A Look Into Dry January
Over the last several years, more and more people are participating in “Dry January.” By participating in Dry January, one elects to abstain from drinking alcohol for the entire month of January. This fascinates me as one who enjoys drinking a beer as much as the next guy…unless the next guy is Wade Boggs…
When I think about my quality of life, gathering with people around beer is at the core of it all. Craft beer is a tremendous social outlet for me. Additionally, writing about craft beer provides my mind a necessary creative outlet. When I first heard of the concept of Dry January, I admit that I was confused. Then, I began thinking about it and it made a little more sense. I talked to people who did it over the years and they reported sleeping better, feeling better, and losing a few pounds. Now, my interest is piqued. I want to know more and share my findings with the six or seven of you who are reading this.
Who Does Dry January and Why?
I want to know why people participate in Dry January. My assumptions are that the motivation to take a break from alcohol might stem from a desire to become more fit, focus on mental health, or try to reset after the holiday season. However, you know that they say when you assume-you make an ass out of you and me. So, I threw out a simple query to my Facebook followers.
I am thankful to the people who were so quick to volunteer their information. Also, I am struck by peoples’ honesty and candor around the topic of Dry January. I will never judge anybody for doing something that works for them. Mental and physical health is important. I understand the personal frustration that can come with wanting to be more balanced. For some, finding balance in health and mental wellness is easy; for others, not so much.
Of the people who shared their information, it was 60/40 split of males and females. Ages ranged from late twenties to mid fifties in age. The occupations represented are teachers, restauranteur, liquor store owner, brewery owner, school para, doctor, healthcare operations manager, software salesperson, and a senior account executive. 80% of those who responded are doing Dry January this year.
“After the Covid years, I felt I needed to cut back on my alcohol consumption. Also, a few people close to me just started their sober journey so it seemed like a good time.FB friend of the author
Those that are doing Dry January cited the desire to get back on track with their physical wellness as the main motive for participating in Dry January. At least two people mentioned indulging quite vociferously during the holidays as the main motivator and “cleaning things up a bit.” Several folks had some health goals that they are looking to achieve in 2023. At least two people referenced saving a little money as a main reason for Dry January.
Does Dry January Have to Negatively Impact Your Social Life?
I get major cabin fever in January and yearn for social to connection. This is why I assume that January is a difficult month to totally abstain from drinking. However, a lot of people intimated that the negative impact on their social lives was minimal. One person, whose coworkers are heavy drinkers, said that she will get the occasional side-eye, or worse yet, “Are you pregnant?” However, most of the people I talked to said that they get very few people noticing that they aren’t imbibing.
As far as Dry January keeping people from going out, the majority of people said this would not be an issue. In fact, most were downright excited to get out there. The vast array of NA options, beer or otherwise, make Dry January a lot more doable.
“Definitely plan to hit some taprooms. (Steel Toe, Arbeiter, Fulton, Pryes, Bauhaus, Dangerous Man, Eastlake, Fair State, Too many good NA beers out there and I like seeing my friends!”Avid craft beer drinker Rick Spaulding
What Do You Drink Instead?
If you are a beer drinker and want to give Dry January a try, what do you drink instead? There are a lot of people who associate the concept of a non-alcoholic beer with the horrific NA concoctions from the 90s. Well, with the advent of new processes and technology, NA beer can and does actually taste like beer. I have enjoyed NA beer at breweries, and it can be a pleasant experience.
Making sure others know about the NA options still has a ways to go when it comes to promotion. Tom Berg, one of the owners of Falling Knife Brewing in Minneapolis, believes local craft beverage makers need to do a better job promoting available NA options. “There’s no reason that people not drinking alcohol shouldn’t still feel welcome to come hang out in our taprooms.”
While the amount of info and promotion of NA options isn’t where it needs to be, yet, at least the quality of NA options is on the rise. Carla Jean Lauter, a craft beer columnist from Maine agrees, “I find it quite easy to do, and I’ve also been delighted at the increased quality and availability of NA options. Whether that’s beer or mock tails I enjoy some NA beer quite a lot, and it’s availability at my favorite bars is a huge plus- I’m still going to trivia nights and meeting friends with no issues.” As Carla states, both quality and availability are key components of making the NA options a lot better than even five years ago.
Perfecting The Process
Ashley Hauf, President of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild and Sales & Marketing Manager at ABV Technology was kind enough to share some concrete data to support the anecdotal data surrounding NA beers in our local market. Hauf explains that a big reason why ABV Technology has successfully brought flavorful and quality NA options to the market is the science behind a process that works. “Brewers have a few different ways to create NA, halted fermentation, specialized yeasts or de-alching using vacuum or membrane systems. We know that specific flavors often come from fermentation, that’s why brewers study yeasts and such so diligently. So if you’re trying to create a flavorful non-alch brew you’re going to be light years ahead of the game if you fully ferment your product to start.”
NA Sales are Rising
Nationally, there is data to suggest that sales are growing considerably and Minnesota is not a statistical outlier. In an article published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, NA sales are booming. “In 2022, non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits accounted for 0.47% of total alcohol sales in the U.S., more than double from 2018.” The same article also cites from August 2021-August 2022, there has been a sales jump of $400 million, a 20% increase.
This is where ABV Technology has changed the game. Hauf continues, “Places like ABV Technology understood early on that the equipment to de-alch brews was sometimes costly, requires some expanded utilities and is often times more than what a brewery really needed to create NA for their taproom. So they created a service center type model where breweries of all shapes and sizes could benefit from the technology. THIS is why I believe, especially in MN, the NA market is so damn good. If you start with good beer, you’re going to get good NA, and holy shit is our beer scene good here in MN.” Is the process translating to sales, or is it still fairly. niche? So far, 70-80 Minnesota craft breweries have worked with ABV Technology in the last year to create an NA beer. This is roughly a third of all the breweries in Minnesota.
