Local groups and restaurants provide alternatives to drinking

If 2020 has left you feeling hungover, you’re not alone.
Gin Rickey Cocktail

Cherry Gin Rickey
2 oz. Ritual Gin*
2 oz. Tart Cherry
Siren Shrub
1 oz. lime juice
Top off with soda water
Splash of maraschino
cherry juice
Garnish with thyme, cherries and lime
*Ritual is a zero-proof gin alternative
Recipe provided by Siren Shrub Co.Photo by Nicole Peaslee

If 2020 has left you feeling hungover, you’re not alone. And if you have been relying on alcohol to get through the pandemic — like a lot of people in our country — you’re not alone there either. New studies show that alcohol consumption has sharply increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and that heavy drinking, especially among women, has soared. Prevalent in Wisconsin, alcohol use is popular for unwinding at the end of the day and socializing with friends. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Nicole Peaslee, one of the founders of New Fashioned Sobriety, a group based in Madison for sober and “sober-curious” women. “I thought drinking was fun, but it turns out sobriety is a thousand times better,” she says.

While alcohol consumption might be on the rise, according to an NPR article from March 2019, millennials are drinking less, and 30% of Americans don’t drink at all. If you look closely, there are signs that point to a shift in drinking culture. Many people are now familiar with the terms “Dry January” or “Sober October,” the names for the months when some people choose to abstain from alcohol. When Athletic Brewing Co., a Connecticut-based brewery that only produces nonalcoholic beer, released its limited-edition Double Hop IPA for sale online in June 2019, it sold out in 32 seconds. There are distilled nonalcoholic spirits with bright herbal flavors, and sober bars are popping up in Austin, New York City and St. Louis. And with people connecting on social media platforms like Instagram, more groups like New Fashioned Sobriety are forming for people who want to grow an alcohol-free community.

Founded in March 2020 by Peaslee, Sarah Patnaude and Jenny Peabody, New Fashioned Sobriety has virtual meetups on the first and third Wednesday of every month. With the original intent of meeting bimonthly in person on hold, for now the group meets mostly online, which also has its benefits. “We’ve met so many people, not even in Wisconsin, but across the U.S.,” Peaslee says. “We are growing day by day and gaining momentum.”

group of people on zoom drinking sober alternatives

Courtesy of New Fashioned Sobriety

Peabody, an event planner, mom to two young children and step-mom to two teenagers, has been sober since April 22, 2019. “What I realized when I was getting sober was that I had a really unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and like any unhealthy relationship, I needed to leave,” Peabody says. After Peabody, Peaslee and Patnaude met online, they met in-person at a sober meetup event and the three clicked. “We were all on the same wavelength about what sobriety meant to us and how important it was to change the conversation that had been the same for so long [about] traditional recovery,” Peabody says. They decided to launch New Fashioned Sobriety as a way to focus on sobriety on their terms.

The group’s virtual meetups are very casual, says Peaslee, who quit drinking in February 2019. “We go around and introduce ourselves, share our sober date; if we have a fun [nonalcoholic] beverage, we share what we are drinking and we like to share what has been on our minds,” she says.

The main focus of the group is “cultivating authentic connections between sober people,” Peabody says. “We like to have a lot of fun and tell silly stories.” The subject of pandemic drinking has also come up in meetings. “It’s been frustrating to see the increase of memes and advertisements suggesting that drinking is the solution to or a reward for a stressful day,” Peabody says. “Alcohol may be a temporary solution to help numb the overwhelming feelings, but it doesn’t actually help you address it at all. There are so many worthwhile, fulfilling and healthier options to dealing with stress, such as exercise, meditation and therapy, and I wish they received the same amount of attention as drinking does.”

Mint mark sangria

Sangria mix (Courtesy of Mint Mark)

While the sober bar trend has yet to take hold in Madison — local chef Laila Borokhim briefly ran a pop-up sober bar at her since-closed restaurant Noosh during summer 2019 — several restaurants in Madison offer unique nonalcoholic drinks. At Tempest Oyster Bar, general manager Chip Nesser wants to make sure everyone who visits feels welcome, so Tempest has a dedicated nonalcoholic drink section on the menu. “If we consider ourselves to be creative bartenders, we shouldn’t feel that that requires us to use booze,” Nesser says. “It’s all about flavors and anything that goes with food.” Tempest offers several zero-proof cocktails, including Dawn Treader, which is meant to mimic the tangy and salty qualities of a margarita and is made with orange juice and pink kombucha. “It’s tart and layered,” Nesser says.

Another standout for nonalcoholic cocktails is Mint Mark, a restaurant on Madison’s near east side with several options on the menu. Known for its Friday night fish fry, Mint Mark doesn’t want anyone to be left out when it comes to Wisconsin’s drink of choice, the Old-Fashioned. Mint Mark’s nonalcoholic version tastes just like the original, but without the booze.

And if you are staying close to home, Siren Shrub Co. based in Stevens Point sells cans of sparkling shrub and zero-proof cocktail kits on its website. Siren’s shrubs, made with organic apple cider vinegar, fruits, roots or herbs, and organic cane sugar or maple syrup, come in several seasonal flavors, including tart cherry, strawberry and maple ginger. Co-founder Layne Cozzolino first read about shrubs several years ago and says they resurfaced in her life when she got pregnant with her son. “My husband bought me a pack from a company in Michigan and I was using them to make a nightly nonalcoholic drink that felt like an alcoholic drink,” Cozzolino says. Cozzolino’s business partner, Mindy McCord, says shrubs are versatile and can be used in nonalcoholic and alcoholic drinks alike, but “we have found quite a following in the sober community.”

bottle and can of Siren Shrubs

Courtesy of Siren Shrubs

When it comes to staying sober, Peabody says she enjoys having nonalcoholic options when she goes out, but one of the most important things is having a community of people to support her. “Without community, being sober can feel really isolating and feel really scary, but what this community does is provides people to lift you up when you are feeling low,” she says.

Peaslee encourages women who are curious about sobriety to join a New Fashioned meetup. “We are always excited when sober curious people attend … I think it encourages them to test the waters,” she says. “There is nothing to lose when you quit drinking — you only gain.”

Erica Krug is a Madison-based writer.Magazine footer that says "Like this article, get so much more by subscribing"