Jan 7, 2022 - Food and Drink

Not drinking? No problem. Booze-free drinks flow on Minnesota menus

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

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

Why it matters: Reducing alcohol consumption is good for your health.

  • The growing availability and popularity of tasty, booze-free beverages can make temperance, even if temporary, more enjoyable and normalized.

The big picture: Creative mocktails and nonalcoholic craft beer are gaining real estate on menus and shelves across the metro as more consumers embrace "Dry January" or cut back more broadly.

  • "There is more of a demand for low-alcohol or nonalcohol than there ever has been," Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, told Axios.

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

Driving the trend: An explosion of more, and often more flavorful, options is quenching consumers' thirst, industry leaders say.

  • "Alcohol or no alcohol, it just tastes refreshing. It tastes good," Chesak, whose group represents bars, restaurants and package stores, said of the new drinks.

Zoom in: The trend is playing out here with new offerings crafted by some of the Twin Cities' most well-known chefs, brewers and distillers.

  • A group of boldface names in the beverage industry, including Norseman Distillery and the general manager of the now-shuttered Marvel Bar, is collaborating on a new Food Building pop-up serving local non-alcoholic cocktails and beers.

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

  • Minneapolis-based Hairless Dog Brewing Co. sold more of its 0% ABV "beer" in the fourth quarter of 2021 than the three previous quarters combined, co-founder Paul Pirner said.
  • Blue Plate Restaurant Co., meanwhile, saw the share of sales from nonalcoholic beverages double from 1% to 2% after introducing a new mocktail menu across its seven restaurants last month.

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.

  • Pirner hopes to eventually open a taproom. Freehouse Restaurant, meanwhile, is in talks to brew its own nonalcoholic beer.

The bottom line: For bars and brands, New Year's resolutions and resets create opportunities to reach new customers and grow market share.

  • "Dry January is our Super Bowl," Pirner said.
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