If spilling a drink is a party foul, consider this idea that might save you from a party felony: You might not need alcohol for a good time.
Breaking up with alcohol is what Katy Pelroy and Kaylee Wolf talk about on their locally produced podcast Dry Hard Pod. The two friends and podcast hosts have been sober for more than two years, and they say they’ve seen their physical and mental health improve since getting on the wagon.
“It’s really hard to explain to people who are feeling like shit, used to drinking and having it be part of your life,” Wolf tells Eugene Weekly. “You don’t realize how much it’s contributing to stress, anxiety, health problems — like all of that stuff — until you take it away.”
But going non-alcoholic or cutting down on alcohol intake doesn’t mean you have to lose your nightlife. The alcohol-free scene has grown throughout Eugene-Springfield as people are cutting back on the booze to focus on mental and physical well being. And some local drinkeries and companies have joined the trend, offering creative non-alcohol cocktails.
“There is nightlife; there is fun after alcohol,” Pelroy says.
The road to sobriety for Pelroy and Wolf differed. For Pelroy, she says she cut back on alcohol because she could feel the health impact. And Wolf says drinking was affecting her mental health and was putting her in dangerous situations of self-harming behavior.
Pelroy calls herself “sober curious,” a term coined by author Ruby Warrington, who wrote the book Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Deep Connection, and Limitless Presence Awaiting Us All On The Other Side of Alcohol. It’s a phrase that means challenging the role that alcohol has in one’s everyday life.
Recently, there’s been an increase of people exploring alcohol-free lifestyles. According to data analyst NielsenIQ, non-alcoholic beverage sales have increased from 2018 to 2021, with non-alcoholic beer the most popular drink. What’s driving these sales are Millennial and Gen Z consumers who are less interested in alcohol and are more active in wellness lifestyles, such as exercising and plant-based diets. But this data also suggests that these consumers aren’t total teetotalers, as 82 percent of them still buy alcohol products.
That does show that alcohol isn’t a binary for someone’s lifestyle, Pelroy says — it’s a spectrum. In the past, not drinking alcohol could be a sign of alcoholism, where that person may have an abusive relationship with the substance.
Pelroy and Wolf aren’t alone in pursuing alcohol-free lives, and Old Nick’s Pub is one place where non-alcoholic cocktail menus are thriving.
“The desire had been there for a while from the community for nonalcoholic drinks,” says Emily Chappell, owner of Old Nick’s Pub. The pub has been working on updating its menu, she says, and that’s included making a full-page non-alcoholic cocktail menu. “I wanted people to be able to enjoy that experience of having a martini glass and drinking something fancy in a martini glass that’s not alcoholic.”
In designing the non-alcoholic cocktail menu, Chappell has created booze substitutes that fit the pub’s fantasy theme. With only two ingredients (gin and vermouth), the martini is probably one of the more popular cocktails, likely thanks to the fictional secret agent James Bond.
To make a non-alcoholic martini, she mixes cuttlefish ink with zero-proof gin from Seedlip Garden, a company that makes booze-free liquor through distilling various botanicals. “When you taste it, it definitely gives you the feeling and the taste of a martini with no alcohol in it,” Chappell says. “It also leans into our fantasy theme because I call that cocktail the Leviathan because it’s sort of dark and I imagine you want to pull up ideas of Cthulhu and creatures from the depths of the ocean.”
While Old Nick’s is growing its non-alcoholic cocktails, Cheri Hammons and her company, High Street Tonics, are organizing zero-proof pop-up bars and bottle shops at various locations throughout Eugene-Springfield, creating a space for people who would rather be in alcohol-free environments.
Hammons first started High Street Tonics in spring 2021, turning a hobby of making bitters and tonics for families and friends into a business. Her venture into the alcohol-free business came after having a blood clot and a pulmonary embolism last year and being prescribed blood thinners.
“Then I just became so stoked on them and wanted to share them with people because they really do fill that void for people trying to avoid drinking,” Hammons says. “It’s not really this black and white, you’re either an alcoholic or not an issue anymore.”
During January 2023 (aka Dry January for many), High Street Tonics began organizing pop-ups throughout the Eugene and Springfield area, where people can buy the company’s syrups and bitters, as well as try nonalcoholic cocktails. At these ongoing pop-ups, High Street Tonics isn’t just mixing drinks with club soda or seltzer waters — its drinks feature nonalcoholic liquor. “What we’re doing is more than juice,” she says. “We’re trying to create this whole experience around community, and we have all these different elements like the bottle shop and the bar.”
The pop-ups offer classic cocktail recipes, such as gin and tonics, old fashioneds and margaritas. And Hammons says they use local- and regional-based non-alcoholic liquors, including Hood River-based Wilderton.
Trying one of the mocktails with the expectation that it’ll taste like the real thing may lead to a letdown, so she says people have to appreciate it for what it is. “When they’re mixed into things like classic cocktails, then the flavors are there and it really does something to your brains.”
Hammons’ zero proof pop-ups have been popular with customers looking for nonalcoholic spaces, Wolf says. She met an older man at one of the pop-ups, who told Wolf that he hadn’t had an alcoholic drink in 40 years. “It was so sweet,” she says. “There aren’t many opportunities for connection that aren’t soaked in alcohol.”
Find Dry Hard Pod on Spotify or wherever you stream podcasts. Keep updated with the podcast at @DryHardPod on Instagram.
Old Nick’s Pub is at 211 Washington Street. Hours are 4 pm to midnight Monday through Thursday and 11 to 2 am Friday through Sunday.
Find High Street Tonics on Instagram at @HighStreetTonics to stay up-to-date on when the next zero proof pop-up is.