Has Everyone Stopped Drinking? | British Vogue


Has everyone stopped drinking? It certainly feels that way. Over the last year, dozens of my former cocktailers-in-arms have leaped onto the wagon for insufferably sensible aims like preserving their marriages or their health – or at least for an extended annual reset in Dry January or Sober October. Chefs like David McMillan and Sean Brock, formerly of Joe Beef and Husk, respectively, and once known for their debauchery, have repudiated booze. Models and actors like Bella Hadid and Kate Moss and Katy Perry and Naomi Campbell and Brad Pitt have all thrown in the bar towel. And the non­drinkers aren’t sitting at home moping. There are suddenly chic little alcohol-​free bars to go to, like Getaway in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; Gem Bar in Pitman, New Jersey; Sans Bar in Austin, Texas; the Virgin Mary, in Dublin (of all places). And there are apparently enough nonalcoholic wines and beers and spirits to make quitting seem like a reasonable proposition. Data company Nielsen claims that the low- and no-alcohol beverage sector has grown by 506 per cent since 2015.

I’ve decided to take my own spot on the sober bandwagon, for a few weeks, anyway. It’s not (just) peer pressure: I’m motivated by irrefutable facts. Drinking has been linked to liver disease, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, dementia, anxiety, depression and premature ageing. Some 61 million Americans report binge drinking at least once in a month. Alcohol abuse is seven times more common than the abuse of painkillers. I ask addiction specialist Adam Leventhal, director of the Institute for Addiction Science at USC, where he places alcohol on a list of substances of concern, and he suppresses a laugh. “Number one!” Mon Dieu.

The first step is figuring out what nondrinkers are drinking. I am an inveterate book learner, so I open Alinea’s Zero: A New Approach To Non-Alcoholic Drinks. Its photographs are so captivating I’m almost convinced I have the patience to embark on the two-day recipe for a non­alcoholic French 75. Remembering that I barely have the patience to fold laundry, I resist. But luckily, at least six other helpful books for the cocktail-​loving sober curious have been published in the last two years. I peruse Julia Bainbridge’s Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes For When You’re Not Drinking For Whatever Reason, where the Verjus Spritz is a straightforward three ingredients and a garnish. The GT&C, from Elva Ramirez’s Zero Proof: 90 Non-Alcoholic Recipes For Mindful Drinking, calls for a nonalcoholic gin from Ritual Zero Proof – which starts its life not as gin, but water, with xanthan gum added for heft and citric acid for bite. I happen to open my mailbox to a book called Drink Lightly. The author, Natasha David, is a bartending veteran of Maison Premiere, Mayahuel, and her own place, the Lower East Side’s recently closed Nitecap. She is openly indifferent to inebriation (“I’ve never had a desire to get drunk,” she writes in her book’s early pages) and now spends her days concocting no- and low-alcohol drinks at her research and development lab in Red Hook, New York. I send her a note, asking if she might have some practical guidance on drinking when you don’t drink. She responds ebulliently, with a list of nonalcoholic spirits and, even better, an offer to spend a morning tasting and mixing them by my side.

I cross-reference David’s list with Bainbridge’s recommendations and various “best of” lists, and let Instagram’s algorithmic nudges take care of the rest. Soon, hundreds of dollars of nonalcoholic wines, spirits, aperitifs, amaros, canned spritzes and miscellaneous are en route to my house from online shops like The Zero Proof and No & Low. While quitting booze might save marriages and internal organs, it is worth noting that it does not save money. Non­alcoholic wine costs in the $15 to $30 range (roughly £12 to £25), and the average canned NA aperitif runs the same as an IPA. (Apropos of which – I am entirely excluding the wide world of non­alcoholic beer, hop water and IPA-like teas from this contemplation, because I’m not a regular beer drinker, and because they are such a large and varied group, they deserve a story all of their own.)

I use the days preceding my orders’ arrival to research the history of drinking. “Who will ever relate the whole history of narcotica? It is almost the history of culture.” That’s Nietzsche from 1882. He sounds histrionic, but it’s true. The embrace of booze dates to between 6,000 and 4,000 BC. Like so many cultural artefacts, it began in Mesopotamia and Turkey and eventually spread west. Ancient Egyptians drank more beer than wine because of their prolific wheat farming; Romans drank more wine than beer because their temperate climate was hospitable to grapevines. In 1620, the Pilgrims landed at Cape Cod instead of North Virginia because they were running out of beer. Periods of temperance, promoted by Susan B Anthony, Walt Whitman et al, and prohibition have alternated with the apotheosis of drinking and the drunk. (See William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Henry Ford II.) Luckily for my teetotaling plans, according to the curators of an aughts-era exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan, the concept of moderate drinking was pioneered by my people, the biblical Jews. I’ve never been a practitioner of moderation, but it’s encouraging to know it’s in my genes.

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