The bartender places an elixir of lemon juice, tobacco syrup, vanilla and San Pelligrino Chinotto atop a coaster that reads "0%" in a bold orange hue. A film of condensation beads up over the sherry glass, teasing that inviting first sip. It's a picture-perfect presentation of a post-event libation. But something is missing from this concoction: Ironically -- and intentionally -- it's the booze.
This Prohibition-worthy cocktail, dubbed the Paper Train, is one of many custom drinks offered at Getaway Bar, a cozy venue seating just 25 near the Brooklyn Expo Center in New York. The brainchild of Sam Thonis and Regina Dellea, Getaway has an alcohol-free menu for those choosing not to imbibe, whether for life, for the evening or for the moment. And its not the only outpost for the abstemious.
The category of consumer dubbed "sober curious" (giving rise to the phenomenon of the sober bar) is sweeping both the leisure and corporate landscapes. According to Paying the Tab by Philip J. Cook, an examination of the costs and benefits of drinking in the U.S., at least 30 percent of Americans choose not to drink alcohol at all, and another 30 percent most will likely stop after a single cocktail while attending an event. In other words, a significant percentage of today's attendees are opting to forgo the spirits.
There was a time when abstaining, especially at a professional or social event, suggested that you had a "problem." But people are paying greater attention to their mental and physical health, which often means reducing their alcohol intake. Studies by the Beer Institute, an industry trade group, indicate that professionals of all ages are consuming less brew, and Millennials in particular are drinking less alcohol overall.
THE MOCKTAIL MOTIF
"Alcohol has become the default for adding pleasure to the agenda," says Lorelei Bandrovschi, founder of another of New York's dry spaces, Listen Bar. "There's a misconception that nondrinkers are such a minority group that it isn't worth the effort or investment to create viable options for them."
Bandrovschi, whose establishment hosts alcohol-free mixology classes and provides mocktail-bar setups for groups of all sizes, believes the cocktail party is undergoing a much-needed change. "There's now this opportunity to surprise and delight an audience that is used to the seltzer-and-lime alternative with something new, handcrafted and genuinely delicious," she notes.
4 Tips for Sober-Sensitive Receptions
1. Include interesting nonalcoholic beverages on drink menus, not only sodas or iced tea.
2. Don't use words like virgin and recovery to describe nonalcoholic drinks. The term "0%" is a good alternative.
3. When serving specialty cocktails, include artful mocktails -- by design, not as an afterthought.
4. Instruct bartenders to serve all beverages, regardless of their alcohol content, in attractive glassware.
Listen Bar, which is open just one night per month in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, serves original concoctions like the Dollar Slice -- a blend of seedlip spice, tomato and Tabasco sriracha with a "pizza salt" rim. Bandrovschi has crafted a menu of unique drinks with the help of expert bartenders, nutritionists and herbalists.
Sober bars have popped up in other U.S. cities and beyond. Early adopters include the Other Side in Crystal Lake, Ill.; Vena's Fizz House in Portland, Maine; and the Sans Bar in Austin, Texas. Across the pond, the Redemption Bar in London is doing its part to abolish the hangover.
MAKING MEETINGS MINDFUL
"People choose not to drink for all types of reasons -- personal, religious, allergies, intolerance, counting calories -- and we need to be more conscious of that," says Tracy Stuckrath, CMM, president/chief connecting officer of Thrive! Meetings and Events. "I recently attended an event where the planners wanted a keg at every trade-show stand starting from 11 a.m. It just makes no sense."
During another industry event, Stuckrath noticed sake -- the Japanese rice wine -- being served to everyone at the table. "I was sitting next to a friend who I knew didn't drink," she says. "I was baffled by the total lack of consideration for the fact that he, or someone else at the table, might prefer a different option."
Stuckrath says meeting professionals should take better care of participants who don't drink. "We need to be mindful of the limited options we're providing and, similarly, how much we're serving to our attendees in general," she notes. "It's a conversation we have to start having."
AN ALL-INCLUSIVE APPROACH
"This isn't a discussion of complete sobriety; it's figuring out how cocktails and mocktails can coexist in the same environment," says Jesse Hawkins, founder of the Mocktail Project, which promotes adding nonalcoholic choices to bar and event menus. "If we're going to host a meeting and we're going to have an open bar, what does that open bar really look like?" Typically, it's stocked with a wide range of alcoholic beverages plus soft drinks or water. "For nondrinkers, that setup doesn't necessarily ooze option," he says.
