On My Radar | Phuza Thursdays, without the phuza

Dion Chang
Dion Chang

Last month the first alcohol-free bar, The Virgin Mary, opened its doors in the Irish capital, Dublin – a city that is regarded as one of the bar capitals of the world, in a country that has a deeply embedded culture of drinking.

In fact, the pub opened in the same week that Irish women were ranked as the fourth heaviest female drinkers in the world.

Unsurprisingly, the concept was met with scepticism, as well as a healthy dose of derision.

But the owner of the bar, Vaughan Yates, and his business partner, Oisin Davis, are not deterred.

“Ireland is changing,” he said in an interview with The Guardian.

“When I mention the concept to friends, the first thing they do is laugh. From birth to death, baptism to funeral, Ireland has a drinking culture. It’s part of the lifestyle.”

But lifestyles around the world are evolving and Yates is catching the wave of this trend early. He noticed a growing number of people asking for non-alcoholic drinks, as well as venues that were alcohol-free.

He is certain that the pub will draw customers such as pregnant women or people who abstain for religious reasons.

On The Virgin Mary drinks menu you will find choices such as a hot, spicy Virgin Mary; a Ceder’s Spritz comprising non-alcoholic gin and sparkling wine; and a chilled Raven Nitro coffee poured from a stout tap to mimic the appearance of Guinness.

Yates recruited well-known mixologist Anna Walsh as the bar manager to design a drinks menu that goes way beyond the usual mocktails.

Apart from non-alcoholic cocktails, there is already a wide range on non-alcoholic beverages that The Virgin Mary could offer, especially non-alcoholic beers, which are a growing trend worldwide.

Teetotalism, like the fast-growing move to plant-based diets, is being spearheaded by a younger demographic – older Gen Zs and millennials.

A UK survey taken in 2016 confirmed that close to half of all vegans are aged between 15 and 34.

Today’s teenagers are turning out to be more conservative than their parents – they are drinking less and having less sex.

Their abstinence from alcohol is interesting; it is not just about the bad social effects of alcohol and alcohol addiction, but also a concern about the high sugar content that alcohol contains.

This has become a red flag for alcohol companies, hence the appearance of many non-alcoholic beers on the shelves in response to this trend.

In South Africa there are already non-alcoholic substitutes for beer, cider, gin and sparkling wine.

But alcohol companies have not one, but two, curveballs being thrown at them – the booming wellness trend is affecting sales, as is the legalisation of marijuana, which more and more countries around the world are adopting.

Global statistics show that there is a significant drop in alcohol consumption in countries where recreational marijuana has been legalised.

However, it’s not just a swap of vices. As medicinal and recreational marijuana are becoming more accepted, the difference between cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is gaining clarity.

There are a hundred different cannabinoids, the active constituents of cannabis, but the two most commonly discussed are THC and CBD.

Broadly speaking, THC is what makes you feel high, while CBD interacts with the parts of the brain that reduce inflammation, hence the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

Many companies are hitching a ride on the CBD bandwagon, including beverage companies. I’ve been tracking the boom in CBD-infused products – anything from beers to coffees to mineral water.

The mineral water category is a particularly interesting one. It’s positioned as a perfect weeknight-out drink, with just a whisper of cannabinoids to give you a subtle uplifting buzz, but not enough to give you a high or a hangover the next morning, which alcohol would do.

The wellness industry is also embracing CBD-infused beverages that promise to calm, relax or de-stress you. This is where the non-alcoholic beverage trend really starts to move into high gear.

It’s no longer just about avoiding alcohol or exchanging one bad habit for another, but it’s something that can contribute to your mental wellbeing.

That’s a powerful message in an era of bombardment stress.

Unsurprisingly, beer producers are fighting back. Besides non-alcoholic beers, there are now a few brands of “wellness beers” that are surfacing.

Some are trying to tap into the plant-based diet movement and offer beers that are gluten-free, while others are brewing beers that contain electrolyte-replenishing salts and are being marketed to sportspeople as a recovery beer, that is, low-alcohol, nutrient-rich beers that can be enjoyed after competitive sports.

Other craft brewers are looking for other triggers, such as tapping into our environmental concerns.

There are craft beer companies in Wales and Scotland that are using unsold bread as a substitute for malt in the traditional brewing process to help combat food waste.

All these uncharted trajectories in the alcohol industry illustrate a seismic shift in global drinking habits.

It might be a while before South Africa opens its first alcohol-free shebeen, but soon we might just have to rename “phuza Thursday”.

Perhaps we’ll just call it Thursday.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit fluxtrends.com

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