Food Drinks

How to give up alcohol while maintaining a social life

The days of being treated as an outsider for refusing alcohol are fading fast as a new wave of sober socialisers – green cocktail or curated tea in hand – prove that having a good time has nothing to do with booze.

Sobriety is trending – and there are a number of Kiwis saying 'Cheers!' to that.

Whether you want to cut down for your health or wallet, or address a drinking problem, there are a growing number of support mechanisms and non-alcoholic beverage options available.

Around the world, dry bars and sober groups are popping up, while campaigns such as Dry July and Say Yeah, Nah are helping to change attitudes locally. The stigma around sobriety is slowly lessening; however, non-drinkers still find themselves in an obvious minority when socialising in our alcohol-fuelled world.

No Beers? Who Cares! is one group seeking to change that, by providing a sober socialising space.

The group's events offer an alcohol-free environment for those giving up alcohol for three months, a year or more – or anyone curious to know more. Claire Robbie started No Beers? Who Cares! as a support network when she planned to go sober for a year.

"I'd given up for a couple of years before and knew that having support and accountability was key," says the journalist, yoga and meditation teacher, who says heavy drinking in the past led to her wanting to reduce her dependence on alcohol.

"It quickly became apparent that lots of people felt the same, so I created NBWC."

She has now been sober for a year and a half and doesn't plan to drink again. The benefits are enormous, she says.

"I have so much more time and energy. When you give up drinking you have to fill that space with healthy, positive alternatives, and if you do you'll notice massive shifts in your life."

NBWC offers members an online support group and regular events (for members and non-members) with meditation and talks from business owners and influencers, both non-drinkers and otherwise. Previous guests have included comedian Guy Williams, who has never been a drinker, and social change campaigner (and Claire's partner) Richie Hardcore, who has been sober for 14 years.

Events also highlight new and noted non-alcoholic beverages. One of these is Seedlip, the world's first range of distilled non-alcoholic spirits, blended in England.

This alcohol alternative, which boasts no sugar or calories, has garnered an enormous amount of attention since its New Zealand launch in February. Rebecca Caughey, co-owner of Cook & Nelson, the New Zealand importer of the spirit, says the response to Seedlip has been amazing.

The first shipment sold out in less than a week, and each shipment since has also sold out. Rebecca says incorporating Seedlip into her drinking repertoire has reduced the amount of alcohol she consumes.

"The incredible thing about Seedlip is you feel like you are participating in the ritual of drinking a cocktail," she says. "It relaxes me and makes me feel like I'm having a treat but I can still work in the evenings or wake up in the morning feeling great."

The increasing variety of non-alcoholic beverages available at bars and restaurants, including Seedlip, boutique sodas and kombucha, make going 'without' while dining out more appealing.

At Auckland restaurants Clooney and Pasture you can choose to enjoy juice pairings instead of wine with your degustation. Clooney also offers tea pairings courtesy of tea master Anna Kydd.

Owner Tony Stewart explains, "I wanted to create a dining experience that everyone appreciated on all levels. Too often we'd see one person trying the wine match and another not, which didn't sit right with me. Now, more times than not we see all parties at a table trying one of the three pairings on offer."

Anna, who owns artisan tea subscription service The Tea Curator, says that tea's complex flavour profile means it can be tasted and evaluated in the same way as wine. "It also pairs really well with food so it's an excellent alternative to alcohol during a meal."

Restaurateur Damaris Coulter, of Coco's Cantina and The Realness, an online directory of independent eateries, has been sober for 17 years. "I stopped drinking when I was 21 after attending drug and alcohol rehab," she says, explaining that she used alcohol as a coping mechanism for anxiety. "Unfortunately, the booze, hangovers and blackouts just heightened the anxiety."

Coco's Cantina, the restaurant she owns with sister Renee, offers a range of non-alcoholic drinks and non-alcoholic cocktails. Damaris reports that more people are starting to request these, in addition to low-alcohol drinks.

"I think people are realising that when you drink, you don't have to get drunk. You can enjoy a relaxing glass of something, an aperitif to open your palate or a spontaneous bottle of wine. People are also realising they don't have to drink every time they go out."

On vineyard-strewn Waiheke Island, where wine is one of the main drawcards, Helen Elscot and Jill Mulvaney of The Botanical Distillery are aiming to "break the preconception that distillation has to be associated with alcohol".

The company runs interactive events showcasing the distillation of bespoke fragrances and spirits using locally gathered plants. The pair realised there was an opportunity to offer non-alcoholic beverages at these gatherings after hosting pregnant guests and other non-drinkers.

Tea curator Anna Kydd is the brew meister behind the tea pairings for the seven-course degustation menu at Auckland's Clooney restaurant.

Attendees can now enjoy options such as 'gin' tea, tonic cordials and green cocktails using ingredients they've foraged such as kawakawa and dandelion, while their soon-to-be launched Botanical Cocktail Experience "has been designed for the growing non-alcohol market on Waiheke," Helen says.

Not everyone wants to give up alcohol completely, but many want to learn to moderate their drinking. Australian alcohol-reduction expert, clinical hypnotherapist and author Georgia Foster promotes drinking less through online programmes and seminars.

Dry run Brett Macdonald, co-founder of Dry July is noticing a shift in attitudes.

"Most people who drink too much can learn to drink less," she says.

Her courses are designed for people who recognise their drinking behaviour interferes with their lives in negative ways.

"The goal is to mindfully reduce by half what a person generally drinks," she says. "It's about drinking to enjoy, rather than to escape our lives."

Restaurateurs Damaris and Renee Coulter are noticing a shift in attitudes. "People are realising they don't have to drink every time they go out," says Damaris.

Dry July is also helping to encourage Kiwis to cut back on the booze. Last year 4000 New Zealanders took part in Dry July; this year it was 6000.

Although it is primarily a fundraiser for people affected by cancer, CEO and co-founder Brett Macdonald says Dry July also influences people to reduce their alcohol intake.

In a post campaign survey, 80 per cent of participants said they would drink less after finishing Dry July, and 75 per cent reported a change in their outlook on alcohol consumption.

For more stories from NADIA, pick up a copy of the latest issue of NADIA magazine, on sale now.