.

Hibiscus lemonade

Photo courtesy of Mister Mao

Several bartenders take cues from the restaurant kitchen to give alcohol-free drinks a culinary spin. The Hibiscus Masala Lemonade at Mister Mao in New Orleans reflects the Asian menu, with its mix of hibiscus tea, chaat masala, fresh lime and housemade ginger syrup, garnished with marigolds

Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises also offers alcohol-free drinks that reflect the cuisine at a number of its Chicago concepts.

Tapas restaurant Café Ba-Ba-Reeba is serving up Virgin Sangria as a Dry January special at $6 a glass or $24 for a pitcher. RPM Italian and Pizzeria Portofino are offering the Seaside Spritz made with yuzu—a takeoff on the popular Italian-born Aperol Spritz—and the Waitlist, a combo of elderflower, rose and lemon.

At LEYE’s casual seafood spot, Quality Crab & Oyster Bah, there’s a Virgin Cape Cod called the Cape May; it’s a blend of house-made cranberry juice, sage syrup and fresh lemon. Also on the menu is the Ginger Island with fresh pineapple, ginger, lime, mint and angostura.

Three Dots and a dash

Photo courtesy of Three Dots and a Dash

Three Dots and a Dash, the brand’s destination bar for complex tiki-style drinks, created the new Con Artist for Dry January. It’s a mix of cocoa nibs, Chinese five spice powder, cinnamon bark and a house-made tea brewed with Costa Rican single estate cocoa nibs, balancing a slight bitterness with sweetness.

Thomas Mizuno-Moore, senior beverage director with LEYE, emphasizes the importance of balance and flavor when crafting zero-proof cocktails. “We invest the same R&D into zero-alcohol cocktails as we do with traditional drinks, providing guests with the same celebratory experience whether they choose to indulge or abstain,” he said.

Beyond January

The growing ranks of sober-curious consumers opt for alcohol-free cocktails all or some of the time throughout the year. Last August, Hyatt Hotels launched Zero Proof, Zero Judgement across several of its brands cater to these customers and focus on wellness.

“Zero Proof, Zero Judgement was inspired by the success my team and I saw after launching a Dry January cocktail menu in 2020,” said Anna Welker, “sober bar manager” at the Hotel Revival Baltimore. “As my own habits and needs changed, Hyatt was also noticing the drinking culture of our guests evolving in a more mindful way.”

Anna Welker

Sober Bar Manager Anna Welker; photo courtesy of Hyatt Hotels

The program ensures that any guest looking for non-alcoholic options was met with understanding and empowerment with a thoughtful and delicious menu designed just for them. One signature drink is Dorothy in the Daytime, a nod to the martini-loving Dorothy Parker. Welker crafts it with an alcohol-free gin alternative, elderflower tonic and spicy ginger beer, a soft drink.

“We’ve always gotten requests for non-alcoholic drinks, long before the ‘sober curious’ movement had a name,” said Welker, “but the demand is clearly rising, and as we continue to listen to our guests, we know they want options to help them be more intentional about how, when and why they drink.”

Selina Chicago is another hotel where wellness plays a big role on the beverage menu. At the hotel’s in-house restaurant, the drinks list offers carefully crafted cocktails using zero-proof spirits made with non-alcoholic tequila, whiskey and rum and fresh juice

And sober curious bars are popping up outside of hotels. Eli Tea Bar, which got its start in Michigan, opened a location in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood in December. The concept offers a full menu of zero-alcohol specialty drinks with a focus to provide a sober hangout space that is welcoming to the LGBTQ community, according to owner Elias Majid.

 

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