Female Founders At The Helm Of The Sober Curious Movement
Cheers to that!
You’ve probably heard of Dry January, when people give up alcohol for the month, whether it’s health-inspired, part of a New Year’s resolution, or another reason. But some people have chosen an alcohol-free (or alcohol-light) life outside of January. In fact, of late, there’s a whole “sober curious” movement forming ... with some key female founders at the helm, creating products that make the transition a bit tastier.
But what does being “sober curious” even mean? Ruby Warrington, author of Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol and the host of the Sober Curious podcast, explains. She tells TZR via email that she wrote the book after having been “sober curious” herself for nearly a decade and then coined the term around her conflicted feelings about alcohol. In 2015, she began speaking openly about it and realized many people could relate: they knew alcohol could be problematic for them, but didn’t see themselves as alcoholics, nor did they feel they had an outlet to discuss it. “When you’re ‘sober curious,’ you choose to stop drinking on autopilot,” she says. “In other words, you intentionally question every impulse, instinct, invitation, and expectation to drink alcohol. Many people were not taught to think about how we use alcohol — why it is so socially acceptable, what feelings we may be trying to cover up through alcohol, and how it truly makes us feel.”
But the thought of having to socialize without alcohol can often bring up fear in people. “I believe the fastest way to dismantle your fears is to prove them wrong,” Warrington says. “So I recommend embracing as many Sober Firsts as you can — being sober in situations where you would normally drink. It may take some practice, but you’ll soon discover you don’t ‘need’ alcohol like you thought you did.”
According to a 2021 report by market research firm IWSR, consumption of products containing little or no alcohol is expected to increase 31% by 2024 across 10 markets: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Spain, the UK and the U.S. And, increasingly, we’re seeing more and more emerging brands who’ve entered the sober curious conversation in recent years, creating drinks that are as tasty as they are hangover-free. Companies like De Soi, Mingle Mocktails, Mocktail Club, DRY Soda Co., Ghia, Pierre Chavin, and Melati are helping people find alternative ways to unwind in social atmospheres ... or even for a quiet evening at home. And the best part? Many of these brands (the aforementioned included) are female founded.
Ahead, read about several women entrepreneurs leading the charge in the sober curious movement. We’ll cheers to that!
Morgan McLachlan and Katy Perry (yes, that Katy Perry) are the founders of De Soi, a company that produces non-alcoholic apéritifs in both wine-esque bottles and cans. “Morgan and I first met at the start of 2020, when we were both pregnant and looking for a way to unwind without booze,” Perry tells TZR in an email. “Our shared love for a spritz — and desire for an elegant alternative to alcohol — planted a seed for De Soi. From there, we set off making a drink that was relaxing and delicious, but without the alcohol and high sugar content.”
McLachlan adds that, during and after her pregnancy, she went through a prolonged dry period. “I didn’t miss alcohol per se, but I did find that I missed the ritual of enjoying the complexity of a nice glass of wine, having an elegant cocktail as a way to unwind after work, or when connecting with friends,” she tells TZR in an email. “I wanted the fun and sophistication of a drink, without the alcohol.”
So what’s in De Soi? It’s made with adaptogens, which provide drinkers with a stress-soothing effect, McLachlan says. “We worked with an ethnobotanist [who studies how certain cultures use indigenous plants] to carefully select adaptogens like maca, reishi mushroom, and ashwagandha to help you unwind at the end of the day, without taking away from your next morning,” she says. Perry adds that, compared to a glass of wine, their apéritifs are lower in calories and sugar, while still packing a flavor punch.
When asked why the sober curious movement feels specifically close to, or important for, women, Perry points out that now, more than ever, people — especially women — are trying to do it all. “They’re balancing work, families, and social lives, and are looking for an option to drink something fun and healthy in a social setting without it being super basic or boring,” she explains. “You know that old adage ‘Only boring people get bored’? Drinking is supposed to be fun, and whether or not your drink has booze in it is beside the point.”
Laura Taylor, founder and chief mingle officer of Mingle Mocktails, gave up drinking almost seven years ago. “Giving up alcohol was hard, but it was even harder to go back into those social situations being stuck with sparkling water or soda — it was a total buzzkill,” she tells TZR in an email. “I jumped on my laptop to learn more about the amount of people who do not drink alcohol and was surprised to learn that (at the time) 30% of Americans didn’t drink alcohol, yet we’re all stuck with boring sparkling water. I decided we all deserved something that was as special as a cocktail, just without the alcohol. This is why I launched Mingle. And now even more Americans don’t drink and we can all enjoy something as special as we are.” To her point, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 2018 survey found that 33.7% of adults did not consume alcohol while 45.7% engaged in light drinking (three or fewer drinks per week) and 15.5% engaged in moderate drinking (4 to 14 drinks per week for men and 4 to 7 drinks per week for women).
