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Mindful Drinking: 'It's not just about that 'why' but it's also about choice'

Cocktails
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Colorful cocktail on top of the bar in Italian restaurant.

According to this year’s Barcardi Cocktail Trends Report, more than half of global consumers are drinking more non-alcoholic and low-ABV drinks than last year. This implies the supposed “trend” of low and no-proof drinks is here to stay far beyond Dry January.

Even here in the brewing state there are many local products on the market to give people more options outside of alcoholic drinks.

READ: Great Lakes Distillery founder Guy Rehorst enters the nonalcoholic beverage market with Junipre

This move away from alcohol as the default drink option is also called the Mindful Drinking movement. And tonight there’ll be a Drink Mindful Milwaukee event highlighting sophisticated no- and low-proof drinks. Mindy McCord, the co-founder of Wisconsin-based Siren Shrub Company will be a part of it, along with Derek Brown, an award-winning bartender and author of Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No- and Low- Alcohol Cocktails.

"So I think that mindful drinking, for me it's pretty clear cut. It means that you're aware of the reasons why you drink," says Brown. He notes you don't have to be sober or even sober-curious to take a pause and realize you have ever-growing options that aren't centered around alcohol and still full of flavor.

"So it's not just about that why but it's also about choice," Brown adds.

For McCord, mindful drinking is "about taking the habitualness out of it and realizing there's options to still have a ritualistic experience with your cocktails with or without alcohol."

She co-founded Siren Shrub Co. with Layne Cozzolino after moving from canning and fermenting to exploring mindful drinking when Cozzolino was pregnant. And while you may be thinking of the plant when you see the word "shrub," but it's actually a drink from the 1800s according to McCord.

For Siren Shrubs, all of their drinks are based on three ingredients: organic apple cider vinegar, organic cane sugar or maple syrup, with a fruit, root, or herb.

"Historically they were used as a method of preservation. So when the season’s bounty appeared and it was starting to spoil, people would add vinegar and sugar and make delicious syrups for the public houses or to hydrate the farmers in the field," she explains.

Brown believes there are two main misconceptions about mindful drinking: That it's a trend and if you choose not to drink you have a problem with alcohol.

Non-alcoholic drinks go as far back to the 19th Century according to Brown, and he notes that "The first mention of the cocktail in print was in London in 1798 and it mentions ginger, but it doesn't necessarily mention alcohol. And so there's some contention there whether it had alcohol or didn't."

Brown acknowledges that while there are people who do have trouble with alcohol and have decided to not drink, there are others who may simply want to cut back, or are choosing how they want to feel.

"[Not drinking] is the only thing that if you say 'I'm not doing' you have to explain yourself for it," says Brown. "I'd like to change that ultimately, and it is starting to become more and more normalized."

As someone who is ingrained in the bartending culture, Brown admits he was hesitant to make the shift to being an advocate of non-alcoholic cocktails and the sober curious movement.

"It was a little scary for me at first to broach this topic, and I was afraid how people would respond, but I've gotten a lot of support ... so I feel like this is something that is helpful to a large array of people and I'm grateful to be a part of that," he says.

As the movement continues to gain ground across the country, does the brewing state have the potential to be a mindful drinking one? For Wisconsin-native McCord, the resounding answer is yes.

"There's a lot of people in the beverage world that are pushing towards and looking at the trends, and the market is telling us that people want this and they will pay the high price for it. It's time," she says. "It's time, and I think that we are maybe a little slower than our surrounding states to get to there, but we're going to get there and I'm excited to be a part of it."

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Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.
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