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According to Julia Bainbridge, there’s never been a better time to be a nondrinker. And she would know. She was ahead of the sober-curious curve, prompted to pen her recent recipe book, Good Drinks, by her 2014 decision to remove alcohol from her life and a subsequent longing for well-made booze-free cocktails. The movement — in which followers abstain from alcohol for wellness or other reasons — started a few years ago and was picking up some serious steam in early 2020.

Photography by Alex Lau

But what happens to a sober-curious movement during a global pandemic? We know this much: We’ve been drinking more while in quarantine. Online alcohol sales, for example, saw a whopping 339% boost when the coronavirus outbreak first hit, according to market intelligence firm Winsight.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise given the state of the world and our current lifestyles, where work is done on the sofa and loungewear is the look du jour. For many, an enticing way to delineate the end of the workday is savoring a glass of wine — the at-home equivalent of socializing with friends over happy hour. “There are people who want to engage in this ritual and have that transition, but who don’t want alcohol involved,” Bainbridge explains.

Pre-COVID, the sober-curious movement was gaining traction. It’s part of a booming interest in wellness, which has ballooned into a $4.5-trillion industry with a focus on mindfulness and moderation. And studies show that younger people — millennials and Gen Zers — are imbibing less than previous generations. In fact, Bainbridge says the most memorable conversation she’s had about her book was with a millennial who didn’t understand why she was a non-drinking champion — there was simply no need to justify this among her peers. Bainbridge predicts that in a decade, no one will be asking why you’re not drinking and notes that “alcohol is the only drug you have to justify not taking.”

With the rise of sober bars and craft nonalcoholic cocktails, a sober-curious lifestyle can easily be mapped onto our favorite rituals and routines. After all, we’re social creatures and clinking glasses is a fine way to hobnob. Bainbridge, too, enjoys drinking as a social activity but points out that it’s really about the pleasure of gathering and that sipping something slowly encourages conversation without distractions — even on a Zoom call.

This means that Dry January and Sober October are as likely to make headlines as stories about quarantiners slugging back bottles of pinot. As Bainbridge explains, “It’s not about segregating drinkers and nondrinkers.” Indeed, for some, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a fluid relationship with alcohol.

So where does this lifestyle land on the spectrum between Shirley Temples and Rosé All Day? For Bainbridge and her fellow sober-curious followers, winding down with a consumption ritual might mean sipping an elegant Verjus Spritz or punchy Pea Flower Lemonade, taken from the pages of her book. And although cocktails are meant to be fun, she’s excited to see that “nonalcoholic drinks are finally being taken seriously and that this conversation is getting louder.” A rousing cheers to that — with or without the booze. 

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

For more from Julia Bainbridge on the sober-curious lifestyle plus a recipe, check out our exclusive Q+A.

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