My relationship with alcohol has undulated over the years. Today, it may be the most stable it has ever been. Still, thanks to a helplessly addictive personality, I know that when it comes to the hard stuff, I’m always on shaky ground.
It’s hard to resist the myriad temptations that a good tipple brings, from a heightened sense of ease and loss of inhibition to a lengthened attention span for social interaction.
You want to tell me again about your cheating boyfriend you can’t seem to break it off with? I’m all ears, and I’ll give you the perfect balance of tough love and tender empathy in return. You need advice about which Hindi word to get tattooed on your collarbone even though you don’t speak the language? No judgement, I’ll draw up a list—and let you borrow my lip gloss while I’m at it.
Try any of these things when I’m sober, however, and I’d have left the building sooner than you can finish your sentence.
Liquor softens my edges, wrapping me in a soft blanket of temporary comfort and a false sense of safety. When I’m drunk, I’m funnier, happier—prettier even, since every inch of insecurity evaporates from my mind after the seventh shot of tequila—and way more generous than I ordinarily would be. I am, in many ways, my best self.
Coincidentally, I also happen to be my very worst self. I’m loose-lipped and rambunctious, eager to keep the spotlight on myself at any cost. Bursts of self-confidence turn into brazen sexuality, leading to poor decisions that today live as red hot shame in the back of my mind. I do first and think last. And in the morning, I pay dearly for all the fun I’ve had.
“The alcohol-free beverages of today need to bring with them all the sensuality of liquor—a cocktail is, after all, a sexy thing”
It’s not just the physical hangover I’m talking about. Like many people who use alcohol as a social lubricant, the anxiety I had tried to eradicate the night before returns with a vengeance once the substance has been processed out of my body. Hangxiety—as sufferers like to call it—is the painful psychological comeuppance for over-indulging in alcohol. Like emotional ricochet, it can hurt you when you least expect it, way past your last drink.
This is perhaps why a growing sobriety movement has taken hold globally—even within the fashion circle, famous for its hard partying culture. Bella Hadid, for example, celebrated 10 (at the time of writing) alcohol-free months this year. When she first opened up about cutting alcohol out of her life, one big reason Hadid had shared for her decision 158 was the crippling anxiety that she would deal with each morning, looking back on a previous drunken night out. At just 24, her struggles with alcohol had gotten to a point where she found herself cancelling plans and social events because she felt she would not be able to control her drinking.
Like Tom Holland, Cara Delevingne and a host of other celebrities who have been open about their journeys to being alcohol-free, Hadid has found that sobriety has liberated her from the hold alcohol used to have on her mind and body. Hadid also happens to be the co-founder of Kin Euphorics, a line of non-alcoholic beverages formulated with adaptogens and nootropics for—well— general wellness enhancements. For the purposes of this story, the second portion of that sentence is not very important, especially given that the effectiveness of adaptogens and nootropics has not been proven and results will differ from person to person.
What really matters, to fellow sober folk like Hadid, is the fact that these drinks are non-alcoholic alternatives that are packaged well and enjoyable to drink.
Unlike mocktails of the past (you’d be lucky to get a sugary Shirley Temple if not just straight cranberry juice), the alcohol-free beverages of today need to bring with them all the sensuality liquor possesses. The ritual of going out and having a good time with a delicious drink in hand is a sacred thing for many. Just because you choose to abstain from alcohol doesn’t mean that you no longer want to experience nightlife in all its reckless, glamorous fun. A cocktail is a sexy thing—a mocktail should be too.
Neon Pigeon is a bar in Singapore that clearly understands this desire. On its menu, you’ll find three categories of drinks—full-proof, half-proof and zero-proof—separated by the amount of alcohol in them, ranging from a lot to none. Aside from these labels, the alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages served at Neon Pigeon are virtually indistinguishable, thanks to the unusual amount of care and craftsmanship poured into the latter.