Taylor says Mingle Mocktails are a fabulous line of beverages that ensure everyone feels part of the party. “But Mingle’s ultimate mission is to provide people who are sober or sober curious with a beverage that is as special as they are to celebrate their choice,” she says. As to why she feels the sober curious movement is important, she says that in a time where people have dietary preferences (ranging from plant-based options to gluten-free ones), it should be just as easy for those who are alcohol-free to have a choice. “Alcohol-free cocktails are a better-for-you option for anyone looking for an alternative to alcohol,” she says. “More importantly, mental health issues leading to alcohol abuse is at an all-time high given the circumstances we’ve had to endure as a result of COVID. We need to acknowledge and support anyone who chooses to be alcohol-free for a night or a lifestyle choice — and support that choice with a beverage that enables people to feel included rather than excluded.”
Taylor believes the sober curious movement benefits everyone, and that it’s decreased the stigma associated with alcoholism by making being “sober curious” or “sober” acceptable as opposed to something to feel ashamed of. Freeform’s Single Drunk Female is an example of a character becoming and living sober — and it’s based on a true story. “Any woman questioning her relationship with alcohol now has an option that enables them to seamlessly explore being sober or sober curious in a positive way,” Taylor says. “Give it a try! You’ve got nothing to lose but the hangover. Give it a weekend and feel some of the immediate benefits (like uninterrupted sleep), then give it a few weeks and feel even more benefits that may enable you to realize your fullest potential.”
Pauline Idogho came up with the idea for Mocktail Club when she was expecting a child. “I wanted healthy and sophisticated non-alcoholic choices, and found limited options,” she tells TZR in an email. “Mocktail Club is a line of ready-to-drink non-alcoholic cocktails — we recreate the complexity, nuances, and boldness of a great cocktail by using savory, tart, sweet, and bitter notes.” Since Idogho had worked around the world doing international development and finance, she used those experiences to inspire the unique flavors traditionally not found in non-alcoholic beverages. She even left the corporate world to create and focus on Mocktail Club. “I really felt there was a need in the market and realized I was not alone,” she says. “The benefits of drinking Mocktail Club is that we use apple cider vinegar, which has prebiotics and antioxidants, and use superfruits, such as pomegranates, so your drink works for you.”
The brand also use spices from around the world, like cardamom, chili peppers, and lemongrass, capturing Idogho’s travel experiences and bottling them up, she explains. The company sources its fruit juice from organic suppliers, as well, and uses sustainable packaging. Plus, 1% of sales goes to supporting clean water access globally.
Idogho says that for people who are curious about exploring the sober curious movement, she thinks it’s worth trying it to see how your mind and body feel after giving alcohol a break. “There are so many great reasons for cutting back on alcohol, such as clarity, being fully present, and no effects of a hangover,” she adds. “You also just feel healthier overall and have an increased ability to work out or become more productive for work the next day. And, as a woman, it’s empowering to control my health, mind, and soul. I love to be able to moderate my food and alcohol intake, especially managing and balancing the pressure of family, children, and wellness.”
DRY Soda Co.
Sharelle Klaus, founder of DRY Soda Co., was inspired to start creating non-alcoholic drinks when she had her fourth baby in seven years. “Like many mothers, I stopped drinking alcohol all together,” she tells TZR in an email. “I began feeling very left out when going to events and dinner parties, as alcohol was often at the center — and the non-alcoholic options were limited to a soft drink or a bottle of water. It was clear to me that there needed to be a change in the way people thought about drinking and one that would impact the experience of the millions of women in the same position I was in. So I created DRY as an elevated non-alcoholic drink that would pair with food, feel sophisticated, and, most importantly, taste good.”
Speaking of which, DRY comes in many fun flavors, from Lavender to Vanilla to Cucumber — and more. “All DRY products have very little sugar and are made with all-natural ingredients, so they’re certainly better for you than any heavy alcoholic beverage that affects your mental and physical health the next day,” Klaus says. You can shake up a mocktail using DRY flavors. In fact, Klaus co-wrote The Guide to Zero-Proof Cocktails to prove to those who think the zero-proof lifestyle is “boring” that you can still have amazing cocktails without alcohol.
Klaus says DRY’s mission is “Social Drinking for All,” as it aims to create products that help build a society where everyone feels included, regardless of their participation in drinking culture or not. “Nowadays, people are putting a bigger priority on both mental and physical health, and they deserve to have beverage options that mirror this emphasis on wellness,” she says. “We are working every day to make the zero-proof lifestyle viable and affordable.” She says when founding her pioneer non-alcoholic beverage brand, her dream was to create a path where someone can walk into a bar, ask for a cocktail and the bartender asks, “With or without alcohol?” “That would prove to me that our mission was a success, that I’ve made a positive difference for anyone feeling sober-conscious,” she says.
