'Mindful drinking' takes off in SA as more people opt for non-alcoholic sips

Shunning alcohol is not just for pregnant women and recovering alcoholics these days: a cool 'sober curious' crowd wants to live clear-eyed and hangover free

20 October 2019 - 00:00 By claire keeton
The stereotype of the boring teetotaller is changing as low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks become increasingly trendy.
The stereotype of the boring teetotaller is changing as low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks become increasingly trendy.
Image: 123RF/dolgachov

When it comes to drinking, not every choice has to be black or white: slam-dunk drunk or stone-cold sober. Shades of sparkling honeybush or citrus can be more alluring than a predictable Long Island iced tea at sundown. Non-alcoholic beers have become popular while watching World Cup rugby, as orders at the Devil's Peak brewery Taproom show.

The global rise of "mindful" drinking has hit SA. The obvious sequel to mindful eating, it's healthier too.

Remember how smoking used to be cool, with ads featuring sports stars, yachts, even doctors? Now it's not. Boozing could go the same way, as experimenting with designer non-alcoholic beverages becomes increasingly trendy.

Alcohol-free and low-alcohol drinks, including beers, ciders, craft gins, de-alcoholised wines, bubbly, kombuchas and cocktails, are taking off among millennials, and other generations. The "sober curious", as this cool crowd are becoming known worldwide, want to live clear-eyed and hangover free.

The boring teetotaller stereotype is changing. Mindful drinking can be edgy, kicking people out of their comfort zones. Talking to a stranger without a glass of wine in hand is harder, after all.


The Mindful Drinking Festival, which saw 40 non-alcoholic beverage exhibitors come together, took place on October 20 in Cape Town.

The event's organiser Sean O' Connor says: "I first heard about mindful drinking in Glasgow. I was there to watch Bob Dylan. I was still guzzling alcohol then. What a contrast."

"Mindful drinking is for people who want to improve their relationship with alcohol," says O'Connor, who decided to give it up last year. And it got him thinking about holding a mindful-drinking festival in a country "saturated with booze".

"I phoned a buddy who was on his way to an AA meeting and said: 'What do you think?' He started talking to his friends and I to mine."

They got hold of small distilleries, many with "women making gin" who said they would love to connect with the sober curious public and that was that.

The festival gave people the opportunity to sample the "widest range of alcohol-free drinks ever assembled at one venue in Southern Africa. People want a choice; not everyone wants to drink sparkling water all night," says O'Connor.


Monatea co-founder Tsepo Montsi says their healthy drinks are brewed for those who want to enjoy complex beverages with meals, like they do wine, not simply quench their thirst.

And judging by their popularity, designated drivers, pregnant women, athletes and recovering alcoholics aren't the only ones choosing them.

Non-alcoholic beverages are the fastest-growing category in the beverages market, reports show. They are exploding onto the shelves in supermarkets, and on bar menus bespoke cocktails free of alcohol are sure to displace sweetened mocktails.

Monatea drinks are brewed for those who want to enjoy complex beverages with meals, like they do wine

Monatea was originally inspired by an unsweetened ice tea.

"My co-founder and I saw there weren't many options for health-conscious people who were not keen on sweetened products," Montsi says.

"Rooibos is naturally sweet and we experimented a bit with flavour complexity, and turned to fynbos. The honeybush is infused overnight by cold brewing and the sparkling (element) fills out the body of the drink."

Creative craft brewers like Drifter Brewing, which has done stunts like leaving batches of beer on the ocean floor to be covered in barnacles, has distilled a non-alcoholic gin.

Seedlip is the latest spirit to come into SA which promises "a similar taste, body and mouthfeel to an alcoholic distilled spirit".

Founder Ben Branson came up with the tagline: "What to drink when you're not drinking?" 

New technology has improved the taste profiles of alcohol-free (defined globally as less than 0.05%) and non-alcoholic (less than 0.3%). An alcoholic content of 0.05% is similar to that of an overripe banana's worth, says O'Connor.

By 2025 SABMiller owner, AB InBev, expects 20% of its market to be alcohol-free beers. Ten non-alcoholic beers were on offer in the Mindful Drinking Festival's sober sports bar.

Devil's Peak Taproom GM Ryan Strydom says he drinks their Zero to Hero beer for two months of the year when he stops alcohol, and it is a popular choice locally.

Dry January and Oct-sober have given momentum to the sober-curious movement as people discover alternatives to their usual poison.

"I have a 71-year-old aunt who has been sober six days, who used to drink 50 beers a week," says O'Connor. "They've seen my example and how the joys of sobriety have turned my life around."


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