Jan 10, 2022 - Food and Drink

Alcohol-free booze flows at Austin businesses

Illustration of a beer can with a declining alcohol by volume.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Austinites looking to eliminate or cut back on booze in the new year have more options than ever.

The big picture: Creative mocktails and non-alcoholic craft beer are gaining real estate on menus and shelves across the country as more consumers embrace "Dry January" or cut back on booze broadly, writes Axios' Torey Van Oot.

By the numbers: The non-alcoholic beverage industry is booming nationwide. Sales increased 33% to $331 million in 2021, per Nielsen data cited by Insider.

Flashback: We profiled Austin-based company "A Fresh Sip" in October, which hopped on the growing non-alcoholic beverage trend and aims to change the way consumers find alcohol-free beverages.

Zoom in: The trend has continued to play out in Austin, with new offerings crafted by some of the metro area's best-known brewers, restaurants and distillers.

St. Elmo Brewing owner Bryan Winslow said the brewery sees beer sales drop every January as customers kick off their New Year's resolutions and cut back on alcohol.

  • The Austin brewery began offering its non-alcoholic "Hop Water" in 2020, and Winslow said sales of the beverage have spiked this week.
  • Winslow wanted to create a non-alcoholic beverage for himself, sober family members and friends who began having kids:
    • "How can we make something where people can still come to St. Elmo if they don't want to drink for whatever reason — they don't want to or they can't — and they can still feel included?"

St. Elmo is one of only a few breweries in Austin to offer a non-alcoholic option, Winslow said, adding that they went with hoppy water because it's tough to replicate the refreshing taste you get from beer in a non-alcoholic brew.

  • The Hop Water is made with Simcoe and Citra hops from Yakima Chief. It's acidic and has a similar hop bitterness and flavor to beer, Winslow said, adding that it’s still refreshing.
  • You can pick up St. Elmo's Hop Water around town, including at a number of H-E-B locations, Central Market and Thom's.

Between the lines: Selling higher-end, zero alcohol-by-volume options can also be good for business.

Restaurants like Austin's Easy Tiger expanded its offerings after noticing a steady interest in low ABV beers and non-alcoholic drinks in recent years.

  • "In response, we carry Brooklyn Special Effects and Lagunitas Hop Water year-round, and we are always on the lookout for new offerings from local and craft breweries," Amanda Surratt, bar manager at Easy Tiger East, told Axios.
  • The beer garden even released a new mocktail menu this week, Surratt said.
    • "We wanted to offer some beverages that didn't come across as just 'juice' in the glass,” Surratt said. “They are crafted with care and intention, like everything we offer on our menu."

What to watch: Industry insiders expect the presence — and ambitions — of nonalcoholic options to continue to flow, with an emphasis on more experimental mocktails and small-batch brews.

Easy Tiger's "Beach Weather" (left), "Matcha Margarita 8" (middle) and "Hot Not Toddy 7." Photo courtesy of Easy Tiger

Bonus: Easy Tiger East's bar manager Amanda Surratt sent us a recipe for a drink on the beer garden's new mocktail menu.

"Beach Weather":

  • 5 oz mango and peach puree
  • 0.5 oz lime juice
  • 5 oz Lagunitas Hoppy Refresher

Gently roll the ingredients in a shaker and strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Top with Peychaud bitters for color, if desired.

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