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Behind the Bottle

The zero-proof lifestyle is in style and more accessible than ever

Rise of the liquor-free liquor store

We live in a world where we’re constantly surrounded by the sexy and glamorous allure of alcohol, but if you look closely, you’ll find plenty of fun and celebratory zero-proof options, too.

City streets that are filled with enticing liquor stores are now welcoming booze-free spirit shops, and both sober and sober-curious city dwellers are reveling in the refreshing shift. Alcohol-free beverages are skyrocketing in popularity, and it’s not a coincidence. Boisson, a new alcohol-free spirit shop company, recently closed a $12 million seed round, which is a massive accomplishment, and proof is in the numbers. The non-alcoholic drink market reached more than $3 billion in sales in 2021, according to Nielsen.

Boisson already has five locations in New York with three more set to open soon in Los Angeles. I visited the Upper East Side location in New York City, and it was a glamorous experience, filled with more hospitality and warmth than any liquor store I’ve been to.

The company’s founder, Nick Bodkins, said he launched Boisson in New York in 2021 with the intention of “providing non-alcoholic spirits in a welcoming, judgment-free zone that sparks curiosity.” After a visit to Boisson’s Upper East Side store, I can confidently say that his vision has been fulfilled.

Like many people during the pandemic, Nick and his business partner Barrie Arnold began “reconsidering” their drinking habits and experimenting with non-alcoholic options. For some, this means swapping weekday wine with a non-alcoholic beverage, and for others, it means completely cutting out alcohol. During this self-discovery process, Bodkins and Arnold found a vast world of amazing zero-proof alternatives that got them rethinking their relationship with alcohol. 

They aren’t the only ones who are capitalizing on this new lifestyle shift. While there was a drinking boom during the early days of the pandemic, even The New York Times is reporting that many millennials are opting to drink less and go for alcohol-free options. Earlier this year, they published a story titled, The Wine Business Sees a Problem: Millennials Aren’t Drinking Enough.”

The pandemic accelerated the trend, for sure, but I think the building blocks were already there,” Jason LaValla, founder of Casamara Club, a non-alcoholic soda company, said. He started working on building the company in 2017 because the non-alcoholic lifestyle shift had already started bubbling up as a trend. He asked himself, “If you want people to feel good under your roof, why make your guests’ comfort conditional on whether or not they want to drink alcohol?” 

Non-alcoholic beverage company Töst also caught onto the trend before the pandemic. The company launched in 2017, and soon after, the team behind the beverage company recognized the early rumblings of the sober curious movement,  particularly in Europe. “While the pandemic increased society’s focus on personal health – both physical and emotional – the mindfulness movement was already in gear,” Brooks Addington, the CEO of Töst, said. 

The popularity of the non-alcoholic movement is continuing to soar outside of brick-and-mortar stores, too. It’s even seeping into pop culture with celebrities like Bella Hadid opening up about being more mindful when it comes to alcohol consumption. “In a society where so much centers on drinking alcohol, it can take a reeducation moment to reconsider what the act of drinking means for adults,” Bodkins said. People are looking to take better care of themselves, and with that comes the need for options that work in place of traditional alcoholic beverages, he added. “Once the stigma subsided a bit, it became more and more commonplace and the movement really flourished,” he noted.

The sober curious trend is an extension of people paying closer attention to what they eat and drink, Alex Doman, the cofounder of AVEC, a non-alcoholic drink company, said. His view is that sobriety has only minorly increased in popularity, but moderation or “flexi-drinking” has seen a big upswing. “I really think that almost everyone is thinking more before having another glass,” he said. “Moderation and alcohol are both here to stay.”

The market is rapidly expanding with a wide range of options to have at home or bring to parties. You no longer need to fill your bar cart with whiskeys and tequilas or grab a beer when you’re feeling awkward at a party. A sexy zero-proof bar cart is actually an option now, and non-alcoholic beverages come in delicious flavors with fun packaging. With brands like Ghia, Ritual and De Soi hitting the market, you don’t need to drink – or show off – bottles of alcohol to fit in and feel cool.

So what makes a good zero-proof drink? How do they set themselves apart from an average soda, seltzer or juice? “The best drinks are the ones that remind me of a feeling or an experience,” LaValla said. For Casamara Club, he works to create recipes that taste “approachable, with just the right balance between sweet, tart, and herbal,” but he still aims to have complex, aromatic flavor profiles that evolve and change as you drink the beverage.

Ultimately, we are living in a world where sobriety and curiosity around sobriety is becoming less stigmatized and more normalized. “People are looking for an elevated experience,” Addington said. “They want the occasion – they just don’t necessarily want the alcohol.” This demand drives innovation. “Right now, we’re seeing a massive amount of innovation, which certainly makes it fun and exciting.”

Alexis Benveniste is a writer and editor who loves trying new NA drinks. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Bloomberg, Vanity Fair and other notable outlets.

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