On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Monday is Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. It’s a time when people take the day off from work, throw something on the grill and pop open cans of beer. But what about people who choose not to drink? How do sober people navigate booze-heavy spaces? And what are some of the best local non-alcoholic drink options?
We explore the region’s sober scene, the different reasons people choose not to drink and the challenges of dating and socializing sober. And we hear about some of the most delicious alcohol alternatives, from mocktails to switchel.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
- Laura Silverman Founder of the Sobriety Collective and co-host of Sans Bar D.C.
- Nikki Blank CEO and founder of Sip City
- Laila El-Haddad Journalist and co-author of "The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey"
- Laura Hayes Food Editor, Washington City Paper; @LauraHayesDC
Beyond Seltzer And Lime: Four Alcohol-Free Drinks To Try For Memorial Day
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Monday is Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, a time when people have the day off from work, through something on the grill and pop open cans of beer, but what about people who choose not to drink? How do you deal with the pressure to drink during times like holidays or at work, friend, or family gatherings? And what kind of beverage options are there for people who pass on booze? Joining me in studio is Laura Hayes, Food Editor at Washington City Paper. Laura, good to see you again.
LAURA HAYESThank you.
NNAMDINikki Blank is the CEO and founder of Sip City. Nikki Blank, thank you for joining us.
NIKKI BLANKThank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd Laura Silverman is Founder of the Sobriety Collective and co-host of Sans Bar D.C. Laura Silverman, thank you for joining us.
LAURA SILVERMANThank you for having me.
NNAMDILaura Hayes, you write about dining and night life and you've written about how non-alcoholic beverages are having a moment. How much of a factor are they in the region's culinary scenes today?
HAYESPretty significant. I think that bartenders and bar operators are realizing that there's a larger contingent of people who either don't drink or want to drink less because of health or wellness or religion, all the things that you mentioned before. And I think bars are starting to wise up that they need to offer something else. I believe that bars are where community happens and it's where dates happen. It's where business deals are done. And so there's been an added pressure to find either non-alcoholic options that are pre-bottled or to create cocktails that are zero proof in order to meet the new demand.
NNAMDIMany bars now feature mocktail menus, non-alcoholic cocktails. What are some mocktail standards and standouts that you would order?
HAYESMy favorite place is The Green Zone in Adams Morgan. It's run by a man named Chris Frank and he is half Iraqi and his family is in Lebanon and he was telling me that like cocktail in the Middle East often refers to a juice that you find on the side of the road. And so when he was setting up his Middle Eastern cocktail bar he really put together some thoughtful mocktails. Some are as simple as apricot juice, others are far more complicated. He does a really nice frozen lemonade and he can also make several of his regular drinks virgin.
NNAMDINot everyone is happy with the word mocktail, why not?
HAYESYeah, I got some blowback when I published my first story about mocktails in the spring, and actually from Derek Brown, who owns the Columbia room and who generally is always very wise when it comes to trends and standards. You know, the word mock is in it, and I chose the word because it was -- the first usage of it was back in 1979. So when I'm trying to communicate with readers I'd find the word that they're most likely to know and non-alcoholic drink would have been confusing in a headline, because that could be coffee or soda. But the word mock I think -- it's like mock meat for vegetarians and vegans.
HAYESAnd it's so much more than that. It's a thoughtfully crafted beverage and my colleague at Washingtonian in the food writing world, she wrote a piece that kind of looked at some other options, zero proof. And so I think we're going to see the nomenclature evolve as these things become more prevalent.
NNAMDILaura Silverman, you do not drink and you run a blog called the Sobriety Collective. What do you think of the social options for people like you in the Washington region?
SILVERMANI think the social options are starting to expand as Laura Hayes just mentioned, but it hasn't always been that way. And as someone who got sober and completely quite drinking in my early to early mid-20s, it was a much different scene in 2007 than it is in 2019. The standard is, you know, for dating people to say, "Let's get drinks." And I loved the headline that your producers put on the site yesterday that, you know, "Let's not get drinks," because it's just kind of standard what people say, but I think what it really means is "Let's get together and get to know each other a little bit better." So coffee is a great option. A lot of sober people go get coffee. I actually had a date last night and I suggested going for juice at a place called Joe and the Juice.
SILVERMANSo there are things that you can do, museums, nature, going for a walk and there are more bars that have non-alcoholic options too. So if one party is sober or chooses to abstain from drinking and the other party doesn't and they're okay with that, then they can go somewhere that has both options.
NNAMDIIs that what's different than 2007, 12 years ago?
SILVERMANWell, in 2007 there wasn't much in like in the way of the internet. It was still sort of like web 1.0. And there wasn't much social media and there certainly wasn't talk about sobriety and sort of a healthy, fun in trendy way as it is now. Back then it was more just recovery, if you're sober, you're in recovery. And that's -- I'm in recovery myself, but that was just kind of what it was and it's definitely morphed.