When asked what she would tell someone who’s considering becoming sober curious, Klaus says to take the leap and try it. “The biggest obstacle for me initially was breaking the habit of pouring a glass of wine to unwind and having a moment for myself,” she says. “However, once I had a zero-alcohol replacement, I was able to continue that special ritual of sitting down with a tasty drink. It gave me more control over my health and my confidence. I sleep better, my workouts are more effective, and my brain feels clearer than ever. I love knowing I have a choice.”
If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic apéritif, you’ll find it in Ghia. The company makes both Le Spritz (in can form), as well as OG Bitter, which they say “tastes like summer on the rocks, featuring notes of nostalgic florals, earthy botanicals and a clean kick of citrus.” Sold! And the mastermind behind Ghia? Melanie Masarin. “Growing up, I spent many summers with my family in the South of France near the Mediterranean, centered around entertaining friends, cooking together, and having conversations that lasted until dawn — all fueled by my grandmother’s homemade limoncello made with fresh-picked lemons,” she tells TZR in an email. “Those memories are what inspired me to create something that challenges the way we have traditionally thought about drinking and socializing. I realized there wasn’t a non-alcoholic beverage that was for drinkers and non-drinkers alike with a bitter profile and minimal sugar — something that wouldn’t make people feel excluded in a social setting. Plus, both alcohol and added sugar are major triggers for anyone with gut issues, and Ghia has neither.” She says Ghia’s ingredients are sourced mindfully and as close to their elemental form as possible, only pure juices and extracts. “Each serving also contains a functional dose of lemon balm, a plant native to the Mediterranean that works as a natural mood-enhancer to help you stay calm and connected while enjoying a moment to unwind,” she adds.
Mathilde Boulachin, CEO & founder of Pierre Chavin, was born and raised in Champagne, France (yes, the home of Champagne the drink). “I am a wine lover, but when I got pregnant, I realized that it was quite sad to only drink water or a Perrier with lemon,” she tells TZR in an email. “I thought there must be an alternative to oversweet soft drinks and water, and Pierre Chavin’s first non-alcoholic wine started from there — a way to celebrate without alcohol. It was quite audacious 10 years ago to develop an alcohol-free wine. We were considered ‘crazy’ — but then we went to being seen as ‘pioneers’ and ‘visionaries.’ And now, the industry gets inspired by what has been done and considers us as a premium market leader from France.”
Plus, the alcohol-free wine and sparkling wine Pierre Chavin produces — which is now available in 60 countries — is not only vegan and less caloric than traditional wine, but it also contains natural vitamins and minerals from the grapes and has no preservatives or added sulfites. Though the brand produces wine with alcohol, too, Boulachin says that the non-alcoholic brands at Pierre Chavin represent 50% of sales, a testament to how many people want non-alcoholic alternatives. “You can experience the same benefits from drinking wine, but without the negative side effects,” she says.
Lorin Winata founded Melati, a botanical apéritif, after visiting her ancestral farmland in Jatiluwih, Bali. She had an “aha moment” when she realized the Asian healing botanicals she’d grown up with had been used for thousands of years in tonic drinks. “No one gathers over a glass of water, and there is a distinct lack of zero-alcohol fine beverages for the discerning drinker,” she tells TZR in an email. “And just because you are not drinking doesn’t mean that you have to change your lifestyle or stop socializing. Melati was created to add value to every drinker with experience, flavor, and functionality.” She says that rather than de-alcoholization, which leaves 0.5% of alcohol or more, they use a method where botanicals are cold-extracted in water for just six weeks. “What defines a drink is not the alcohol content, but rather, the heritage, craftsmanship, and quality of ingredients, of which I’ve worked on diving deep into my heritage to craft something uniquely Asian for the world,” she says. “Alongside a food scientist and Ayurvedic specialist, we selected botanicals used since 1293 in Asia in tonic drinks. These recipes were written down on palm leaf manuscripts, which are embodied in the Melati logo.” And at just 12 calories and 0.00% alcohol, she says it’s suitable for all dietary preferences, from health to religious ones.
Winata says that in a traditionally male-dominated industry of spirits, women have carved out a niche looking to the future of zero-alcohol options. “Because we are not bound to traditional structures of alcohol, we’re able to look at crafting new drinking experiences according to what drinkers have been missing,” she explains. “We select 70% organic botanicals due to a strict policy against pesticides, all while supporting women’s future in Indonesia. Often, we’re programmed to order a Champagne or drink right when we sit down somewhere, but our drink was designed to be celebratory — you’re able to have the option to ‘Cheers,’ have a fine drink, and enjoy it without the booze.” By holding a glass of a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand, you can still take part in a “drinking” ritual, she says. “And, hopefully, we’re not defined by a drink, but rather, by our globally minded conversations and rich human connections.”