––They’re coming up so you better get this alcohol -the free party started.
One of the most curious and rapidly rising social movements among Millennials is the fittingly coined, ‘sober curious’ movement––a term that sprouted from a book of the same name.
Sober Curious, published in December 2018, is an exploration of mindful drinking. Author, Ruby Warrington describes being sober curious as a “questioning mindset to every drinking situation, rather than go along with the dominant drinking culture”. Removing the misappropriated stigma of being booze-free and promoting a more conscious way of socialising was Warrington’s motivation.
“There’s this idea that you’re either a problem drinker or an alcoholic, or a normal drinker who has no issues with alcohol. More and more we’re seeing there are shades of grey when it comes to dependence on alcohol,” The British writer told Guardian.
Warrington wanted sober to be a socially acceptable option. And it’s caught on.
The movement is cross-continental, with a huge sober curious scene erupting in New York City in the past couple of years; the option not to drink becoming a popular one in the hipster ghettos of Brooklyn and Williamsburg. According to Millennial and New York city ambassador for the movement, Lorelei Bandrovschi, some Millennials only drink out of politeness, because being sober makes drinkers feel uncomfortable.
“Alcohol has a monopoly on how we socialise,” she says.
And Millennials don’t play Monopoly.
Lorelei, founder of the New York popular sober-friendly pop-up party Listen Bar, says drinking out of habit doesn’t have to be the case. There are plenty of Millennials out there that don’t use alcohol as a ‘default’ for socialising. And they are starting to rise up. Proof supplied by recent market reports that Millennials are consuming 20% less alcohol than the generations before them.
Bandrovschi thinks Millennials are feeding their sober curiosity more than the previous generation because of social media. With social media it’s easier to find other people involved in niche movements, she said, making it easier to feel part of a community when you’re making a lifestyle choice that’s out of the norm.
And there’s certainly a growing community in New York.
“Liquor is “a toxin,” not a social lubricant,” Ashok “Shoky” Pai, a sober Williamsburg resident, told New York Post. Pai finds the sober scene refreshing, choosing mocktail bars and alcohol-free socialising over getting drunk on a night out.
“It’s nice to be around sober people who’ve got their wits about them,” he says.
But if you’re not drinking, why would you want to be in a bar?
Bandrovschi says people still want to get loose and let their hair down the same as they would when they’re drunk, but there’s little acceptance of carefree behaviour in society unless you have a drink in hand. Sober bars provide a space for people to knock about and get silly without feeling judged or standing out.
66% of US Millennials claim to be trying to lower their alcohol intake. But it’s not just the US that’s swapping the cock for the mock(tail). Managing Director of a Canadian events company, Crescendo, Julia Phillips, told The Financial Times recently that they are getting more and more requests for alcohol-free parties, particularly for work and networking events. And Phillips says Millennials are at the forefront of the requests, claiming there’s a clear generational difference. Phillips adds the requests for alcohol-free drinks have risen 10 per cent to 50 per cent of clients over the past 18 months, she adds.
Don’t put the bottle down yet, the sober curious culture is not going to override after-work/at-work/work-sponsored drink culture in the corporate world any time soon though. Alcohol has long been the bastion of corporate reward. A bottle of wine for a job well done, sparkling for a really good job, and open bars at Christmas parties have dominated corporate reward systems for the longest time. Not to mentions the boozy lunches and boardroom whiskeys a-la Madmen that set the trend since the end of prohibition.
Financial Times reports it’s going to be a hard job getting the old guard to change their loosen-the-tie ways entirely. But that’s not saying sober curiosity hasn’t had its influence on corporate HR. Since the #metoo movement, there has been a slight push in the UK to review company alcohol policies, with a view to keeping a lid on sexual harassment risks.
But less and less Millennials are choosing to work in traditional corporate environments, perhaps because the cultures aren’t fitting their lifestyle choices?
And what of the Aussies, surely our drinking culture is too ingrained to feel the threat of a bourgeois Millennial trend?
Quite the contrary, Australian Millennials are right behind the game on this one. In 2018 the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that alcohol consumption had fallen to a 50-year low. And the Australian start-up culture got the memo, with boutique alcohol-free beverage companies and bars starting to fill popular foodie to-do lists.
In a recent Good Food article, founder of Sydney-based Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits, Mark Livings, said his own market research translated the alcohol-free trend as moving at an “erratic cadence” rather than a “gentle downward trend.”
Wellness, fitness, religious diversity and social responsibility seem to be the driving factors for Australian Millennials. With a whisper of the oncoming trend elevated by gateway movements like Feb-Fast, Dry-July, and Sober-October, going alcohol-free is a choice being openly accepted among young Australians. And the consumer market is responding.
Time will only tell if the pendulum will swing back toward the drink, but for now, we could all embrace our inner sober curiosity and at least get a little more done on the weekends, sans hangover.