For comedian Kristi Durkin, January 1st marked the beginning of a “fast”: she joined the wave of a 31-day alcohol-free challenge that went viral on social media, #dry january (alcohol-free January, in English) .
“Everyone on the internet is sober,” jokes Durkin, from Chicago, USA. “I’m very susceptible to internet trends.”
The challenge was popularized by the British NGO Alcohol Change UK. Every January, participants commit to going alcohol-free for a month, ostensibly to recover from holiday overindulgence and explore the merits of a sober lifestyle.
The hashtag #DryJanuary has more than 425 million views on TikTok and 529 thousand posts on Instagram. Business intelligence firm Morning Consult estimated that about 15% of U.S. adults participated in Alcohol-Free January last year.
In Brazil, making a promise to go without drinking for a period of time is a custom in any month of the year – but it tends to be more frequent during Lent (the period between Carnival and Easter) for Catholics.
The challenge of not drinking does not necessarily mean abandoning cocktails and drinks: bars and nightclubs have invested in drink options that imitate cocktails but do not contain alcohol. And, among the drinks that come ready-made, there are more and more options of non-alcoholic drinks in addition to juices and soft drinks.
In the US, demand for non-alcoholic canned cocktails grew 4% year over year, according to a study by Amsterdam-based behavioral research firm Veylinx.
Even big brands want to participate in the boom. Last year, North American beverage company Molson-Coors launched its first non-alcoholic cocktail, a canned mix called Roxie (which is not sold in Brazil)
In Brazil, small companies have launched a series of different drinks for those who want to order something more sophisticated at the bar than, say, a diet coke.
Sold online and found in the coolest bars in São Paulo, Kiro is described as a drink “without alcohol, for adults” and “with real ingredients, for demanding palates”.
With a strong ginger flavor, Kiro is advertised as “a type of switchel – a drink made from water, apple cider vinegar, apple juice, ginger and some sweetening ingredient – sweetened with sugarcane juice” and which can also come with with flavors such as passion fruit, cupuaçu, and jiquitaia pepper.
Baer Mate is a non-alcoholic carbonated drink made from mate tea and apple juice. It is sold in a can or in a glass bottle that can easily be confused with a long neck beer.
Still, despite all the options, many participants in the alcohol-free month challenge aren’t swapping beer for non-alcoholic cocktails, says Michael Bevan, head of marketing at Veylinx. Those who are only sober for a month may be less interested in alternative drinks and more interested in spending a month without alcohol.
Durkin, for example, says he would rather save money and drink sparkling water. “It’s more about putting something in my hand to taste.”
In fact, non-alcoholic cocktails and new drinks don’t help if the goal is to save money.
In bars in São Paulo, for example, the price of a non-alcoholic cocktail is usually the same or almost the same as an alcoholic drink. On the market, Baer Mate costs between R$7.99 and R$10, more expensive than a beer. Kiro costs around R$10 per can if purchased on the website.
In the US, another emerging category in non-alcoholic alternatives is non-alcoholic spirits. Monday, based in California, produces whiskey, mezcal, gin and non-alcoholic rum – a bottle of non-alcoholic gin costs US$40 (average R$194).
In Brazil, non-alcoholic fermented beverages – beers, sparkling wines and wines – have been sold for a long time, but distilled spirits are more difficult to find. One of the few options is Gin Zero Álcool Nulla, whose bottle costs around R$80.
Some industry experts, however, say the point of high-end mocktails is not to offer a replacement for alcoholic cocktails or to be a cost-effective option.
Hector Diaz, co-founder of Chicago store and bar In Good Spirits, says these drinks are more about inclusivity.
“It’s less about completely replacing alcohol and more about meeting a need,” says Diaz. “A lot of consumers who don’t drink generally didn’t have options in the past, and having them now is really great.”
He states that the objective is to encourage people to be more aware of their choices.
“Many people [que visitam nossa loja] They won’t necessarily stop drinking alcohol, but they want to be more intentional in their choices — even if that means taking a quick break from drinking during a night of drinking,” says Diaz. “It’s all about balance.”
*with reporting by Letícia Mori from BBC News in São Paulo
This text was originally published here.