Dry January's Popularity Leads More Bars To Mix Non-Alcoholic Drinks

By Maggie Ethridge 01/23/19

Bars are crafting specialty drinks with flashy names to draw in alcohol-free customers during the month of January.

a non-alcoholic drink

The Dry January public health campaign started several years ago by a group called Alcohol Change UK, a London-based advocacy group. Now the campaign has spread to the U.S., and many New York bars are finding themselves mixing mocktails (cocktails without alcohol) for their customers.

This is great news for those trying to abstain or reduce their alcohol consumption, making it easier to do a night on the town with friends and still participate in the festivities—without the drinking.

New York bars such as Existing Conditions are crafting specialty drinks with flashy names to draw in alcohol-free customers, such as the "Serendipity," a drink with a tomato and passion fruit blend.

At $16, the drink is expensive but delicious—just refrain from calling it a mocktail. According to Channel Three News, owners Dave Arnold and Don Lee say, “It contains the word 'mock.' Why would I want to mock the guest who’s coming in?” Arnold and Lee want to take their customers seriously, they say—alcohol drinkers or not.

They continue, “We put more time and effort into going from a raw ingredient to a final product, because that’s what it takes to put that much flavor into something without alcohol.”

Not all bars are happy about Dry January.

“We hate it!” says Johnny Swet, a bar owner in New York. “You don’t see your regulars. Where are they?” he says. “A guy comes in for four or five bourbons, four or five nights a week, and then you don’t see him. Is he out of town? His friends say, ‘He’s not drinking this month.’ Oh lord.”

Swet says that January has gotten so slow that he is encouraging his bartenders to go on vacation. Tips are down by as much as 25%. The average person at a bar might drink two or three cocktails in one sitting, but just one or two mocktails, says Rick Camac at the Institute of Culinary Education in The Wall Street Journal.

Mocktails also often involve complicated recipes with pricey ingredients, and fresh-squeezed juice in an alcohol-free drink can cost more than the alcohol itself. $16 is the average cost for a virgin drink, and customers aren’t always willing to pay that much.

Though Dry January may not be good for business, the month-long public health campaign is about health and wellness. Mintel Senior Beverage Analyst Caleb Bryant told Channel Three News, “For some that means reducing alcohol consumption, or abstaining from alcohol entirely.”

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.