2023 was a year with a difference. It was the year I didn’t drink any alcohol.
During the pandemic, like many others, I found myself drinking more at home until I discovered the non-alcoholic brand and company I would eventually be part of: Mash Gang. From that moment of discovery, my alcohol intake gradually reduced over time (parenting is hard enough without a hangover ammiright?) so stopping wasn’t so extreme.
I was becoming less interested in drinking alcohol for the side effects; the lowered inhibitions, the perceived good times, the headache and hangxiety the following days; I was more interested in the taste; the craft; the quality; the overall experience; and satisfying the passion I’ve had for craft beers since my early 20’s.
It all started from doing dry January in 2023. I found thanks to Mash Gang and other great brands in the nascent no and low-alcohol sector, the range and quality of non-alcoholic beer styles were significantly better and more widely available than even a year ago. The pubs and bars I would frequent now offered better choices than Becks Blue. I had gone the full month without alcohol and I decided I wasn’t stopping there.
I decided to challenge myself to do a year of no alcohol, a year without (alcoholic) beer if you will. The benefits of doing so were already becoming apparent, but I also wanted the opportunity to experience for myself first-hand some of the benefits that the sober community shout about. At Mash Gang, approximately 20% of our customers are tee-total so this is a significant market segment for us. I wanted the opportunity to walk in their shoes and in doing so, obtain a valuable perspective for our business.
Here’s what I found:
Let’s start with the upsides…
Improved sleep! I was by no means a “poor” sleeper before, I’d regularly get to bed on time and sleep for eight hours. But after a couple of weeks without alcohol, I noticed the quality of sleep I was getting was much better. I’d rarely wake up during the night and when I woke in the morning I was feeling noticeably fresher.
As the year progressed I also felt as though I was in a better headspace. I was less irritable than before, my relatively short fuse now seemed much longer. My temperament in general was vastly improved and I’d like to think that made me better company. I felt better equipped to deal with what 2023 threw at me; and believe me, it threw A LOT!
My physical fitness improved. I had more energy to put into exercise. Part of this is probably down to no longer having hangovers which would have prevented me from wanting to do anything remotely active on those days.
This segues nicely to what I think was the biggest upside for me. No hangovers! No hangovers meant more time. Time to make the most of my weekends without feeling rough. Even not having that next morning sluggish feeling after having a couple of TIPAs on a Friday made the difference. No hangovers also meant no hangxiety; pure uninterrupted rational thought took its place. It's a wonderful way to wake up every weekend.
What came as a surprise at first, but made more sense upon reflection was that people actually thought I was more fun to be around when I was in a social setting and not drinking alcohol. When on sober nights out I soon realised that all those “deep and meaningful” conversations I thought I was having, all those “best night out ever” moments were very likely rose-tinted by the alcohol. It was tricking me into thinking I was having an amazing time - sneaky! I realised I didn’t need it to have a good time.
Saving on Uber fares and driving home at the end of the night, smug in the knowledge that I could get a McDonalds drive through en route was also a big positive.
Venues are waking up to the fact that more people are drinking no and low-alcohol drinks. There are better alcohol free offerings in more places which allows you to better enjoy your outing and be part of rounds with your bros.
I also discovered other alcohol alternatives such as CBD-infused drinks like Trip which I often consumed to unwind on a Friday after a week of work in place of the beers I’d drink in the past. The choices out there are growing every day and there’s still a lot more to come. It’s not all just alcohol-free beer (many non-alcoholic spirits and wine still have a long way to go, however, in my opinion).
Finally, people were far more accepting of my sobriety than expected. I had very few occasions where people questioned why I wasn’t drinking. Rewind even a couple of years and I believe that level of “acceptance” was absent.
There were, of course, some downsides…
First and foremost I love beer. Trying new beers is a passion of mine. Fortunately, with the sheer volume of new stuff that Jord creates for us to sell at Mash Gang, there was no shortage of new (and often batshit crazy) non-alc beers for me to try. But, if I found myself at a bar and there was a reaaaalllly cool beer that I hadn’t tried before, it sort of sucked not being able to have a pint of it. Beer festivals, in particular, were tricky.
When the gang poured at the Hop City we were situated on the stand next to Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head Brewery and the man whose story and beers made me want to be part of the craft beer world in the first place. Not being able to share one of his beers with him while we shot the shit all weekend was not cool, but we did share Mash Gang beers and he was incredibly supportive of what we were doing which was very cool. Shout out to our friends at Tripping Animals who were on the other side and were also champions about it.
Non-alcoholic beers have really leapt on and improved in the past few years and the range is now quite vast. The same cannot be said about the majority of non-alcoholic wine and spirits in my opinion. There’s still a long way to go there. Oh, and if someone could please create a non-alcoholic version of Jägermeister I’d be eternally grateful.
You have to learn how to deal with inebriated people. Bro’s love to chat shit when they are boozed up and often get irrationally fixated on the most trivial things. They will tell you the same (likely) dull story three or four times and each time will act like they’re telling you the meaning of life. Be prepared to have drunk friends (and strangers) invade your personal space and bombard you with repetitive, often boring stories. Play nice though - you were once one of those people, remember, and they don’t realise what they’re doing!
If you're "California Sober" CHECK THIS OUT
So that’s it, a year done without drinking. What's my plan for the future you might be asking?
There are clear benefits to not drinking alcohol and effectively poisoning your body (it really doesn’t sound so great when you put it that way does it?). Going back to having alcohol isn’t really a viable option for every sober individual, so I’m fortunate to have the choice.
For me, the positives of reduced alcohol intake clearly outweigh the negatives. However, I also have a real passion for the experience that goes with trying a new beer and I’m not ready to give that up.
At the time of writing this it’s February and my year without beer has run on an extra month. When the moment comes and a beer takes my fancy I will indulge, but I also have no intention of having more than one or two. I have left my days of drunkenness and hangovers behind me. Like many of the population, I’ve moved towards an approach of moderation. The majority of my intake will be non-alcoholic but with the occasional full ABV thrown in from time to time when something catches my eye. I want to be able to go to the annual launch of Verdant’s Putty but crush plenty Stoop and Cult alongside.
Moderation is the way that drinking trends are going. 90% of Boisson’s customers are not teetotal, and 80% of ours at Mash Gang are the same. Lucky Saint have a pub that serves both alcohol and no and low alcohol options. More and more pubs and bars are buying our beers year-round because customers want to switch them in between their session pales or even their TIPAs (it’s called “zebra striping” or “zipping” apparently). The big boys in the macro sector are pouring serious cash and attention into their Nolo offerings too.
Time will tell, I’ve learned a lot about myself and the benefits and drawbacks of drinking alcohol during the last year or so. At Mash Gang, we make beer for everyone to enjoy. From this experience, I feel like I have new perspectives on what is desired by the various customer segments we have - from the teetotallers to the sober curious to the moderators. This is all useful information we can and will feed into our proposition as a business.
Thanks for reading, I’m off to crack open an ice-cold Low Life (it's on sale! Get it here).
Roger (Mash Gang CFO)