What to Drink When You’re Not Drinking
Healthier alternatives that still let you celebrate.
When you rarely leave your house (because of winter, working from home or a seemingly never-ending pandemic), the days can often seem to blur together. On so many video calls, we hear the overused joke of not knowing what time or day it is (“What does Tuesday even mean anymore?” someone said recently) and we chuckle along with everyone else.
There is one exception, however. If you’re in the middle of Dry January, the time when people commit to ditching booze for the entire month after an eggnog-heavy holiday season, you are probably VERY MUCH aware of what day it is (and how many are left before you can start drinking again). Breaking a drinking habit does get easier with time but seeing as we’re only halfway through the month, you might be in need of some extra motivation right about now.
Whether you’re cutting out alcohol for 31 days or thinking about dialing it back for other reasons, the proven health benefits of drinking less include better sleep, weight loss and a stronger immune system. And if your New Year’s Resolutions include fitness and training goals, there’s no doubt that cutting back on alcohol can help you achieve those, too. Because alcohol is a depressant that slows the central nervous system (which impairs balance, reaction time and motor skills), even one beer can negatively affect your physical and mental game.
But eliminating alcohol from your diet cold-turkey isn’t as easy as it sounds. For many, a glass of wine is a ritual that marks the transition from day to night (especially helpful when working from home). For others, cocktails are synonymous with celebration or (safe) social gatherings. Rather than sulk into your glass of tap water, finding delicious alcohol-free options will help you stay sane and stick to your goals—through January and maybe even beyond.
Why Happy Hour is Hard to Ignore
According to the Social Issues Research Council, there’s a natural affinity between alcohol and rites of passage like parties, weddings and other ceremonies. Drinking alcohol works as the symbolic, psychological and social functions of these rituals. In almost every culture, drinking is a social act that facilitates bonding. “Because so many celebratory moments are associated with alcohol, the psychological association our brains make [with giving it up] is that we’re also giving up fun,” says Registered Dietitian Lauren Cornell. “But that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, many people gain a heightened awareness of their positive emotions during celebrations when they remove alcohol and are able to appreciate them that much more. It’s that ‘high on life’ concept realized.”
“There’s a way to take back a daily ritual and make it work for you instead of against you,” says Anne Owen, founder of Tomen Botanicals, a collection of adaptogenic botanical distillates and plant extracts. “I got to the point with alcohol where I realized it was taking more from me than it was giving back. I craved a deeper connection with people in my life and realized alcohol was often getting in the way of that. Replacing it with delicious low or no ABV options was an easy way to remain more present with others and also unwind solo.”
Peer pressure to drink is a very real thing. If a friend invites you out to “drinks” and you order water, it’s a perceived bait-and-switch that rarely goes over well. If someone is drinking, they usually want a partner to join them. This pressure is felt strongly by women in particular, according to Holly Whitaker’s book Quit Like A Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol. For instance, alcohol companies have been shown to target women much more than men. But increased awareness and a reevaluation of social norms is changing consumer behavior.
The Sober-Curious Trend
“People who don’t drink for health, religious or any other reason still want a sophisticated drink,” says Joanne Krueger, a Northern California-based organic apple farmer and owner of Little Apple Treats, which makes a line of organic drinking vinegars called shrubs. Shrubs often contain apple cider vinegar, fresh fruit and a touch of organic sugar. For brands like Little Apple Treats, the shrubs can have flavor profiles nearly as complex as a glass of wine. “We grow the apples, pick them and press them,” says Krueger. “Then we ferment them to age eighteen months in reclaimed oak white wine barrels.”
With more non-alcoholic beverages like Seedlip, Tost and Kin on the direct-to-consumer table, the sober-curious now have more options besides booze and water. Owen says the popularity of plant distillations and extracts has increased due to consumer education around the fact that most “natural flavors” are actually chemicals created in labs. “Consumers are demanding pure, real ingredients,” she says. “By using minimally processed plants, you’re able to maintain the integrity of active elements and inherent health benefits. Tomen uses plants that are adaptogenic, rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and supportive of the body’s natural functions.”
There are many reasons to be sober-curious, but at the top of the list are the health benefits. “By eliminating alcohol, you’re eliminating an inflammatory factor from your lifestyle,” says Cornell. “From a fitness perspective, this helps recovery time, decreases the risk for injury and optimizes performance. Giving up alcohol will also likely improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. Sleep is incredibly necessary for wellness because it’s the time during which our body repairs tissues and replenishes itself.”
Recipes To Fill Your Cup
As for shrubs, Krueger likes to mix them with plain or flavored bubbly water for a low-sugar beverage. For a keto and paleo-friendly “Zero Zero” mocktail anyone can make, she recommends the below:
● 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
● 1 handful blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries
● Plain bubbly water
● Sprig of basil
● Instructions: Muddle berries with the ACV. Add ice, top with bubbly water, stir and garnish.
Cornell says she loves swapping kombucha for alcohol, which has that same bite that a sour beer or sparkling wine might have. Owen loves adding Tomen to sparkling water because the effervescence amplifies the formulas’ aromatics. For a more festive take, try the below mocktail:
● 1oz sparkling water
● .25oz quince distillate
● .75oz fresh grapefruit juice
● .5oz monkfruit syrup
● 2ml of Tomen’s CALM formula
● Squeeze of fresh lime juice
● Instructions: Shake with ice, stain and enjoy.
Looking for more ways to get your New Year’s health habit into high gear?