“Our zero-proof drinks go through the same creative process as the rest of our cocktails—they must truly stand out to earn a spot on our menu”
“Our zero-proof drinks go through the same creative process as the rest of our cocktails,” says Mario la Pietra, beverage director at Neon Pigeon. “They must truly stand out to earn a spot on our menu. There’s no rocket science behind them; we simply aim to create a tasty beverage that, when possible, replicates the flavour profile of a classic alcoholic cocktail.” One of Neon Pigeon’s bestselling drinks is No Kaze, a non-alcoholic tipple made with Lyre’s London dry spirit (“It’s like alcohol-free gin,” says la Pietra) and blood orange and elderflower tonic water.
“We don’t want our zero-proof menu to feel like an afterthought. Most of our first-timers are pleasantly surprised to find that we don’t hide our alcohol-free cocktails at the end of the drink menu. Instead, we proudly list and mix them with the rest of our creations.”
La Pietra isn’t the only mixologist to respect the value of a craft cocktail (calling them mocktails feels reductive) made without alcohol. In Hong Kong is Coa, which has held its position as Asia’s best bar for three years running. Its owner-bartender, Jay Khan, is a teetotaller. “A bartender who doesn’t drink? The jokes write themselves,” laughs Khan.
He had reflected on his drinking habits during the pandemic, when he was looking to move towards a healthier lifestyle. To him, cutting out alcohol seemed like an easy and effective way to get closer to his goal. As he progressed on his sobriety journey, his reasons for remaining alcohol-free expanded.
“I’m Pakistani. My family doesn’t drink at all. The only reason I started was because I was working in the nightlife industry. Now that I’m older and have my own family, my priorities have shifted. I derive more joy out of deep conversations and I don’t need to have fun just by drinking. When I’m at work, isn’t it better that I stay sober so that I can be fully aware of what’s happening in my bar?”
Today, Khan doesn’t drink at all unless he needs to taste a new recipe his team is developing. “Even when I’m going out to other bars, I let the bartenders know in advance that I don’t drink. Out of courtesy, I might take a sip of something they want to make me. I’ll tell them to serve me a small portion because I won’t finish it. But I’ll still pay full price of course!”
Newly opened in Hong Kong this year is Khan’s second bar, named The Savoury Project, with a focus on using ingredients such as meat and fungi to create complex cocktails with earthy and umami flavours—both with and without alcohol.
“We put an equal emphasis on nonalcoholic cocktails at The Savoury Project. I’m thinking about people like me who don’t drink. They still want to go out, socialise with their friends and have fun. We are doing what we can to enhance that experience for them.”
The temperance trend has caught on even in the fine-dining space, where wine pairings and top-shelf spirits are often seen as necessary accompaniments to a stellar meal. As curiosity and acceptance around the sobriety movement grow, chefs and mixologists have begun to embrace non-alcoholic beverage programmes crafted with the same thought and complexity as regular wine pairings.
Marguerite, a one-Michelin-starred restaurant in Singapore, has put out a unique temperance beverage menu comprised of fermented jun teas and clarified juices. If you were to opt for a non-alcoholic pairing, in place of chardonnay, you would get a deliciously zesty concoction made from caramelised Gala apples and verjuice cooked with celeriac, then clarified and infused with oak. A far cry from the stereotypical mocktail, this is a drink that reflects the complexity of wine.
“We take inspiration from a traditional wine pairing by identifying the predominant flavour profiles of a wine we think would pair well with the dish and developing a temperance beverage around that understanding,” shares Michael Wilson, chef-patron of Marguerite. “Our New Caledonian prawn tagliolini, for example, is served with a rich prawn bisque, dill oil and trout roe. This dish needs a pairing that can stand up to these strong, rich flavours while not overpowering them. We chose a robust jackfruit jun tea which is fermented to create a natural effervescence that also cleanses the palate.”
The response has been resounding, with some diners reportedly seeking the restaurant out specifically for its temperance pairing, which goes beautifully with its equally outstanding culinary offerings. Wilson concludes: “At our core, we believe in elevating every guest’s experience. Some of our guests choose not to or cannot consume alcohol, but that doesn’t mean they should be deprived.”
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