Sober socializing: Bars begin offering more nonalcoholic options

Dec. 23, 2019

By BryAnn Becker Knecht, for Sioux Falls.Business

Say goodbye to boring club soda with lime. Bartenders and breweries in Sioux Falls and nationwide are taking fresh approaches to nonalcoholic drinks as establishments expand their options with interesting ingredients and variations, from sparkling, hopped lemonade to nitro coffee.

Along with restaurants featuring more nonalcoholic drinks on their menus, sober bars also are opening either as full-time or pop-up establishments in larger metros around the country. These designated sober spaces instead feature entertainment or other fun options such as trivia, pool, darts and video games.

“We have the same comforts that a bar would,” said Sam Thonis, co-owner of the Getaway Bar in Brooklyn, N.Y., in a piece published by Fortune earlier this year. “The lighting, the music, the layout. It’s just a place where everyone is on the same boat, and you don’t really have to explain yourself.”

The article noted that Heineken research showed nearly 30 percent of people between the age of 21 and 25 had not had a beer in the past month.

“We see large numbers of younger consumers not drinking alcohol at all and a continuing trend towards wellness and moderation and balance in your lifestyle,” Jonnie Cahill, chief marketing officer for Heineken USA, told Ad Age.

“These trends, which exist all over the world, actually started in the U.S. And yet the nonalcoholic space has been pretty poorly served.”

Globally, the nonalcoholic beer market is projected to surpass $25 billion by 2024, according to a 2018 report by Global Market Insights.

“Increasing consumer consciousness pertaining to long-term effects of liquor along with consumer preferences to avoid headaches and drowsiness will propel the nonalcoholic-beer market growth,” it said.

Nonalcoholic specialty drinks have been a growing trend in Minneapolis for several years and are emerging in other markets such as Sioux Falls, those in the industry say. The alcohol-free trend has emerged as a new category for customers looking for drink options beyond soda when gathering for social occasions.

Downtown Minneapolis restaurant and bar Spoon and Stable has been offering a spirit-free cocktail menu to customers for several years. Spoon and Stable offers elevated, nonalcoholic versions of classic cocktails and other nonalcoholic drinks that capitalize on flavor. For example, the Palmer, a spin on an Arnold Palmer, combines lemon cordial with a seasonal tea flavor.

“It’s about giving customers a fun option, so that if they aren’t drinking, they don’t have to miss out,” bar manager Jessi Pollak said.

That includes a focus on flavor profile and presentation, ensuring customers still get the “cocktail experience,” she said.

“To me, that’s the whole point. Just because you’re not drinking for any reason, you don’t have to give up the flavor. We still want the drink to have the same thought, flavor and complexity that comes with an alcoholic drink.”

Parker’s Bistro in downtown Sioux Falls takes a similar approach in its nonalcoholic menu. It offers four nonalcoholic drinks with complex flavor profiles. Those drinks are gaining in popularity, according to bar manager Arnie Cowger, and Parker’s plans to have a new list within the next several weeks.

“The goal is to create an experience for people and give them quality,” Cowger said.

Presentation and flavor are a focus. OP’s G&T features juniper berries infused in white cranberry juice. The drink has an orange crescent slice and house-made tonic syrup, and is garnished with a cinnamon stick and star anise.

Other nonalcoholic drinks are a spin on popular cocktails. The Adelaide, a take on the lavender martini, features house-made lavender syrup, rose blossom water and soda. Parker’s also offers the 62 Skidoo, which stars pineapple peach kombucha. Kombucha, a fermented tea beverage, is popular with health-conscious consumers.

Minneapolis bars and restaurants led with the kombucha trend several years ago, and Sioux Falls is following suit, Cowger noted.

Ode to Food & Drink also has added nonalcoholic specialty drinks that still allow customers to “feel festive and take part in the party,” even if they’re not partaking in alcoholic drinks, said bar manager Garrison Haatvedt. The newly added blood orange mojito has been a hit, Haatvedt said.

Ode also has a full coffee bar that has been doing well since the restaurant opened in 2015. The specialty coffee drinks stand out in the winter, particularly The Executive, which features dark roast coffee, MCT oil and Kerrygold butter.

Sioux Falls breweries also are capitalizing on the nonalcoholic trend and using it as a way to cater to a variety of customers, including families.

Fernson Downtown has been expanding its nonalcoholic drink options since opening in April. It started with in-house lemonade, which has allowed the downtown taproom for Fernson Brewing Co. to be an inviting space for customers, said Justin Kautz, the taproom’s assistant manager.

“We operate as a restaurant as much as a taproom. We want to get folks in the door to try our awesome food even if they aren’t 21. We’re providing something for everyone; we don’t want to box folks out,” he said.

About two months ago, Fernson added a kombucha from Lone Pine Kombucha of Rapid City, the sole distributor of fermented tea in the state. Flavors rotate, with acai being the current option.

The most recent addition is a nitro brew coffee from The Breaks Coffee Roasting Co. It’s a cold brew that’s pumped through a nitro faucet. “The nitro makes the drink smoother and creamier,” Kautz explains.

Severance Brewing Co. has offered four nonalcoholic options on rotation since opening in August. For Severance, it’s also important to have options for its wide customer base.

“Being a family-friendly brewery until 8 p.m., we thought it was necessary to have those nonalcoholic options for minors and kids, and also for people who don’t drink,” said Mark Stavenger, taproom manager. During the summer, he noticed many families would come directly from Falls Park to the brewery.

Severance also offers a kombucha from Lone Pine and cold brew served on nitro. The 1919 Classic American Draft Root Beer on tap is a popular choice with kids and adults, but the sparkling, hopped lemonade has been the star.

“We change the hops and flavors every time we make it,” Stavenger said.

Many customers will order a growler of the lemonade along with their beer.

“You get the fizziness, but you also get the good flavors of lemonade and hops.”

At Fernson Downtown, Kautz said the nonalcoholic options offer a chance for nomad professionals to have a beverage while working at Fernson during the day and then transition to a beer after hours.

“The way we see it too, some people don’t work in an actual office,” he said. “A lot of people are bouncing around downtown from coffee shop to coffee shop. The way I see it, we can provide them the coffee to fuel their afternoon. If they want to transition into a post-work beer, that’s a great situation.”

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Sober socializing: Bars begin offering more nonalcoholic options

A bar without the booze? They’re starting in other cities — and nonalcoholic options are finding their way onto local menus too.

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