How Mocktails Are Driving the Sober Curious Movement, in Dry January and Beyond

With brands like Betty Buzz, Ghia, and more, sober curiosity and cutting out alcohol is becoming more normalized—and a whole lot tastier.

Colorful mocktail pitcher and single glass
Photo:

Carson Downing | Design: Better Homes & Gardens

Melanie Masarin, the founder and creator behind Ghia, stopped drinking alcohol because of her busy work life. She also didn’t like the brain fog and other side effects that came with consuming alcoholic beverages. While she was never a big drinker, this personal decision resulted in her suddenly feeling excluded in social settings. When going out to happy hour with friends, the only options available to her were super sugary drinks like Mexican Cokes—a little infantilizing, and also not great for you.

Growing up in France, home-cooked meals and complex flavors were the norm to Masarin. She enjoyed beverages with dry, bitter profiles like Campari and vermouth. After cutting out drinking, she realized there wasn’t anything in the mocktail or alcohol-free market like that. So she decided to make her own Mediterranean-inspired apéritif.

“I got so enthused with the idea of creating something that would really make me feel like I was having an adult beverage … that would feel fresh and also just have the best ingredients in it,” Masarin says. “I feel like [drinking is] this social lubricant, and I also feel like there’s this crazy external pressure to do this thing that’s not actually good for my body, and it’s the only thing that’s bad for you that keeps getting pushed on you by society.”

While that pressure definitely still exists, it’s being applied less—with the help of mocktails, young people, and sober curiosity.

The Sober Curious Boom

The culture around drinking in America is at a pivotal moment. In the aftermath of lockdown, where free time was abundant and days blended together, people are taking a step back to rethink their drinking habits—whether they gave up alcohol during the pandemic or polished off a few bottles of wine a week. The movement has a few names, but a key one is sober curious.

In 2018, Ruby Warrington published her first book, Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Deep Connection, and Limitless Presence Awaiting Us All On The Other Side of Alcohol. In it, she invites the reader to explore what their life would be like without alcohol, or even with less of it. Since she coined the term sober curious, the concept has spread over the last five years and grown into a social media phenomenon—a Facebook group based on the book has over 9,000 members, and Warrington published a follow-up book called The Sober Curious Reset, which guides people through 100 days of no alcohol. 

“There wasn’t anything that was a softer approach or a gentler approach to examining or re-examining your relationship with alcohol,” Warrington says. “And so that’s why I created the term sober curious, which really is designed to just be a very open ended, very nonjudgmental way to give people permission to answer some of the questions they might have about their drinking.”

Growing from a term to a movement, sober curiosity is gaining momentum year after year, especially among younger generations. A 2018 Berenberg study found that Gen Z specifically drinks 20% less per capita than Millennials, and 64% of Gen Z respondents said they expect to drink less frequently as they get older compared to other generations. The hashtag #sobercurious on TikTok has nearly 370 million views.

Much like Dry January and the gentle terminology of the sober curious movement, mocktails provide a way to avoid invasive questioning and judgment in situations where alcohol is flowing. Having a drink in your hand and being able to go up to the bar with friends also prevents potentially uncomfortable moments and anxiety around missing out.

“It sounds so simple, but the fear of not knowing what you're going to order—whether you’re at a restaurant, going to a party, at a networking event—the fear of someone saying, ‘What are you drinking?’ And you have to say, ‘Water,’ and everyone goes, ‘What?’, if you can say, ‘Oh, I'm gonna have this cocktail, but it just happens to be an alcohol free one,’ it removes that barrier, and it soothes that social anxiety,” Warrington says.

The Mocktail Movement

Before starting Ghia, Masarin only knew of one other alcohol-free liquor brand—a gin alternative based in the U.K. Blake Lively got the idea for Betty Buzz, a non-alcoholic sparkling mixer company, because as a non-drinker with a passion for creating cocktails, she found herself limited to sugary, syrupy options. Both of these brands were dreamed up only about five years ago.

With clean, crisp flavors like grapefruit and ginger beer, Betty Buzz set out to become an alternative to the classic overly sweet cranberry juice or bland club soda. The focus on quality ingredients aligns with the focus on health and mindfulness at the forefront of the sober curious movement.

“Coming out of COVID, everyone is even more health conscious than they formerly were,” says Katie Moslak, vice president of marketing at Betty Buzz. “I think part of it is, with that popularity, people are taking mocktails more seriously now. So there’s better experimentation, there’s better sophistication. People see them as proper cocktails now, where it’s really a landscape for at home or even mixology experimentation, and it’s a fun area.”

According to Masarin, three categories make up the mocktail market: functional beverages that have a physical effect (like popular brand Kin Euphorics), analog drinks that mimic already-existing alcohol, and flavor-forward mixers that don’t claim to give you a buzz or serve as a spirit replacement. The variety of types shows how the industry is growing—and will continue to grow.

Yelp named mocktails as one of the top 2023 food trends based on their search data, and these alcohol alternatives have never been more accessible. Restaurants have non-alcoholic drink menus, at-home mixologists have the tools and ingredients to experiment, and brands continue to pop up. 

For Moslak, choice and the path to being considered a proper mixed beverage is going to define the mocktail space this year—whether it’s being able to order a non-alcoholic mule or paloma at dinner or booze-free bottomless mimosas at brunch, having that optionality will become the standard. 

“I believe mocktails are here to stay,” Masarin says. “I think there's bound to be massive adoption rage, because you just see it when you stop drinking—whether you stop drinking altogether, whether you get down, you just feel so much better. And I feel like having the encouragement of other people doing it is only going to continue making it easier for people to play with mocktails. There’s never been more availability.”

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