"Stop serving us sugar bombs, plastic cups and drinks labeled 'virgin,'" urges Hawkins, who has abstained from alcohol for more than five years. "I am not different because I don't drink, I just choose not to consume alcohol. If you're going to promote an event as being inclusive, especially one featuring an open bar or crafty cocktail list, it has to include choices for different types of meeting attendees."
Hawkins started the Mocktail Project in Kentucky in 2017. "We work with venues, planners and F&B suppliers alike to provide education surrounding more than just drink recipes," he says. "Even when booze-free options are available, the soft drinks are often served in flimsy plastic cups, while the person enjoying a martini sips out of polished glassware. Without trying, our events are designed to make the nondrinker feel singled out, and we want to prevent those not drinking booze from becoming the outliers of the crowd."
On the other end of this conversation is the importance of alcoholism education and acknowledgment of the resources available to both planners and the traveling attendee. After all, for those in lifelong recovery and/or self-identifying as an alcoholic, whether or not to drink could be a life-or-death decision.
Some sobering statistics:
• The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says 6.2 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 and older struggle with alcohol-use disorder.
• A recent survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reveals that two in five young adults ages 18 to 25 are binge drinkers, and about one in 10 are heavy alcohol users.
Without dissecting every possible problem-drinking pattern, it's important to recognize that meeting professionals across the globe are taking small but significant steps to accommodate all. For example, a daily meeting for "Friends of Bill W." was discretely listed on the agenda of the 2019 World Education Conference for Meeting Professionals International held in Toronto in June. "Those who know about the meeting's nature, know. Those who don't, don't need to," says Drew Holmgreen, MPI's senior director of marketing and communications for MPI.
For those in the hospitality realm, Ben's Friends is a support group offering help and a path forward "in an industry that has one of the overall highest rates of substance abuse in the country," according to the group's website.
And Sacramento, Calif., chef Patrick Mulvaney recently launched I Got Your Back, providing resources, referrals and a training program for event professionals to help them identify the warning signals of those in crisis, including issues outside of drug and alcohol abuse.
THE 'CLAMP' CONCEPT
After attending an alcohol-saturated meeting in London, Maarten Vanneste, CMM, senior design consultant at the Meeting Design Institute, started to question the business model of the event experience. "One thing that was really a challenge, or a problem, was the way alcohol was pushed during dinner," he recalls. "I truly felt as if the value of the evening actually decreased as more and more alcohol was served."
In response to his discomfort, Vanneste designed an event format that he calls "The CLAMP Dinner." The idea behind it is to organize a meeting around the following aspects:
• (C)onversation: The value of the meeting lies in what participants learn from each other.
• (L)ight meal: A heavy dinner hinders the body's ability to transform short-term experiences to long-term memories.
• (A)lcohol limitation: Alcohol inhibits the creation of new connections (or synapses), and therefore memories, in the brain.
• (M)ixing participants: After each course, half the participants should swap seats for optimal rotation and networking.
• (P)rivacy: Maximize the intimacy of the meeting using a private location, separate from other groups.
Vanneste adds, "CLAMP includes all of those elements that can turn a typical dinner meeting into a high-value evening full of learning, networking, fun and meaningful takeaways." We'll drink (a mocktail) to that.
Removing the liquor from your signature drink doesn't have to make it boring. The following scrumptious and spirit-free swallows will prove a perfect addition to your next event's bar offerings. All recipes are courtesy of the Mocktail Project.
2 ounces lemon juice
.5 ounces rosemary syrup or honey
3 ounces rosemary lemonade
Lemon peel/rosemary sprig garnish
Combine all ingredients and pour over ice into a highball glass. Garnish with a slice of fresh lemon peel and a sprig of rosemary.
2 ounces pineapple juice
Whole pink peppercorns
Steep a handful of fresh cilantro leaves and pink peppercorns in pineapple juice. Once infused, strain juice into ice-filled snifter. Top with purified water. Serve cold with a fresh cilantro garnish.
2 ounces black tea
5 ounces Old Forester oleo-saccharum
.25 ounces sorghum syrup
Lemon/orange peel garnish
Combine all ingredients in a shaker and pour over ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with slices of fresh lemon and orange peel before serving.
THE CLUBHOUSE TURN
2 ounces blackberry and raspberry puree
2 ounces cinnamon simple syrup
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
4 ounces Ale-8-One
Orange peel garnish
Combine all ingredients in a shaker and pour over ice into a highball glass. Garnish with fresh orange peel and serve immediately.