Drink Up to Wind Down: The Rise of Snazzy Non-Alcoholic Beverages

People are tired of drinking. At least I know I am.

People are tired of drinking. At least I know I am. I got bored of sipping on watered-down cocktails, paying extra for mediocre wine bottles, and most importantly, I’m over having to deal with brutal hangovers that crippled me. And it seems I’m not alone: Millennials have shown more interest in partaking in wellness-oriented activities rather than beer-pong basement competitions. This generation is more concerned with health than our forefathers were; going sober is no longer related to being a recovering alcoholic—it’s about living better. 

If the younger market segment isn’t supporting the booze corporations, cannabis legalization isn’t doing the manufacturers any good either. According to a study conducted by the University of Connecticut, alcohol consumption has dropped more than 12 percent where recreational and medicinal cannabis is available. As liquor conglomerates scramble to reinvent themselves to tackle the crisis (with marketing moves like Johnnie Walker’s new paper bottle concept), a new generation of plant-based entrepreneurs has set their eyes on the weed industry, a market slated to become worth $40 billion within the next five years. 

In 2016, Zach Clyde Spohler, co-founder of Artet (a non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused aperitif), noticed the trend, picking up how consumers were re-thinking both substances. “That dissonance made us realize that if we reformatted cannabis into more familiar formats, we could recontextualize the plant and build a new perception,” he says. “Artet isn’t an indictment of alcohol but rather a love letter to the best aspects of what alcohol can foster without the side effects.” Their approach to slow-sipping is also prevalent in its sleek branding—a nod to classics like Campari—by the artists Daniel Triendl and Birgit Palma. Artet’s elegant design and palette celebrates the social nature of a cannabis drink and recontextualizes the munchies through the prism of experimental photography.

A similar approach can be picked up in every mouthful of Kin, a non-alcoholic drink best described by its founder Jen Batchelor as a “euphoric,” a natural concoction that “helps you reach the state of happiness we’re born with and entitled to.” Batchelor’s comments might sound a bit esoteric, but her background in psychology and herbology means everything she does has scientific support, some coming from Ayurveda, a healing system that spans millennia. 

“Our natural reaction to stress is shutting down, taking a nap, crashing. Kin’s formulations are based on our circadian rhythms, aimed at recalibrating our bodies to promote homeostasis by balancing our serotonin, oxytocin, and cortisol levels.” Kin doesn’t use cannabis, but instead it mixes adaptogens, herbs, roots, and nootropics to create the perfect boost, giving you an “all bliss and no booze” experience, also transmitted through the maximalist and vibrant approach to its look-and-feel. “The logo is a combination of Arabic calligraphy and the scientific symbol for neurotransmitters.”

Sharper minds, more energy, little or no negative impacts on our bodies. Consumers still want to have fun and socialize but minimize the side effects—including the more worrying ones: yearly, more than 3 million people die globally from alcohol-related situations. On the other hand, cannabis is responsible for zero deaths annually (it’s virtually impossible to die of a marijuana overdose and the plant itself isn’t addictive). But it’s still hard to compare booze and cannabis side by side because the latter can’t be widely sold at a national level. “We’re seeing traction with hemp; CBD beverages are up and down the street at natural food stores and more wellness-focused retailers and online,” says Leila Khoury, director of marketing for Mad Tasty, a hemp-infused sparkling water. “Consumers are searching for beverages that conjure that happy social experience without the hangover,” she continues while highlighting the company’s style reflects the founder’s love of street art. 

What differentiates Mad Tasty from the other non-alcoholic drinks is their commitment to supporting the community through philanthropic work; for every 12oz the company sells, an equivalent of clean drinking water is donated through Drop4Drop, an organization that brings clean H2O to places like India, Uganda, and Malawi. Besides proposing unconventional formulas and forward-looking designs, this new generation of liquid refreshments seems to be packed with intrinsic goodness that benefits those who imbibe it. So why aren’t these cans and bottles populating more bars and store shelves?

“Part of the reason you don’t see CBD on more menus is because CBD as an ingredient is a relatively recent innovation, and decision makers are still learning about CBD and how it can supplement a growing trend to offer more non-alcoholic menu options,” says Jonathan Eppers, the founder of Vybes, a company that has opted for a clean, minimalist design. “We see more and more requests for our beverages in hotels and restaurants. Consumers will lead the trends, but only if brands offer compelling non-alcoholic alternatives they want.” 

If one thing was evident during the 2020 elections, it’s that people are asking for a significant overhaul of the current drug policy. The first results came in early: Oregon became the first state to decriminalize drug possession, and five new states (Arizona, New Jersey, Montana, Mississippi, and South Dakota) legalized marijuana, raising the nationwide total to 36. We also realized that, as the presidential results dragged on for days, the best way to tackle the uncertainty and lower our anxiety was with a non-alcoholic libation in hand. 

Photo by Kristin Weidemann
Photo by Kristin Weidemann
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