NNAMDINikki Blank, you run a non-alcoholic beverage company called Sip City where you sell switchel, which I'm holding in my hand exactly at this point. What is switchel?
BLANKSo switchel is a non-alcoholic beverage. It's apple cider vinegar and ginger based. So it's actually been around in the United States since the 1700s. You can trace the roots all the way back to ancient Greece. They were mixing apple cider and honey together for sort of medicinal and health reasons. I turned to switchel as a non-alcoholic beverage that I thought fit perfectly into this D.C. drinking culture scene, because it has kind of the same burn and the same complexity that a cocktail might have, but it's zero proof. So you don't have any alcohol in there. You can mix it into a cocktail if that's your jam, but if you don't think, this is an awesome alternative to alcohol.
NNAMDIThat sound you hear is me opening my switchel even as we speak. And as Laura Hayes will explain that even though switchel might sound new to our ears and Nikki Blank partially explained it, it's really got history, doesn't it?
HAYESYeah, as she said back to colonial America. And what I was trying to study up before I came here is -- in a story where I profiled some of these non-alcoholic beverage makers, I also found one that's a shrub. And they both date back to colonial America and they both use vinegar. And from my understanding the difference is how much kind of fruit and sugar are emphasized. But they're both -- what I like is they have like a nice body to them. So you feel like you're drinking something a little more special than a soda. And they kind of go from being like a soft drink into a functional beverage, is I believe the term that Nikki used when she describes her category of drink.
NNAMDIYeah, I just tasted my switchel or slurped it rather. It's got a little kick to it, but it's clearly non-alcoholic. Switchel is not the only non-alcoholic beverage making waves in this region. What are some other beverages you're seeing in bars, restaurants, and grocery stores?
HAYESOne that I definitely want to give a shout out to is a local woman, who created -- the name of her company is actually Mocktail Club and her drinks are called Mocktail Clubs. They come in cool flavors like Bombay Fire and Havana Twist. You know, part of the fun of cocktails is naming them, right? So I'm glad that she had some fun with that too. And those are sold around town in places like Glens Garden Market and Shot Made in D.C. and the Italian store in Arlington. They're already kind of pre-bottled mocktails. So you have the whole drink. All you have to do is pour it over ice. So those are great.
HAYESAnd then, you know, we were talking about sodas and how maybe they're not quite in this category, but I think as their quality improves, you know, they could be. There's a bartender in D.C. named Andrew Shapiro, who has a company called K & B Sodas and he makes a remarkable ginger brew and he uses fresh ginger and you can really taste the difference. And so something like that I would enjoy at home or at a bar.
NNAMDIWe do have a recipe for the Havana Twist on our blog at kojoshow.org along with other recipes suggested by our guests today. I don't think you mentioned the shrub. What's a shrub?
HAYESOh, boy. Okay. I punt to Nikki, but it's usually more concentrated. It's also vinegar based and the fruit flavors are really what comes through. So if it's a strawberry shrug, you're tasting the strawberry just as much as you're tasting the vinegar and they're usually kind of sold in small bottles. I'm holding one right now I believe.
NNAMDIAs am I.
HAYESOh, good. So these you can I think pour straight over ice mix with soda, mix with alcohol if you're outside of this conversation we're having here today. And there are a couple local companies doing these, Shrub District and this is Element Shrub and I just think these a great way to kind of open up your pallet. So you see a lot of restaurants serving them when guests sit down to a meal including Tail Up Goat.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Rachel in Silver Spring, Maryland. Rachel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RACHELHello, thanks for taking my call. I'm a little dazzled by this whole show. I'm 59 and I don't drink, because I just really don't like the taste of alcohol unless it's like a super fruity daiquiri or something. And, you know, people say "Let's go out somewhere," and they order a beer and I order a Diet Coke. I mean, I'm just kind of surprised that people feel they have to like I don't know pretend to be drinking by ordering one of these special drinks or explain themselves or, you know?
NNAMDIWell, let me turn to Laura Silverman and ask her to explain. What did you see as the social pressures of not drinking?
SILVERMANAnd I just want to acknowledge you Rachel. I completely understand where you're coming from. And on the flip side just having options like Diet Coke and club soda weren't enough for me and weren't enough for a lot of people. It's about flavor. It's about the experience. And I don't feel like I'm faking drinking alcohol by having one of these spirit-free or zero proof beverages. It's about the flavors and enjoying the experience and opening up our pallets.
SILVERMANAnd as Laura Hayes just mentioned everyone here has a little bottle of Element Shrub, which is one of my all-time favorite made in D.C. brands. They're actually Arlington based. This is an award-winning favor of chai pear and what I usually do is I just make some soda stream seltzer water because it's extra bubbly that way. And I pour some chia pear in that and it's an instant quote unquote "mocktail."
