New York drinkers toast rise in booze-free craft cocktails


NEW YORK (Reuters) – John deBary has spent more than a decade working in New York’s cocktail scene, helping to spearhead the craft cocktail movement as a bartender at PDT (Please Don’t Tell) and then as beverage director with the Momofuku Restaurant Group.

In search of what he called “undiscovered country,” deBary began thinking about what would happen if he stopped using alcohol for cocktails, while still searching for the same flavor intensity.

In 2019, his company Proteau launched ‘Ludlow Red’, which it describes as a botanical aperitif blending ingredients such as blackberry, fig vinegar, and licorice.

The product is part of a sober craft cocktail movement that seeks to appeal to people who want to go out and drink without the booze, and don’t mind spending a similar amount of money as they would for the alcoholic equivalents. A glass of “Ludlow Red” cost $14 at sites such as New York restaurant Dirt Candy.

Dozens of non-alcoholic spirits have entered the beverage market in recent months, according to manufacturer Seedlip.

Ben Branson, the founder of Seedlip, said the new spirits fit perfectly into larger cultural shifts.

“I think we’re at the beginning of this sort of paradigm shift of how we socialize, what we eat and drink and becoming a bit healthier,” Branson said at a drinks event hosted by Seedlip at Manhattan’s Orchard Townhouse.

“I think we lead these quite public lives now on social media,” said Branson, adding that people are more concerned with how they look and what they are doing and it has forced “a recalibration” of their relationship with alcohol.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, binge drinking – defined as at least four or five drinks in a row – is declining across the board, and the number of Americans binge drinking in a month is now below 30%.

Last month, “Dry January” was marked for the seventh time across the world since it was launched in 2014 in Britain.

But teetotalers want more than a simple juice or soda, said Branson.

“In this day and age when we’re more discerning and we’ve a bit more choice… you want something that’s full of flavor, that’s quality and that doesn’t make you feel like a child,” he said.

Reporting by Dan Fastenberg; writing by Diane Craft; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien