Bar Talk: A sober approach to drinking
Sober curious. It’s a phrase that has been buzzing around for a while now, first in wellness circles and now trending by influencers on social media.
The phrase refers to those that are experimenting with abstaining from alcohol for a number of reasons and will occasionally go long stints without but are not ready to stake their claim in fully sober territory.
Proof that this trend continues to gain steam was found at this year’s Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
One of the Thursday night kickoff dinners was a zero-proof pairing dinner. Yes, a dinner at the Food & Wine Classic that had revelers enjoying imaginative cuisine and carefree conversation while imbibing in wine and cocktails that had zero alcohol.
The Boisson Zero-Proof Pairing Dinner hosted by famed and acclaimed Chef Roy Choi at The Summer Lodge Aspen in the St. Regis was an intimate gathering put together to prove that dinner parties don’t need to involve alcohol to stir up a good time.
The five-course meal was developed and executed by the talented chefs at The Summer Lodge and The Surf Lodge in Montauk, New York and Choi, while the drink pairings were curated by Miguel De Leon, the inaugural recipient of the Michelin Guide Sommelier Award in NYC in 2021 and the 2022 James Beard Media Award winner for personal essay-long form.
“We’re helping you redefine your relationship with alcohol in the best way possible,” De Leon said at the start of the dinner. “Temperance isn’t always a bad word.”
That statement rang true as the evening and courses progressed, as my fellow attendees and I realized that De Leon’s zero-proof cocktails were so inventive, flavorful and unlike what you’ll find on the majority of bar lists that we weren’t missing the alcohol content.
The event proved that when done right, zero-proof cocktails don’t have to be boring, and your options at a bar shouldn’t just be limited to O’Doul’s or a seltzer water with a dash of bitters.
Two of my drink highlights were the proverbial bookends of the evening. I started off with a sparkling rosé, the Leitz – Eins Zwei Zero Sparkling Rosé, and if you had presented it to me as a non-zero-proof wine, I would have believed you. It was effervescent, not sweet and just what I look for when I’m sipping rosé in the summertime.
The best spiritless spirit of the evening was the final one, a Pandan Nightcap featuring Lyre’s American Malt, pandan syrup (pandan is a tropical, fragrant plant typically found in Southeast Asia that has a sweet and floral flavor) and DRAM Black Bitters. I’ve never had a drink like it, where the bourbon had no bite but was instead smooth from start to finish and well-balanced with warm vanilla and spices that complimented the unique pandan. I’d compare it to drinking a jasmine tea cocktail — and I fear I will never have a cocktail like it again, as I don’t know where to begin sourcing pandan syrup, but, luckily, I know where to find Lyre’s and DRAM: Boisson.
Boisson, which means beverage in French, is a company dreamt up during the pandemic by two friends, Nick Bodkins and Barrie Arnold.
While Colorado was passing alcohol to-go laws and many were drinking more than ever during the height of the pandemic, Boisson’s founders were in New York City rethinking their habits when it came to alcohol. While others around the country were baking endless loaves of sourdough, Bodkins and Arnold were mixing up nonalcoholic options; they believed if people had easier access to the ingredients, they would choose them.
The first Boisson retail location opened in Brooklyn in 2021, and from there the shop expanded across New York City to five storefronts. The zero-proof specialists also have an online shop that ships across the U.S. at https://boisson.nyc, and are set to open three stores in Los Angeles.
According to its website, Boisson’s mission is to “provide sophisticated sips to those looking for an alternative to alcohol, no matter their reasons why.” (One principal of the sober-curious movement is you don’t have to be an alcoholic to want to be sober.)
Some in Colorado might be looking for the reason why. In 2020, Colorado ranked 12th in the drunkest states in America, with 20.5% of adults reporting excessive drinking, compared to 19% nationwide, according to the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.
In 2021, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimated 9.7% of adults in Pitkin County were excessive drinkers.
If you’ve made it this far in the column, you might be asking, “If you’re sober curious, why do you need a zero-proof drink? Why not just drink water or soda?”
It’s similar to asking why vegetarians eat products that resemble fake meat when purposefully choosing not to eat meat from animals. It’s also a tough question that I don’t think I fully have the answer to.
Drinking is inherently social. Most start when surrounded by others, and yeah, sometimes you just want to be one of the many with a good drink in your hand.
Not drinking can also sometimes come with a side of judgment from others, so having a few options on a bar menu that are an adult glow-up to a Shirley Temple could help reduce the stigma and redefine what a night-out (and the next day) looks like for some people.
And that’s the underlying point of Boisson and the sober-curious movement to an extent, to “create a welcoming, judgement-free zone that sparks curiosity.”
What’s in my cart:
Leitz – Eins Zwei Zero Sparkling Rosé Non-Alcoholic Wine, $22
Bonbuz – Alcohol-Free Social Spirit (Slow Burn), $40
Ghia – Ginger Le Spritz – Single Can
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