SILVERMANBut I think the social the social pressure, Kojo, that you sort of spoke to is that currently we are in a drinking culture. And it is shifting and as evident by this show, evident by the guests that you have on. But we're still in a drinking culture where it's considered abnormal not to partake in ingesting a toxin. So with that it's just becoming more and more trending, but also healthy to think about what you're putting in your body. And frankly and maybe I'll get some flak for this, but Diet Coke isn't the most healthy thing that you could be putting in your body. I've actually stopped drinking Diet Coke. But it's to each their own.
HAYESWell, yeah. One thing I wanted to add is I think for people who used to drink cocktails and now don't drink cocktails, you know, part of what you miss with the Diet Coke is the same ritual that you get with drinking a cocktail and having a bartender in front of you kind of put together something from scratch that's built just for you and having that conversation. And so, well, I think like absolutely at a restaurant like a caller suggested, you know, ordering a Coke and beer at a table is fine. But if you want the same experience of sitting down and have something crafted for you, I think there's opportunity to do that with some of these new.
BLANKAnd I just want to say at 26 years old when I go out and I don't want to drink, there's a ton of pressure and questions that come at me about why I'm drinking and why I'm not partaking in this drinking culture that we seem to be a part of especially here in D.C. where it's so work hard play hard and happy hour and busy brunches are just the norm. If it's sunny on a Saturday you're drinking and if you're not drinking then there are a lot of questions about why you're not drinking.
BLANKAnd then secondly I'll just say that, you know, as an athlete and someone who's really focused on my health and wellness I would never put a Diet Coke into my body at this point in my life. And if I'm going out to a bar I don't want that amount of sugar in my body and I don't want that caffeine. And there do need to be other options besides soda.
NNAMDIRachel in Silver Spring, thank you very much for your call. Onto Rachel in Washington D.C. Rachel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RACHELHi. Thanks for taking my call. So I do drink occasionally, but I'm in a committed relationship with someone who doesn't. And so when we go out together we try to find places where we can get interesting non-alcoholic beverages. And even when I go out, you know, without my partner, I sometimes, you know, often do not want to drink. And so I really like this proliferation of non-alcoholic cocktails.
RACHELAnd I really -- I agree with what was just said about the whole idea of the ritual. I too don't want to drink Diet Coke or Coke at this point, like I don't want the caffeine. I don't want those chemicals. I really appreciate having something -- being able to participate in a ritual and have something tasty without it having to contain alcohol. And one of my favorite places that I just wanted to talk about really quickly is Sababa in Cleveland Park. Has amazing non-alcoholic drinks and I really like the Lavender-Borage Soda. I highly recommend that.
NNAMDIWrite down the street. Thank you for mentioning it.
HAYESWhat was the name of that bar again?
RACHELIt's called Sababa. It's a restaurant.
HAYESThank you, Rachel.
RACHELAnd they're delicious. They have one with cardamom in it. The lavender-borage is my favorite, but they're really good.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break, because I have a sparkling switchel finished. But you can still call, 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing Washington's sober scene with Laura Hayes, Food Editor of Washington City Paper. Nikki Blank is CEO and founder of Sip City. Laura Silverman is founder of the Sobriety Collective and co-host of Sans Bar D.C. And joining us now by phone is Laila El-Haddad who's a journalist and co-author of "The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey." Laila El-Haddad, thank you very much for joining us.
LAILA EL-HADDADThank you for having me. I'm super excited to be here.
NNAMDII know we're talking about drinking at a time when you're probably hungry, but because this is Ramadan and you are fasting for Ramadan. So thank you for joining us on Ramadan Karim.
EL-HADDADThank you so much, Kojo.
NNAMDIOne reason that some people choose not to drink is because of religious convictions. Why do you and other Muslims abstain from alcohol?
EL-HADDADThat's right. There is a religious prohibition on drinking for observant Muslims especially, obviously, that's not to say that people don't choose to drink or there isn't, you know, any kind of drinking culture in various parts of the Muslim world, but those of us who choose not to drink do so primarily because of the prohibition. And the idea or the wisdom behind it -- at least as it's laid out in the Koran is that the harm outweighs the benefit. So there was like a series of verses revealed, one abrogating the other.
EL-HADDADYou know, because there was a drinking culture in early Arabia. So the first one was like, hey, you know, if you're going to drink, you know, don't pray when you're drunk. And then the next one was, you know, intoxicants, not so great for you. They have some benefit. The verse actually says that they have benefited usefulness, but the risks or the harm outweighs that benefit. And then the third verse was like, you know what, intoxicants are not such a good idea. Leave them alone so that you may succeed.
EL-HADDADSo the idea is that, you know, Islam respects the individual, but it prioritizes the welfare of the larger family and unit in the society and community. And the idea is for those of us who choose not to drink, the prohibition is designed to kind of keep that society and community healthy and successful. You know, so it was really interesting for me listening to the conversation, because I remember when I came here for college, you know, I was really shocked by that drinking culture.
