The booming business of non-alcoholic beverages in Vancouver

The demand for non-alcoholic drinks is growing, with more people ditching booze beyond dry January. Monika Gul has more on the Vancouver businesses getting on the wagon.

The demand for non-alcoholic drinks is growing, with significantly more people ditching booze beyond ‘Dry January’ this year.

Sober Babes Vancouver co-founders Mic Deane and Zelika Brown have been sober since last April. The two Vancouver friends say it’s not because they have a substance use problem, but because they want to live better lives.

The two are among a growing number of people going beyond Dry January and drinking less, or not at all, year-round. A 2021 Stats Can survey suggests one in five Canadians have been indulging in less booze since the start of the pandemic.

Sober Babes defines itself on its Instagram page as being “For women, non-binary people & members of the LGBTQ+ community in “Vancouver” who are sober, sober curious, or want to drink less alcohol.”

Sober Babes Vancouver makes plans for those interested in attending and socializing without alcohol. Their events include coffee morning meetups, drag shows, picnics, and more.

Deane says the change in lifestyle has been positive overall.

“Being sober has improved my life in more ways than I can even describe,” Deane explained.

“I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder a couple of years ago and I would do all of these things to manage my mental health – I’d be like making sure I sleep well, making sure I’m exercising, taking my meds, and going therapy and then I’d go out on the weekend and I’d undo all of that hard work,” Deane added.

Brown attributes the time we have on this planet as a reason for taking the sober route.

“We’re only here for a short time, we need to make the most of it, and that’s not blacking out on the weekend,” Brown said. “You really have so much free time. Like, if you’re not drinking Friday and Saturday and you’re not hungover Sunday, Monday, the amount of stuff you can do in that time.”

Brown says people are reaching out to their organization all the time, asking about sober events and how to get involved with Sober Babes Vancouver. She adds the amount of people reaching out can be a little overwhelming, so she lets Deane handle that end of things.

“It can be very overwhelming, but I’m just so happy we have it,” Deane said.

With an increased number of people interested in taking the sober approach to life, James Franey of JAK’s Beer Wine Spirits says the store is somewhat following suit by offering more non-alcoholic options.

“Our variety has grown away from maybe two or three brands to 20, 30, plus. When COVID started, the options became very versatile and really exploded and our guests definitely saw interest there. So instead of just a lager, or pale ales, we have IPAs, we have sours, they taste a lot more like the flavour profile of a regular beer,” said Franey.

JAK’s Beer Wine and Spirits has a dozen locations in B.C., and has seen nearly a 1,000 per cent increase in non-alcoholic drink sales over the last four years, with an 80 per cent increase in 2022 alone.

One of the brands they carry, Nonny, is a Vancouver-based company that launched a year ago.

Leigh Matkovich, Co-Founder of Nonny Beer, says their products have been more popular than ever.

“There’s a huge uptick of people taking non-alcs to their holiday parties and then definitely in the last couple of days here after the holidays, my phone has been ringing off the hook for orders, partnerships, events, and all of that so yes, it’s been very busy,” said Matkovich.

Non-drinkers relish sober beverage options

One peer advisor says the desire to drink can come from the fear of missing out and not being included.

“A lot of the times we feel that we need to do stuff that, even if we’re not comfortable, we do it anyway because it makes us feel like belong,” said Guy Felicella of the BC Centre on Substance Use.

Felicella, who has been sober for nearly 10 years, says non-alcoholic drinks are also a great option for those who have a substance-use problem, like him.

“A great aspect of that is going to a sober party where they have non-alcoholic drinks, the same as you would go to any other bar, expect there’s no alcohol in it…it’s kind of like a social setting where people gather but you’re sober and you’re being yourself, you don’t have to be somebody you’re not,” he explained.

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Brown and Deane know getting sober can be hard, so they have a couple tips to offer for those who might be interested.

“Even if people have a little interest in becoming sober, definitely start with Dry January and see how you feel after that and if you don’t feel like doing anymore that’s fine but come February, I think you’ll remember how good you let in January and maybe you’ll want to continue it. But also, the sober life’s not for everybody as well, we’re not here forcing people to do it, we’re just here to help if it’s something that you’ve thought about or something that you wanna do,” Brown explained.

“I really like having an app on my phone that tells me how many days have passed and just being able to look at it everyday and being like ‘okay, we’re at one, okay, we’re at two.’ I think what’s really, really helped me is I wrote a list of all of the reasons that I wanted to stop drinking and every time I want to drink, I look at that list and think ‘I can not go back to that again’. And also, I think what’s been huge for me and for a lot of a people is getting sober with someone else or finding a sober community,” said Deane.

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