‘There’s never been a better time to be a non-drinker’
Julia Bainbridge is a James Beard Award-nominated writer and editor who has worked and written for several publications, including Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. Bainbridge has been celebrated for her work to “normalize not drinking alcohol”. His book will be published in 2020 “Good Drinks: Non-Alcoholic Recipes If You Don’t Drink for Any Reason” was named one of the best cookbooks of 2020 by the LA Times, Wires, and Esquires magazines, helping to spark a movement that continues to gain momentum today. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Columbia University. In this edition of Voices In Food, Bainbridge says he reflects on the current state of the soft drink movement.
Around 2015 I cut alcohol out of my life for the first time. I have an alcohol addiction, which made me aware of my relationship with the substance.
This was at a time in New York where mocktails were starting to get more serious. I am fortunate that my alcohol use disorder does not present itself in a way that makes me uncomfortable in areas that also serve alcohol. So I happened to get into the alcohol-free phase of my life just as some changes were happening with non-alcoholic options.
Bartenders pushed the boundaries that previously limited mocktails to crooked, viscous juices. The imagination of the beverage world went beyond the Shirley Temple. For someone who wrote about food and drink and whose job required him, in part, to eat out and keep abreast of what was going on in bars and restaurants, it was impossible not to notice.
“I enjoy things like Dry January, [but] it’s important to remember that sobriety has probably been painful for people with substance use disorders. They make the difficult decision every day to stay sober.
– Julia Bainbridge
Drink menu real estate was given to non-alcoholic drinks – these drinks were given fun names, much like cocktails – all of which showed a level of care and intent. So I got in my car and drove across the country several times; that’s how I researched the book. It was so obvious that something was up, and I just wanted to celebrate. It certainly happened in New York; I guess I wanted to see if it happened from coast to coast.
I really cast a wide net. I wanted to be on the field, tasting with people and talking to people. There was so much passion and talent at all levels, even in small towns, you didn’t expect it. So with the book, I almost have a hard time saying I wrote it. It relies on the work of professional bartenders, who came up with and developed these drinks, and I’m lucky they allowed me to take advantage of that newfound energy and take a snapshot of what seemed like adult alcohol consumption without alcohol. the country at that time.
Something I saw was bartenders who had come in not to drink themselves, and the next time they looked at their offerings, a lightbulb went out, and they decided they wanted to better serve people like them or their friends who don’t drink alcohol. more drunk, but still enjoyed the pleasure of a good drink.
I think we’re almost doing these drinks a disservice by comparing them to cocktails. Stop worrying about whether it looks like an alcoholic version of the drink and just focus on whether it tastes good or not, you know?
I’m lucky enough to currently live in New York where it’s hard to find a restaurant that doesn’t cater to this more. There’s never been a better time to be a non-drinker.
And as for the drinks themselves, most spirits, non-ALC spirits on the market, are not meant to be drunk neat or without some kind of mixer, even if that mixer is just tonic or sparkling water. And I think the brands have done a good job of showing consumers how to use these products through recipes on their websites, but you have to know how to look for that information. And many people don’t; I wouldn’t if I wasn’t studying this category in the first place. I encourage people to check the websites of the products they buy for advice.
That said, just as consumers need to be educated on how to use these products, so do professional bartenders, and not all do. Someone who is good at making classic alcoholic cocktails will not necessarily be good at it because the liquids themselves work differently. This is not a plug and play situation. By that I mean you can’t necessarily substitute two ounces of non-alcoholic gin for the gin and a cocktail recipe.
“I am not anti-alcohol. … It’s fun, and it’s good for those who know how to handle it consistently well. But I’m also glad there’s more and more space to talk about the many, nuanced ways in which that’s difficult.
But in recent years, American brands have really come into their own. I think wine in particular is improving here as technology has improved, to allow for gentler methods of alkalization. Non-alcoholic wines get legitimately good. And some can even convey a subtle breed character. And it’s hard, it’s hard to do. But in the end we just have people who put money and effort into it. I think we’ll see more non-alcoholic functional beverages coming to the market in the near future.
I think the popularity of Dry January, and there are certainly all these products on the market, says a lot. Maybe I’m also hesitant to exaggerate the alcohol-free trend, because whatever we know about people’s drinking habits, and certainly due to COVID, there’s still a lot of it that’s problematic and unhealthy. But overall I like Dry January. It started as a public health campaign and I think it’s fair to say it’s become a real cultural phenomenon.
In my opinion, this lowers the threshold to participate in research into one’s relationship to alcohol. And we must not forget that alcohol is a drug and highly addictive. It’s really not uncommon to develop some kind of problem with him, at least for a short while. What I mean is that most of us have had at least some contact with the more destructive side of alcohol. And I think you could say that’s part of why Dry January has become such a welcome change.
I am not against alcohol. I think it is inseparable from our history. It’s fun, and it’s good for those who consistently get it right. But I’m also glad there’s more and more space to talk about the many, nuanced ways in which that’s difficult. And by that I mean consume it in a healthy and regular way. I think that really helps open the door to that conversation a little bit more.
I think I’ll dwell on my stage a little bit. I think we should be careful not to confuse the sober curious with the recovering. I think one day, hopefully, the distinction won’t matter anymore, and the paradigm will shift to the point where it just isn’t a thing anymore. Drink, don’t drink, whatever. We don’t need a label. We don’t need a special dry month.
But while I really appreciate some people choosing a sober lifestyle, and as I said, I appreciate things like Dry January, it’s important to remember that sobriety has probably been painful for people. with substance use disorders. They make the difficult decision every day to stay sober. And to do that, they usually have to undergo multiple forms of treatment. I think we have to recognize that sobriety has been an uphill battle for many people.
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