EL-HADDADAnd, you know, especially I think it becomes more of a problem when somebody is in a line of work where there's happy hour or it's kind of the thing to do, right, when you are going out with you colleagues. You know, I never had to face situations like that. But definitely with college classmates I remember going out and everybody would kind of like want to open a beer. And me having to kind of just start that awkward conversation of, you know, I'd really rather you guys not drink around me. And for the most part they were okay with that or we would do a dry table and like a wet table kind of thing.
EL-HADDADBut I have had times where I was invited to -- you know, I was a guest of honor for certain functions and the people insisted on having alcohol. And, you know, and I said, you know, I would rather not if I'm the guest of honor. And there was like this big, how could you possibly have an event or a celebration without alcohol, was I think something that is very strange to a lot of people. So I really appreciate this conversation. It's really interesting.
NNAMDILaila, the religious ban on drinking alcohol has meant that Muslims have been on the forefront of the non-alcoholic beverage craze since long before the term mocktail was coined. What are some of your favorite traditional and not so traditional drinks that you could expect to see at an Iftar dinner after sunset during Ramadan, for example?
EL-HADDADIt's actually a great time for that and you're right. And actually the historical sort of drink if you want to call it that of choice has been coffee. It's kind of legendary right thought the Middle East. And it was the drink of choice for Muslim scholars throughout the centuries as well if it was staying up long -- into the night. The strong Arabic coffee was the cardamom on one hand also known as either Turkish or Greek or whatever, you know, country of choice you're in.
EL-HADDADAnd in the Gulf it's actually a green version of the coffee where the bean is not roasted so much and it's kind of coarsely ground and boiled with cardamom cloves, cinnamon and then in the end a pinch of saffron. And, you know, those who have had the pleasure of drinking this it's extremely light, you only drink it in small little sips, very great for the digestion. That's my favorite and especially in Ramadan we don't want a heavy shot of caffeine, because you're already going through withdrawal. That's a really good one to have, the Gulf style of green coffee.
EL-HADDADA couple of other really sort of Ramadani drinks, if you will, is hibiscus. Karkade in Arabic, sorrel, you know, you'll find it in a lot the dry leaves in the hibiscus flower are African, Latin stores as well, Middle Eastern markets. And on it's base the very simple version of it is that you boil the hibiscus leaves or you put hot water and you kind of let it infuse. You know, sit there for 5 or 10 minutes. And then strain those leaves out, pour it over ice and then what I like to do is add a little capful of rosewater, which you can find in Middle Eastern markets again.
EL-HADDADAnother version of it is -- I like to -- you know, you can kind of dress it up. Make it a little bit -- add some more complexity and layers to it. You could put a squeeze of lime juice and some ginger ale if you want. I know in Nigeria they have -- I think it's called Zobo where they will boil pineapple bark with the hibiscus and ginger as well and strain that out. My Nigerian friend used to make that for me in Ramadan. So hibiscus.
EL-HADDADAnother really popular one is carob. That's a bit more difficult to find here. It's the carob pods are boiled and then sweetened. There's Qamar Al-deen, which is -- I heard that mentioned earlier. That's an apricot paste that's essentially soaked overnight and then diluted with water. Sometimes they add nuts as well to that. Tamarind is another very popular one. And then I'm trying to think, licorice, that's not one of my favorites.
EL-HADDADAnd finally one that's really popular in Gaza and throughout the Levant, Syria and Lebanon as well is a frothy mint lemonade. And this was one of my favorites and my mother used to make it all the time. And the idea is you don't just kind of squeeze the lemons. But you take these thin skinned lemons or limes and you wash them and scrub them really well. And you kind of just massage them if you will with some of those skins on there with sugar. Rub it together. Let it sit for about 15 minutes. And it makes this great really fragrant, you know, zesty syrup. You strain that out and you, you know, add water, a little bit more sugar. Blend it up with some orange blossom water and mint leaves. And then, you know, pour it out over ice. That's really refreshing at this time of year as well.
NNAMDIMy mother nurtured us with sorrel, but Laila El-Haddad, thank you so much for joining us.
EL-HADDADI know I'm a mouthful. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
NNAMDILaila El-Haddad is a journalist and co-author of "The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey." Laura Silverman, more bars are starting to offer kombucha on tap. There's some debate in the sober community, though, about whether it should be considered non-alcoholic or not. What is kombucha and what is all the controversy about it?
SILVERMANSo it's possible that Laura Hayes may correct me if I get anything wrong about kombucha. But my understanding is that it is a fermented tea and there's this weird sort of mushroom like thing called a scoby that ferments the tea and from there you can have a bunch of different flavors. But because it's fermented there is trace amounts of alcohol in it, very very little. The amount of alcohol in kombucha is sort of equivalent to maybe kimchi, which is fermented cabbage in the Korean culture or there is some foods that have it that people aren't even aware of.
