AL: Americans are drinking less. Has (and will) the sober movement hit Alabama?
By Lily Jackson
December 22, 2019
Americans have happily ridden a rollercoaster of ABV, or alcohol by volume, this decade.
Heavy hitting craft beers like Good People’s Snake Handler — clocking in at 10% — whipped the market into a drunken stupor at the decade’s genesis. Four Loko, the college jock of the binge drinking world, had its finest moments in 2010, after being removed, remarketed and replaced on the market. Master mixologists flaunted their fine-tuned moves in speakeasy venues under mood lighting for YouTube viewers around the world. And last year has shown a spotlight on the glimmering and growing lot of hard seltzers that hit with about half of the strength.
And that decline isn’t just another trend-prompted hoax. Americans are drinking less. In 2010, 23% of people said they drank too much than they should, and in 2019, only 18% said the same, according to a Gallup poll.
Millennials seem to be the driving force for a more-sober-but-not-sober lifestyle movement, as chronicled by many national publications. Tracy Moore, a young southerner who’s living in San Francisco, said she’ll occasionally take three or more weeks away from drinking to improve her health and lose weight ahead of special events. The drinkers themselves aren’t doing it without the help of multiple federally funded initiatives to drive down adolescent drinking rates over multiple decades.
There’s been a subtle whiff of change in Mobile, a city that’s “born to celebrate,” said Roy Clark, general manager and beverage director of the Haberdasher in downtown Mobile. He’s currently on the hunt for a no-ABV beer to serve. And the artisan cocktail venue has one seltzer available for the customer who fancies it. Pre-2018, it would be rare to see a craft beer with an ABV less than 5%. “The average craft beer when this all started clocked in at 8%,” Clarke said. Now, most Alabama breweries serve something in the 4% range.
The national trend has coined hashtags about “sober curious” lifestyles and sober influencers are sharing how nixing alcohol has changed their personal journeys. The “sober curious” movement, started by Ruby Warrington, a 42-year-old Brooklyn-based British journalist, who wrote a book about her life after alcohol, according to Vox. Her book, “Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol,” serves as a guide book for many looking toward a new lifestyle.
In addition to whatever is prompting Americans to drink less, a recent study said that the rise of marijuana vaping in younger generations has, in turn, lowered the use of explicit drugs, alcohol consumption and prescription opioid misuse. Either way, it doesn’t appear that the health trend has taken as much hold on Alabamians.
“Alabama is always behind, though,” said Gideon Kennedy, former bar manager at OK Bicycle Shop. The rise of breweries in the state ramped up when former Gov. Robert Bentley and legislators signed the Free the Hops’ Gourmet Beer Bill in 2009 and the House Bill 176 in 2016, bills that allowed local brewers to open and expand. And even some of Alabama’s local breweries have transformed their product selection with the release of house-made spiked seltzers like TrimTab’s RECwater.
Seltzers are rapidly taking hold of some of Mobile’s most iconic bars, but the question of whether the shift is happening for the sake of wellness or more simply used as a fruity chaser is still up for debate, Kennedy said. “Mobile’s local drink is a shot and a beer,” he said. “A Bud Light and a Jägermeister.”
Alabamians might be drinking lower ABV seltzers, beers and cocktails, but whether the shift is linked to health or a fad isn’t sparkling clear just yet, Clark said. At his little spot on Dauphin Street, he’s seen an uptick in “mocktails,” not a huge one, but enough to notice he said. “There’s definitely a shift toward lower ABV beers,” Clark said. “Speaking for myself, that’s what I look for too. It might be where I am in life, but I’m not the only one.”
Meanwhile, just north, Birmingham’s hippest drinking spots are now offering no-ABV cocktails, commonly referred to as “mocktails.” LeNell’s Beverage Boutique and The Marble Ring are two venues for the thirsty and sober, according to Bham Now. The idea of a more European mindset around drinking is appealing to both Kennedy and Clark, but they are not getting their hopes up.
“If the sober movement were to come to Alabama, it would happen in a couple years,” Clark said.