BREAKING THE STIGMA: With so many non-alcoholic drink options, it’s easy to embrace the sober life

You’ve heard of “Dry January” and “Sober October,” but there’s also a year-round sober movement that’s gaining interest. And with so many new non-alcoholic beers and mocktails to chose from, local bars and restaurants are embracing the growing sober-lifestyle.

“Right now, it is the talk of the town, every trade magazine”, said Sean Enright, General Manager at Spork restaurant in Garfield. “We are seeing a huge uptick in our NA program.”

Non-alcoholic or “NA” drink options have exploded recently, and so have sales.

In the last year, $395 million dollars was spent on non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits in the U.S., a growth of more than 20% from August 2021.

Some experts credit the pandemic with a new interest in a healthier lifestyle, but younger consumers in general have also shown less interest in drinking alcohol compared to previous generations.

“You know, I wanted to lose weight, I wanted to check my relationship with alcohol, gain some energy and save some money,” said Matt Mager, who started a “Dry January” three years ago and hasn’t looked back.

“I’ve had friends join this bandwagon basically or trying non-alcoholics and being blown away,” he said.

Mager is now a regular customer at The Open Road in Allentown, which claims to be the first store of its kind in Pennsylvania.

Owner Mel Babitz started the venture as a pop-up non-alcoholic beverage bar and delivery service just the before the pandemic began and now sells more than 300 varieties of non-alcoholic drinks from mimics and mixers to beers and wines.

“It’s changed dramatically. Everything in the store has come out in the last two to three years,” said Babitz. “Don’t even think about what you tried a few years ago because in the non-alcoholic world that’s like 20 years ago.”

The staff at Spork has traveled the world over the last couple of years and saw an opportunity.

They say the NA drinks now outsell their beer.

“We came back and said, we want to do it better than anybody else is doing it. We want to make the cocktails on the temperance menu as complex and as layered in flavors as our regular cocktails,” said Enright. “It’s on people’s minds and the fact that they’re selling is why people are investing in it now.”

Most NA beers still have about 0.5% alcohol by volume, so in Pennsylvania, you still have to be 21-years-old to buy them.

But there are newer beer options with no alcohol at all that still get lumped into that legal-category.

As a result, eight states have changed their age requirements, and there’s a push to get Pennsylvania to do the same.

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