SILVERMANBut because it's a beverage and because it involves, you know, the ritual of drinking and sometimes you can almost pick up the taste of it, it is a hot topic with sober people especially people in recovery, who may practice a program, whatever that may be. And so it's also up to personal choice. Whatever anyone wants to do is up to them. But it really has come under sort of fire, because it does have trace amounts of alcohol and people, if they choose to ingest it, there's this, you know, debate over whether or not they're messing with their sobriety or their recovery.
SILVERMANI drink it on occasion, because of the health benefits. It's got a lot of probiotics and I like -- it makes my tummy feel better. (laugh) It's good for digestion. It also tastes really good and similarly it has, as Nikki was explaining earlier, has that kind of burn, but not like alcoholic burn, just something more complex and due to that fermentation process. I think what it boils down to is intention. If you are drinking kombucha at like copious amounts of volume so that you can feel a little tiny bit of a buzz, that's a problem, because that's not the intent of it.
NNAMDIBut things also need to have less than 0.5 percent alcohol to be considered alcohol free.
NNAMDIAnd you are suspicious that there are some kombuchas that have a little more than that.
SILVERMANYeah, yeah, I think there are some brands out there that kind of hit me a little harder. And to be fair, I only started drinking kombucha about eight years into my sobriety, because I didn't want to mess with anything. And, as it turned out, I didn't mess with anything, but I just have to be careful about the brands that I choose.
NNAMDILaura Hayes, is there anything you'd like to add to that?
HAYESNo, I'm just laughing, because, you know, Laila said, you know, with the benefits outweigh the detractors and just for gut health essentially I think it's a great beverage. And I'm glad that more bars are having that on draft so that more people can try it. I think it is a tremendous product.
NNAMDIGlad you mentioned health, because Nikki Blank, beverages like Switzerland kombucha are marketed as healthy alternatives to alcohol. How much do concerns about health and wellness impact people's interest in nonalcoholic beverages?
BLANKYeah, so I think we've seen a shift sort of in this, like, Instagram influence or culture and in the wellness sort of bubble or scene, whatever you want to call it toward sober curious lifestyles or nonalcoholic lifestyles. I think people are starting to see not drinking alcohol as a trendy thing to do or as something that's good for their overall wellbeing. So there's been this sort of shift that I've seen both in my own social circles and on social media toward this.
BLANKAnd I will just say, when it comes to kombucha, definitely be careful and do some research when it comes to the brands that you're choosing. There is alcohol in this product and some brands have been caught with alcohol up to 4 or 5 percent. So if you are drinking for medical reasons or serving kombucha to a child, I would just be cautious with that.
NNAMDIWhat does sober curious mean?
BLANKSo sober curious is a term coined by Ruby Warrington, the author, and she actually released a book in December called "Sober Curious," and it means that you're not fully in recovery, you're not sober. You don't partake in drinking alcohol for the most part, but you will have the occasional glass of champagne to celebrate or whatever it may be. You know, I personally don't use the term sober curious for the lifestyle that I choose to lead. I tend to use kind of like, I drink with intention or I drink mindfully, because, you know, as someone who used to be a heavy drinker, and I don't drink that way anymore, I think that best describes sort of how I approach alcohol and when I go out, what I choose to drink.
NNAMDIOnto the phones again, here is Pauline in Washington, D.C. Pauline, your turn.
PAULINEHi everyone. I'm the founder of Mocktail Club. Thank you, Laura, for mentioning my product. I just wanted to add to the conversation with respect to why people might (unintelligible).
NNAMDIYou dropped off Pauline. Are you still there?
PAULINEI am. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIGo right ahead. Yes.
PAULINEOkay. When I started the company -- I was just going to add to the conversation about why people would want something a little more complex than just a diet Coke. When I started the company I was actually pregnant and my husband would drink wine with his dinner and I would feel left out. And I wanted something that had the similar sort of complexity and tannins that I had when I used to drink wine (unintelligible) form. And so I started playing around with apple cider vinegar, again, which is a theme to sort of create that complexity, and teas as well which also creates tannins, some super foods and (unintelligible) which one of your guests talked about from different parts of the world like cardamom and cloves to give it, again, some more complexity.
PAULINEAnd what's interesting is also sort of what the trend I've been hearing on the phone as well is it sort of moved from this nonalcoholic drink to also a functional beverage where the apple cider vinegar is good and de-oxidants are good. And it's really been a sort of new age of consumers who, you know, whether it's drinking mindfully or sober curious, who sometimes drink, but actually care about your health as well. So it's been interesting sort of how even the shrubs have moved to apple cider vinegar, because people not only drink shrubs, they actually like the apple cider vinegar, because it's actually good for your digestive system.
PAULINESo over the last couple of years it's sort of moved from shrubs to sort of apple cider vinegar, because people are very aware of health. So it's been fascinating to see sort of a move, not only just in drinking less, but really caring about what you put in your body. So it's been great from that standpoint to have a healthy drink and something more complex as well.
