Lots of adult individuals routinely drink alcoholic beverages. Lots of other adult individuals do not. Like so many issues around personal choice, it should really be as simple as just those two statements, but of course it isn’t.
The many strong reactions to this recent piece by Susie Garrard, as well as the strong tone of the piece itself, handily exemplify that identifying who’s drinking what can get very personal. I’ve seen otherwise rational adults engage in inflicting silly peer pressure on others who are not imbibing, and I’ve seen sober friends catch attitudes with drinkers that seemed uncalled for.
Then again, although I have gone long periods without alcohol just because I wanted to (I think a year has been the max since I started drinking in my teens), I definitely exist in the camp of People Who Drink, so I don’t know what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a lifelong teetotaler. Who we choose to spend time around and how those people treat us will almost be the underlying issue festering beneath apparent interpersonal problems, so the rudeness of getting sloppy drunk and expecting your sober friend(s) to take care of you, just like the callousness of being that sober friend and completely ignoring your drunk friend who may need help, really boil down to issues of respect and compassion, not booze.
There is, however, one area that is indisputably a burden on people who do not drink alcohol: having immeasurably fewer drink options. Enter Curious Elixirs to fill that void.
Curious Elixirs are “booze-free craft cocktails,” currently wrapping up a successful Kickstarter campaign that’s juuuust shy of its goal as of this writing. Their mission statement piqued my interest immensely: “Our mission at Curious is to redefine what it means to drink socially. The signature requirement isn’t that a drink is alcoholic; it’s that it’s special, delicious, good for you, and good to drink with friends.”
On days (or weeks or months) when I’m specifically not drinking alcohol, I feel completely without options to order. I don’t drink soda and I specifically don’t care for the taste of diet colas, although I’ll have them with rum in a lower-cal cuba libré but helloooooo this is a night when I’m not drinking, remember? And although you can pry my gummy bears and Red Vines from my cold, dead hands, I try not to drink sugar- and calorie-laden beverages, so fruit juices are out.
Which leaves me at the bar looking like Boo Boo the fool ordering glasses of water at $5 a pop because I feel the need to overtip for being the asshole taking up space at the bar but only ordering water. Roughly a third of American adults don’t drink alcohol at all and another third averages only about a drink a week, and yet soda and juice is the best we can do? Should we also enjoy some saltines while we’re at it and lay down our mats for nap time?
Of course it comes down to money — there’s no financial incentive for bartenders to create fresh, exciting drink combinations, or expend labor in measuring and mixing them, that don’t involve an ingredient that they can price as high as what they charge for liquor. Most of them don’t even want to take the time to make a mojito (which I totally understand if they’re busy, as much as I love to drink ‘em), and they can charge well into the double digits for those.
There also doesn’t seem to be a desire — when craft cocktail creators took over the bar and restaurant scene about a decade ago, I pooh-poohed much of it as twee beverage gentrification, but the craft cocktailers who could combine natural ingredients with an eye on enhancing their base liquor got my attention. Still, they’ll take great pride in finding the exact elderberry root to complement the spicy undertones of the licorice mouthfeel of the blah blah blah when it involves booze in a way they just don’t seem to give a shit about when you sober that drink up.
Even one of the better mocktail recipe compilations I could find is clearly geared toward experimenting at home or at a private party, not ordering out in public. Unless you’re prepared to repeat yourself and tip heartily for the creative request. One list names “virgin frozen drinks of any kind” as NUMBER ONE on a list of “cocktails only a dickhead would order,” and more common are lists of non-alcoholic drinks “everyone will love” which include such rockin’ options as a Shirley Temple, an Arnold Palmer, an iced latte (?), and an energy smoothie (???). So fun! Much party!
Curious Elixirs is beginning with three varieties of craft cocktail–inspired beverages, created with the input of a team of world-class bartenders, herbalists, and food scientists. I reached out to learn more and was put in touch with cofounder Ashley Simon, who, along with business partner John Wiseman, hopes to have Curious Elixirs on the market early next year.
Ashley is another inspiring woman who made a sharp career change, having spent much of the last decade “hustling in the media and startup world,” as she told me via email. For the sake of her emotional and physical well-being in that high-stress world, and having endured a bout of kidney disease, Ashley says she decided to “step out of the rat race and focus on freelancing and teaching yoga.”
She continues, “That’s when I met John Wiseman, who shared his idea for a line of booze-free craft cocktails. I knew immediately that I wanted to help bring his idea to life. While I’ve never had a drinking problem, I’ve reached an age where more than 1-2 drinks makes me feel like hot garbage the next day, and it just doesn’t seem worth it anymore. I’d rather feel good and feel sharp.”
It’s really no one’s business why someone would not drink alcohol, but whether someone is in recovery, or on antibiotics, or has just never had any alcohol and doesn’t want to, or they drew the short straw and are the DD for the night, or they have a bun in the oven, or whatever else, they deserve better drink options.
Exactly what’s in each Curious Elixir is top secret, but they can tell us that they’re all dairy/nut/gluten-free, fair trade, non-GMO, and made with no added sugar, and made at the More Good flavor and beverage facility in upstate New York. Curious No. 1 is low in sugar, made from organic, all-natural ingredients, and includes their secret herb, root, and botanical blend, which they say “has the curious effect of lifting you up.” That proprietary blend “combines organic juices with 100 percent all natural herbs and botanicals, even using ancient root elixir that Vikings historically drank before battle.”
The Viking stuff is cool, I guess, but they had me at “low in sugar.” It’s time for non-boozy choices other than “water or a sugar-bomb mocktail,” as Ashley put it. Also, I can picture walking up to a bar and ordering a “Curious Number Two,” just like anyone else ordering at drink at a bar, without the unnecessary “othering” that goes on when someone doesn’t drink. The social aspect most people assign to drinking is a major motivator for Team Curious, because choosing not to drink alcohol shouldn’t also be a choice to not socialize.
This is crystal clear in Ashley’s closing statement to me: “My hope for Curious is that people genuinely love the taste, and that in some small way we can help normalize the choice to not drink.”
I’ll drink to that.
You can learn more about Curious Elixirs and back them here.