Scott Lanphear wasn’t expecting much of a reaction when he fired off a Facebook post earlier this month about the nonalcoholic cocktails available at Patterson Public House.
“It was a spur-of-the-moment decision,” said Lanphear, the owner of the bar and restaurant in Patterson Park.
He was just having fun coming up with clever mocktail names like the “Nojito” and the “Cosnopolitan,” and figured he’d share the list with his online following.
To his surprise, the short message and grainy picture of a mocktail list ended up gaining more traction than a lot of his other missives, including those with professionally photographed food and drink. Some commenters praised the nonalcoholic offerings, while others made plans for a visit to the tavern.
“Hope you continue this each month!” one person wrote.
Patterson Public House does, in fact, offer nonalcoholic options yearround. Lanphear’s business is among a growing number of bars and restaurants in Baltimore, and across the country, that are turning Dry January specials into an everyday staple.
“There’s no reason for us not to do that,” Lanphear said. “It’s easy enough and it means a lot to people.”
Going alcohol-free as a lifestyle
A recent survey by the market research firm Morning Consult found that nearly a quarter of American adults have heard about Dry January, a month-long challenge to abstain from alcohol that was started a decade ago by the British charity Alcohol Change UK.
The survey also found that participation in Dry January dipped slightly this year, with 15% of respondents saying they were partaking in the challenge compared to 19% in 2022. That might be, in part, because the monthlong event has turned into a lifestyle change for some participants. Morning Consult’s research found that three in 10 respondents planned to drink less in 2023. Millennials, a generation of frequent drinkers, also are abstaining in higher numbers, with 62% saying they drink alcohol — down from 69% last year.
Bars and restaurants — and even some breweries, wineries and distilleries — are taking note. Cocktail bars like Dutch Courage, Sugarvale and the Bluebird Cocktail Room are promoting spirit-free drinks alongside alcohol-filled ones. So are more casual spots, like Chuck’s Trading Post and Melanie’s Griffiths Tavern, where you can find a pickleback mocktail — “big taste, no booze” — for $6. Waverly Brewing Co., a Hampden brewery, has curated a roster of nonalcoholic options, from nonalcoholic brews to other fizzy drinks like seltzer water and sparkling cider.
Though Dry January is far from a new movement, “I think this is probably the biggest year that we’ve seen with it,” said Amie Ward, president of the Baltimore Bartenders’ Guild. “Every person is promoting it.”
Reasons for not drinking alcohol vary: Some people are dealing with addiction, some are pregnant and others may simply not like the taste. Health was a major motivator for participants surveyed by Morning Consult, and medical researchers have found the benefits of giving up alcohol can be significant, yielding better sleep and better metabolic health.
And while turning down a drink used to be taboo, there’s a lot less stigma around the sober lifestyle these days, Ward said.
“We’re seeing more options and it being a more normalized thing where people aren’t being chastised or mocked for their choice not to drink,” she said. “It’s more of a celebration.”
Anna Welker, the bar manager for Topside at the Hotel Revival in Mt. Vernon, has seen the landscape evolve in just a few short years. In 2020, she launched the “Zero Proof Zero Judgment” menu at Topside with five spirit-free cocktails. Now, the bar and restaurant offers nonalcoholic beer and even two nonalcoholic wines — a sparkling rosé and a red — as well.
“The pandemic really kind of forced people to take a look at their relationship with alcohol, for better or for worse,” Welker said. “It’s definitely a trend that I think people are recognizing as being here to stay, both from a social standpoint and also from a business perspective.”
Making mocktails more creative
One big development for mocktails has been the steadily improving quality and availability of alcohol alternatives. U.S. sales of nonalcoholic drinks totaled $395 million between August 2021 and August 2022, according to research by NielsenIQ — year-over-year growth of 20.6%. And those numbers are expected to grow, per Statista, which projects the U.S. nonalcoholic drinks market will grow by 3.9% annually between 2023 and 2027.
Welker and her staff use a brand called Ritual in many of their drinks, including “Dorothy in the Daytime,” a mix of the gin alternative, elderflower tonic, lime and ginger beer. Other zero-proof cocktails infuse ingredients like ginger turmeric tea and pineapple shrub — much more complex flavors than the lemonades and Shirley Temples that used to be the only alcohol alternatives on the menu.
“It definitely pushes us to be creative,” said Christian Parent, a bartender at Topside.
Lanphear dresses his mocktails up with ingredients from the restaurant, like nutmeg, lime and molasses. Fresh, creative garnishes also justify a higher price point for alcohol-free beverages, which help to make up for slower sales in the early months of the year.
Lanphear and others in the industry said it’s hard to tell if Dry January has much of an impact on sales. Business is generally slower in January and February.
“People have essentially spent all of their money over the last two months prior to that because of the holidays and because of parties,” Ward said.
Lanphear said New Year’s resolutions to spend less money on eating and drinking out are a direct hit to his business. But, he added, “I can definitely accommodate the mocktail thing very easily.”
Bars can benefit by leaning into the trend and spreading the word about alcohol-free offerings, Welker said: “A good way to stay competitive is to participate — even just running specials for the month.”
Craft breweries — known for high-alcohol-by-volume brews — might be next to jump on the trend. While the zero-proof O’Doul’s has been on the market for years, more breweries are starting to produce nonalcoholic options, like Guinness 0, an alcohol-free dry Irish stout, and Flying Dog Brewery’s Deep Fake, a nonalcoholic India pale ale.
“The nonalcoholic pursuit is definitely something that a lot of breweries are looking into,” said Jim Bauckman, director of communications for Grow & Fortify, an umbrella organization that includes the Brewers Association of Maryland, the Maryland Wineries Association and the Maryland Distillers Guild. “There’s an acute awareness that the alcohol consumer is becoming more health-conscious.”
Welker likens the growing ubiquity of alcohol-free options to having vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free items on the menu.
“It’s a valid choice that people are looking for, that people from all walks of life are choosing,” she said.
Lanphear, meanwhile, plans to keep adding to his mocktail list. He thinks Dry January is here to stay: “It’s right up there with No-Shave November now.”