NNAMDIPauline, thank you very much for your call. We heard from Roya who tweeted, I follow the Baha'i faith so I do not drink alcohol. Fortunately the pressure is much less now than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Society is more diverse and there are many reasons people don't drink alcohol. I'm glad to not spend $10 on what looks like a half glass of wine. (laugh) Roya, thank you very much for your Tweet. Speaking of that, Laura Silverman, people who are strictly sober are not the only ones drinking nonalcoholic beverages. What are other reasons people are looking for alternatives to liquor, beer and wine?
SILVERMANRight. So we've sort of touched on this and I don't know if now is the right time to bring up the bar experience that I helped (unintelligible) --
NNAMDIYou better because this show doesn't last all day.
SILVERMANI know, exactly. So I teamed up with my friend Chris Marshall of Sans Bar, which is based in Austin, Texas to bring -- and it's a sober bar which is kind of a weird sort of oxymoron, if you will, (laugh) but he started this national pop up tour in January going to all these different cities in the country and some big metro areas and some smaller towns. You know, he went to Anchorage, Alaska and found that there was a big need of people, who wanted an option.
SILVERMANSo I teamed up with him and brought the experience to D.C. And I'm really happy that Nikki's drink were part of it, Pauline's drinks were part of it, Charlie from Element Shrubs drinks were part of it. And we're really trying to appeal to the whole sobriety spectrum, which includes people who identify as being in recovery and may practice a recovery program, people who might be pregnant. Like Pauline mentioned that's how she started her company. Same with Element Shrub, Charlie's wife was pregnant and they were looking for alternatives.
SILVERMANPeople who are health conscious and don't want to ingest the drug or a toxin, especially if they're training for a race. A lot of athletes, when they're training, don't want to mess with alcohol. We've got straight edge folks who are sort of the punk rock, but, you know, don't partake in any substances. And, of course, people who have medical reasons, religious reasons, as Laila was mentioning, and she brought me back to my time in Egypt. I went to high school in Cairo and I drank karkade and some of the other things.
SILVERMANAnd so there's just really this -- and of course the sober curious folks, who may drink but -- or mindful drinkers, they may drink, but want a healthy option. So there's just this whole range, what I like to call the sobriety spectrum that can appeal to people who --
NNAMDISupport for mocktails sometimes come from unexpected sources. Here's John in Washington, D.C. John, your turn.
JOHNHi. Thank you for taking my call, Kojo, longtime listener, big fan. Wanted to thank your panelists for highlighting this issue, I've been a beverage director and sommelier in Washington, D.C. for 17 years and now work for a fine wine spirits and beer importer based out of Virginia. And I wanted to just take a minute to briefly talk about a community that's not being discussed here. And that is the mixologists, the beverage directors, the bartenders of restaurants and beverage programs across the District, Northern Virginia and Maryland, who really are the people who are bringing mocktails and nonalcoholic beverage menus to their beverage programs.
JOHNAnd they're the ones who are creative and they are making the shrubs and they're producing the ginger beers and the syrups that go into their cocktail programs and creating menus for people, who choose not to consume alcohol. I think that they are certainly leading the way. And if anyone who is abstaining from alcohol for whatever personal or religious reasons goes into their favorite restaurant or café or bar and ask the bartender or manager for a nonalcoholic drink, if they don't have anything except for soda water and cranberry juice, they should certainly inquire about getting a little creative.
JOHNAnd people like Gina Chersevani at Buffalo and Bergen has been a big pioneer in this way. A number of other mixologists and beverage industry leaders across the District can be contacted and consulted for these menu programs, because they're beneficial for the establishments and for the overall industry.
NNAMDIBut, John, you seem to be speaking against the interest of your own business.
JOHNWell, that brings me to my second topic really, which is low-alcoholic beverages especially in the RTD or ready-to-drink canned market. We're seeing a big push in the market towards low-alcoholic spritzers.
NNAMDIOkay. Now, you're back on track. Go ahead. (laugh)
JOHNAnd so I wanted to ask your panelists what their views or their experience were with these low-alcoholic beverages that seem to be very popular in the market these days.
NNAMDIAnd I do have to go to a break very shortly so Laura Silverman.
SILVERMANThank you, Kojo. And thanks, John. I'll just say that I would not be partaking in a low-alcoholic beverage.
NNAMDIWhat have you been seeing, Laura Hayes?
HAYESA lot of the -- I know it was in headlines everywhere, but, like, (word?) spritzers and things that just contain a little bit of a fortified beverage of some kind with a heavy amount of club soda. I love them. I think they're terrific. I think you can drink two and stretch out the course of time in which you have to catch up with a friend. I'd like to see menus maybe even organized from, you know, high proof down to zero proof. I saw that conversation happen on Twitter as well. I think there's a great place for that in the market. And, you know, I'd like to also echo the sentiment that bartenders are doing a really great job being creative with non-alcoholic options.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break, but Sarah Tweets in, if you're not drinking but you're taking up a seat at the bar, you need to order more than a diet coke, Mocktails make it easy. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation on Washington's sober scene. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing Washington's sober scene. Nikki Blank, there are a few different trends now for people who are no entirely overdrinking. One is called mindful drinking. We just heard about sober curious, but what is mindful drinking and can you talk about those options?
