Tuesday 15 October 2019

'We believe drinking is the new smoking' - the rise of booze-free drinking

As Ireland's first alcohol-free bar opens next month, Amy O'Connor reports on how Generation Sober is fuelling the rise of booze-free drinking

Tracy Cassidy and her husband Andrew Oates
Tracy Cassidy and her husband Andrew Oates

Vaughan Yates is a seasoned veteran of the Irish drinks industry. A few years ago, he started doing consultancy work and was struck by the growth in popularity of non-alcoholic drinks, particularly among what he describes as the 'Instagram generation'.

With more and more brands investing in alcohol-free products and statistics showing a steady decline in alcohol consumption among adults, he spotted a gap in the market for a night-time venue with a difference.

"I thought, 'Who is catering for these people? Who is giving them somewhere to go that doesn't have alcohol?'" he recalls.

Next month, Yates and his business partner, Oisin Davis will open The Virgin Mary, Ireland's first entirely alcohol-free bar. The pair are setting up shop on Capel Street and will stock a vast array of non-alcoholic beers, alcohol-free spirits and dealcoholised wines.

They have also teamed up with mixologist Anna Walsh to create a selection of bespoke non-alcoholic cocktails. As a space, Yates says it will have the look and feel of a high-end bar, albeit one without any booze.

As a concept, alcohol-free bars are still relatively few far and between. Many that have opened elsewhere have mostly existed as pop-ups or as spaces aimed squarely at recovering alcoholics.

But while it may seem a risky undertaking - particularly in a city as alcohol-centric as Dublin - Yates is confident that the time is right for such a venue.

"I think there is an audience out there," he says. "That's why I'm doing it. We are not out there to say, 'You shouldn't be drinking'. We're saying, 'Come to us as an alternative to having a drink.'

"I actually think within a period of time - it could be 20 to 30 years - that there will be as many non-alcohol bars as alcohol bars. I really do. I think that alcohol is going to be looked at very differently by the next generation."

While that might seem like a bold prediction on the surface, evidence points to a growing appetite for low-alcohol and no-alcohol drinks. Millennials in particular are more health-conscious and image-conscious than previous generations and demonstrating a healthier attitude to drinking.

Couple that with zero-tolerance drink-driving laws and you can see why mindful drinking is the name of the game these days.

As a result, the non-alcoholic drinks market has experienced significant growth. In Germany, the home of beer halls and Oktoberfest, there are an estimated 400 non-alcoholic beers on the market. According to research from Global Market Insights, the global market for non-alcoholic beers is expected to nearly double by 2024 to $25bn from $13bn in 2016.

Not wanting to be left behind, major players like Heineken and Kopparberg have hopped on the bandwagon and launched alcohol-free versions of their drinks.

So far it seems to be working. According to Padraig Cribbeen, chief executive of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, publicans around the country have reported increased demand for non-alcoholic drinks.

"Non-alcoholic drinks, particularly beers, is a growing phenomenon that as a market is sure to make further gains in 2019. For instance, one major supplier expects to sell 30 million bottles of non-alcoholic beer in the UK this year, doubling the amount it sold in 2018.

"Our members around the country are reporting a huge increase in demand for non-alcoholic bottled beers. The quality and taste of non-alcoholic drinks has greatly improved over the past couple of years so it's a market that will only increase over the next five years."

Among those brands seeking to capitalise on this new era of conscious boozing is Guinness. Last year, it made its first foray into the non-alcoholic drinks market with Pure Brew, an alcohol-free lager.

Last week, the brand ran a pop-up bar to coincide with Dry January entitled 'Bar For When You're Off The Beers' on Dublin's South Anne Street. The bar poured Pure Brew and a selection of other non-alcoholic beers on tap.

"Pure Brew has been a great success to date," says Sarah Gillian, senior brand manager for Pure Brew, citing positive feedback from customers and beer writers alike.

"There are an increasing number of social occasions when consumers are choosing not to drink or want an alternative to alcohol. We firmly believe that it is only right that those who choose to consume a beer without alcohol, should have the same expectations when it comes to the quality and taste of the beer. Whether you're seeking alcohol or not, we think great-tasting beer is the goal."

For those who aren't fans of beer, great strides have been made in the realm of non-alcoholic spirits. Last year, Tracy Cassidy and her husband Andrew Oates launched Silk Tree, Ireland's first non-alcoholic botanical spirit.

Cassidy says she and her husband were "typical Irish partygoers" who drank all their adult lives. After growing concerned about their own drinking habits, they embarked on a year without alcohol and haven't looked back since.

Silk Tree was envisaged as a non-alcoholic spirit that mimicked the taste of gin. The response thus far has "exceeded expectations" and Cassidy says that the success can be attributed to a shift in attitudes towards alcohol.

"There is a huge movement of people stepping away from alcohol and taking a break," says Cassidy.

"The millennials are not binge drinkers the way my generation were so they're delighted to see this product. The feedback we're getting from them is that it's lovely to go out and have one or two gin and tonics and then they can go move onto the Silk Tree. It's hugely popular among that cohort. Then you have the ex-drinkers like myself who are using it as a replacement or as a placebo."

The question is whether this is just another wellness trend or whether it's here to stay.

"This is not a fad," says Cassidy. "We really believe that drinking is going to become the new smoking."

"This is the new phenomenon for the alcoholic drinks industry," she adds firmly. Bottoms up, so.

Irish Independent

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