Some Local NA Options
Locally, some of our favorite breweries are putting out magnificent NA beers. Hauf gave me a list of her favorite NA selections. So, if you happen to be looking for reasons to get into these taprooms, here is a list of some to try:
While I cannot guarantee that these NA selections are all currently on tap or currently sitting on your liquor store shelves, I do think it is worth your while to keep an eye out for them.
Dry January Can Be Scary For the Bottom Line
While Dry January provides a break from drinking for many, it is adds trepidation to an already difficult time of year for liquor stores, bars, and breweries. I should add that the folks who are not ecstatic about Dry January are not opposed, in any way, to people wanting to do what is healthy. Instead, they are concerned about what the dip in business can do to the service industry in January. January is, historically, the slowest month of the year for bars, restaurants, taprooms, and the like. For a variety of reasons, traffic slows at these establishments.
On the outside looking in, it is hard to believe that Dry January would make enough of an impact to negatively affect the bottom line of small breweries and liquor stores. Matt Kenevan, owner of the Dabbler Depot, provided some wonderful insights into the industry perspective.
I asked Kenevan if, during Dry January, consumers replace their typical alcohol purchases with non-alcoholic ones. Kenevan responded, “Not a chance. We have thousands of SKU’s in beer, wine, spirts, RTDs, ciders and even with an added amount of inventory of NA beverages it will still be under 50.”
On whether or not Dry January compounded the negative sales impact of January, Kenevan had this to say, “From the event side of my business when I had the Winter Beer Dabbler in January we would get emails/comments on social saying they wish the event wasn’t in Jan as they weren’t drinking that month.” It is noteworthy that the Winter Beer Dabbler is in February now. Whether that is because of Dry January, I am not sure. However, I am sure that Dry January did play a role in changing the date.
How Can You Help Your Favorite Establishments During Dry January?
If you are abstaining from alcohol, consider trying some NA beers or mock-tails. I know that Dabbler Depot has an expertly curated selection of options. Consider buying something to crack when February rolls around. Also, if you are buying some NA beer, grab some full-strength beer to do a side-by-side tasting later. It would be fun to see if there is a discernible different between NA and its full-strength counterpart.
Some Fun research in the name of beer journalism
On Saturday, Jan. 14th, I stopped at the Dabbler Depot for a visit to snap some pics and see for myself how many different NA options were currently available. Luckily, I happened to run into Liz Foster, the Dabbler Depot’s beer buyer, and was able to chat with her about NA beer sales. Liz is a font of information and shares that she has had a heck of a time keeping NA beers in stock. I ask her if there has been a noticeable dip in traffic since the new year and she did say that the first week was really dead. However, the next week really seemed to pick up.
Liz’s insights are extremely helpful and she even offers to let me try several of the NA beers. I am happy to oblige. What floors me about these beers was how good they were. Aside from the mouthfeel of a few of them, they are admirable substitutes for their full-strength counterparts. Of the four beers I sample, the Freewave Hazy IPA from Athletic Brewing was the clear favorite. The aroma, mouthfeel, and flavor notes of citrus all tasted like a good hazy IPA.
Maybe Any Other Month Than January?
As several people suggested, if you are going to take a break from alcohol, maybe do so in a different month or sporadically throughout the year. For instance, a lot of people are going to do Dry February to help lessen the negative impact of January for the industry. One friend is just doing a “damp” January and only partaking one or two times a week.
I applaud anyone who is willing to take an honest look at themselves and reflect on how to improve. There has been a change in the last couple years, especially in males, to be more vulnerable and candid about needing help. Instead of toughen up buttercup, I know several male friends have been vocal about reaching out and being there for others as a means of support. If Dry January allows people to move in a positive direction in mental and physical health, so much the better.
Consider Decreasing Consumption Throughout The Year
If your aim is to improve health or lose a few pounds, I think that decreasing the amount of alcohol you consume as a lifestyle change is a sustainable practice. Personally, I have decided to take this route. Being a social and outgoing beer writer, the opportunity to go and enjoy a beer every night of the week are present and plentiful. However, I also know that drinking beer and losing weight are not simpatico.
Over the last six months, I have chosen to drink with less frequency, and I have noticed a positive impact when I step on the scale. This journey is different for everyone. The only reason why my weight is trending in the right direction is because I have replaced the time I would spend out in taprooms with time exercising. I will never take beer away completely because it is something I enjoy. However, decreasing the consumption of it is doable and something that has benefitted me.
Final Thoughts On Dry January
If Dry January is a thing you try, and you wind up really noticing an improvement in your sleep, health, and mental outlook, maybe you consider extending it further into the year. If you take a break from alcohol and miss the flavors and styles of beers in Minnesota, thanks to ABV Technology, there are quality options that can be purchased at your favorite liquor stores like Dabbler Depot.
Dry January might seem like too much of a commitment. Consider trying “damp” January to see if decreasing your alcoholic intake makes you feel better. If you are not doing Dry January, that is fine, too. Just don’t forget to invite your friends who are and include them. Consider prioritizing places that have NA options so it is easier for them to complete their month of sobriety.
Life is a gift and not all of us are created equal. If sobriety is something that allows you to live your life to the fullest, then embrace that. If taking a break for a bit, whether it is a whole month, or just a few times a week, embrace that. As you are participating in Dry January and find yourself wanting to explore different beverages, there are plentiful and satisfying libations out there.
I want to thank all of the people that were kind enough to share their experiences with me for this article. I found your insights to be incredibly helpful and enlightening. Also, without the industry perspectives from Matt Kenevan and Liz Foster at the Dabbler Depot and Ashley Hauf at ABV Technology, this article would not have been possible.