BLANKSure. So actually I started my company with this sort of mindful drinking mission in mind. My mission of my company is to help people drink mindfully in the same ways that they eat and exercise mindfully. And it's because I saw this trend happening where people are paying attention to what they're putting into their body from every morsel of food that they put into their body and how they move their body throughout their day and how they exercised. And, you know, I was seeing people sort of like chugging coffee and chugging energy drinks and chugging real cocktails at happy hour.
BLANKAnd there was just two sort of separate things happening and I wanted to bridge them altogether and make it just sort of more approachable and accessible to drink mindfully in a fun trendy way.
NNAMDILaura Silverman, earlier this month you co-hosted an alcohol-free pop up event called Sans Bar. What is Sans Bar and what kind of response did you get to it?
SILVERMANYeah, so I was a little ahead of myself before the break, but it's essentially a sober bar with really elegant, beautiful spirit-free beverages. And more importantly it's a chance for people to connect authentically and not have to worry about drinking and what people are going to think. It started in Austin, Texas and since January has kind of expanded across the country to different pop-up experiences.
SILVERMANI was a little unsure of what the response would be in D.C., because it is a pretty -- as Nikki said, a work hard, play hard culture. But in the past year or so, and with pieces that Laura Hayes put out recently and just other journalists and influencers are starting to really pick up on the fact that more bars and restaurants in the D.C. area are offering nonalcoholic options. So I was really excited and happy to see that there was quite a positive response. And people have been asking me since like, when are you coming back? When are you doing this again?
SILVERMANIt takes (laugh) a lot of work to do a one-night thing. It felt like I was planning my own wedding and I enjoyed sort of the reprieve when it was over. But I do want more than just a coffee shop --
NNAMDISo you're going to do it again.
SILVERMANI guess so. (laugh)
NNAMDILaura Hayes, a lot of restaurants make a huge chunk of their money selling alcohol so what do bar owners, bartenders, servers and others in the industry, who are not our last caller, really think when someone orders a nonalcoholic drink?
HAYESAbsolutely. I wrote a story a couple years ago where I learned that my favorite Thai restaurant, for example, makes 75 cents off of their most popular dish. So a lot of the lion's share of a restaurant's revenue comes from alcohol. And, you know, I talked to Carly Steiner about this. She is the co-owner of Himitsu, but her background is as a bartender. And she's opening a bar across the street called Dos Mommies. And she said that it's a conversation that, like, isn't respected by enough bartenders yet, which is, you know, contrary to what our caller just said.
HAYESBut she's actually putting the onus on bartenders saying, you know, it's on us to create something that is worth the money that people are willing to spend, and, you know, giving people that option to purchase something besides juice and soda. And to be honest, I published her menu of this mocktail list that she'll be introducing at Himitsu. And there was some criticism about how much some of the mocktails cost.
HAYESAnd, you know, that's a fair question, but cocktails are really nuanced in that a lot of the ingredients that are nonalcoholic are the most expensive. So your mixes, your juices, the house-made tinctures your bartender spent making, which is the added labor cost. And so if they can figure out a way to kind of message why these things are worth the price, I think it'll be a really good new revenue stream that will help bars and restaurants stay afloat.
NNAMDIThere's something ironic about wanting to pay more for something that'll make you inebriated, but that's a whole other story. (laugh) But here's Bernadette in Crofton, Maryland. Bernadette, your turn.
BERNADETTEYes, I was interested in the mocktails, as she calls them. Is there a recipe that I can locate that I can make some of these drinks myself, because some of them I would like to serve to my children. Obviously I don't want to give them alcohol. And secondly, I want to congratulate your speaker for her sobriety, my husband's 34 years sober and we all appreciate that. For the longest time I couldn't drink around him or anything. And he's very adamant about these mock drinks. They taste like alcohol, but they're not alcohol. He won't touch them. (unintelligible) they taste like alcoholic drinks or that's just what they call the mocktails?
SILVERMANThey have a similar -- they have no alcohol in them which is why they could have a various number of synonyms like nonalcoholic drinks. But they often have more of, like, a body to them, maybe a little sting, a little tang. So they're a little more complex than, you know, maybe a simple soda, so you do kind of get that full experience of having a beverage that was thoughtfully put together.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Bernadette. Here is Shane in Cambridge, Maryland. Shane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHANEThank you very much, Kojo. I appreciate it. First of all, congratulations on 20 years with your show.
SHANEThat's fantastic. I also appreciate you and your team bringing this item to the platform on the radio. And I had a different point to make, but I'm very excited, your last caller Bernadette, her husband will not touch these concoctions. And I kind of have to echo that sentiment. I thought I was alone here. I guess I'm just a little early in my sobriety, two years, nine months and seven day. And I'm --
SHANEThank you. I--I (unintelligible) --
NNAMDISix hours and two minutes. (laugh) Go ahead.
