An impressive number of friends that I had gone out for dinner in the past months told me that they had stopped drinking. They did so two weeks ago, or have been off alcohol for several months. Their reasons for staying away from alcohol vary, like not feeling like it, feeling more health-conscious, or maybe having had one of their friends get a DUI and make them realize that this is not worth it.
Whatever their reasons are, I can relate to them. I stopped drinking two-and-a-half years ago. I just made it my New-Year’s-resolution. Not that I drank much before, but the occasional glass of wine every other day, or a beer with friends every other week. Going cold-turkey wasn’t really a problem. But still, for weeks you could feel a craving, and when you had made it a habit passing by the wine shelves in the supermarket, I had to stop it and look for an alternative route.
While some of my friends really went full non-alcohol, others may allow the occasional glass of champagne for celebrating a birthday. It’s more a spectrum of sobriety, in the sense of meat-eater <-> vegetarian <-> vegan.
Drinks Missing In Action
Drinking non-alcoholic beverages is easy, you think? Well, here is the funny thing. While waiters hand you full booklets with dozens of pages of wines, cocktails, beers, and spirits, that restaurants give you at the dinner table, the non-alcoholic section is often not more than two or three lines. Sodas, juices, and water. And empathic waiters will give you the option to have a cocktail prepared without the alcohol.
It’s stunning. Almost no restaurant or bar has a selection of non-alcoholic drinks that you would call “a selection.” It’s like they are missing-in-action and nobody cares. While there are bar tenders specialized in cocktails of all sorts, and fancy restaurants having their own sommelier making wine recommendations, non-alcoholic drinks seem to be the step-children in the hospitality industry.
Nobody seems to curate the selection of non-alcoholic beverages. It’s not even an afterthought. But I could imagine quite a number of options. Let’s start with sodas. I am not really into the Coke-Fanta-Sprite-selection that you get everywhere, including free refills. Neither are lemonades making my dinner better. Sparkling water, that I prefer is fine, but it’s not really adding to the experience.
The juice options – especially in the U.S. – are often limited. If they are available, they range from orange to cranberry juice. That sounds like breakfast. And cocktails without alcohol? For the same price and no taste?
The status quo with non-alcoholic beverages today reminds me of the coffee and beer culture just a few decades ago. What you got in the U.S. was drip coffee with refill, or Bud, Miller or whatever they called beer – and that was it. Thanks to the pioneering work of Starbucks (yes, that Starbucks) a lot of independent coffee makers came in their wake, settling in urban areas and bringing good coffee drinks to the people. The start of microbreweries across North-America brought us beer in flavors, brews, and variations one could never imagine.
The options for new coffee brews and beer seem to have no ceiling.
Here is what I would like to see, and I start with soda. It’s not just the Coca-Cola or Pepsi-empires that have sodas. There are a number of independent soda companies that add difference to the market, such as Fentimans from the UK. And I am sure there are hundreds of them, if you just start looking. At least when I browse the selection at the candy-store chain Rocket Fizz, I can see dozens of differently flavored bottles from as many makers.
But I am not done. How about non-soda drinks with mild flavors? Starting with juices based on vegetables, added spices, treated through fermentation, chilled or hot, and what not, and you could created a selection that easily beats today’s wine lists. And compose them to got with the food on your table.
Dreaming Of Beverage Culture
I dream of a culinary culture, where restaurants give you a selection of non-alcoholic beverages, that is worth of being called a selection. I think I have just discovered an idea for a beverage startup, that may lead to a completely new market.