SHANEBut who's counting? (laugh) But, you know, I went from being a fully functional alcoholic. I found a way to drink 25 (sic) hours a day, eight (sic) days a week. (laugh) And now I won't cook with alcohol, I won't order anything at a restaurant that has been prepared with alcohol. And I guess I'm just not ready for something that is very similar to a drink. I appreciate what your panel is doing and there's definitely a market for those things --
NNAMDIWell, we don't have a lot of time so allow me to have Laura Silverman respond. He's still in the dangerous territory, so to speak.
SILVERMANI wouldn't call it dangerous. By the way, congratulations Shane, two years and however many months, days and hours you have is amazing. Yeah, I only started to really dabble in more complex beverages as my sobriety built. And as I mentioned, I was eight years sober before I even tried kombucha. Gosh, remind me what the question was again. (laugh)
NNAMDIThe question, he says that he doesn't want to try these drinks, because they'll probably remind him of alcohol.
SILVERMANRight, yeah. And so I think it boils down to your personal choice, Shane, and everyone's personal choice. Not every quote unquote "mocktail" feels like it's an alcoholic beverage minus the booze. It all has to do with the ritual and just enjoying the experience. And so if you feel like when you are in a social situation where other people are drinking and you want to hold something in your hand, maybe you don't, but if you do then there are a lot of great options. And if all else fails, I'm a huge supporter of coffee shops. I love Compass Coffee in D.C. They do a lot of really interesting things on their menu. So it's really a personal choice.
NNAMDINikki Blank, speaking of social situations, it's almost Memorial Day, the official beginning for many of summertime tradition of drinking outside by a grill. As a sober person, how do you navigate spaces like that?
BLANKYeah, so I actually wouldn't call myself necessarily a sober person. I would say that I'm kind of living this intentional drinking lifestyle. And in those social situations it can be really tough. People are going to ask you questions about why you're not partaking. And I don't think we're yet at a point where you can just, you know, say you're not drinking and let that be that.
BLANKThere has to be sort of some excuse around why you're not drinking, whether it's a meeting the next day or you're hung over from the night before. You know, I'm constantly making up excuses in my head for why I'm not, you know, ordering a drink or drinking at a barbecue. So I think it comes down to sort of being vulnerable to people around you and letting them know that this is sort of your personal choice in what you're doing. And, you know, this is what's best for you in that moment. And if they can't respect that then I would probably jump to a different barbecue that day.
NNAMDILaura Hayes, another product having a moment in this region is cannabis. Many people who do not drink don't use other intoxicants either, though some do. How much of an impact has the popularity of cannabis in the Washington region had on local drinking habits?
HAYESI think that's very hard to measure at this point. I think things could change if, you know, we do kind of get fully recreational marijuana, as Mayor Bowser proposed earlier this spring. But I do think it plays a factor. You know, maybe someone who has used cannabis may not want to have one, two or three drinks, because the combination isn't a lot of fun, if you ask college-aged Laura. (laugh)
HAYESSo I think, you know, that's starting to be on more restaurant and bar's radar as far as just another thing that's kind of contributing to, as we said, the sobriety spectrum. And, yeah, kind of in closing I would say that like, you know, sobriety doesn't have to be this dichotomy. And I would hope that, you know, as time goes on and health and wellness become even more of a trend, that people will be able to say kind of with confidence like, oh, I'm choosing not to drink tonight, whether or not that's because they're abstaining or whether or not they are high as a kite. (laugh)
NNAMDIAnd in the less than a minute that we have left, Laura Silverman, are there ways that people who are drinking can support their friends and family who aren't?
SILVERMANAbsolutely. I think if someone who is not dr -- or excuse me, someone is a drinker, but has family members or friends who don't drink, they can be an ally by having nonalcoholic options on tap, if you will, for that family member or friend. And being that support system, especially if someone is newly sober or is uncomfortable with whatever reason they're giving to folks. So just having someone, who's your confidant and having nonalcoholic options ready. And if someone's going to, like, a barbecue that's BYOB, bring your own nonalcoholic beverage. It's totally fine.
NNAMDILaura Silverman is the founder of the Sobriety Collective and co-host of Sans Bar D.C. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDINikki Blank is CEO and founder of Sip City. Nikki Blank, thank you for joining us.
BLANKThanks for having me.
NNAMDILaura Hayes is food editor with Washington City Paper. Laura, always a pleasure.
NNAMDIThat's it for today's show. Today's show on Washington's sober scene was produced by Mark Gunnery. Coming up tomorrow we'll meet D.C.'s new night mayor and hear about his efforts to serve the District's nightlife industry and preserve the city's culture. And we'll dig into the myths surrounding partner violence and hear stories from survivors. We'll be joined in studio by Rachel Louise Snyder, the author of the new book "No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us." It all starts tomorrow at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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