Are Millennials Turning Away From Alcohol?

Are Millennials Turning Away From Alcohol?

A trendy new bar recently opened in Brooklyn, NY, called Getaway, and it's doing very well indeed. In fact, it's usually crowded when all the other bars in the neighborhood are nearly empty. And it's crowded mostly with 'millennials' - the 22-to-38-year-olds frequently cited as serious drinkers.

The newsworthy aspect of the new little bar isn't the fact that it's thriving in the old Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn instead of some trendy Manhattan hotspot. Getaway is getting talked about in Time magazine and other news media because it doesn't sell alcoholic drinks.

Customers are lining up to get into the new bar, just opened this past April, to enjoy a happy social experience along with a fancy cocktail or tasty mixed drink based on non-alcoholic ingredients that don't make their heads spin or lead to regrettable behavior.

Founder/owner Sam Thonis, 31, told Time that he quit a career in video production to open the place after he saw that his brother had nowhere to hang out after he quit drinking. Turns out Thonis' instincts were on the money, and his brother was far from the only person looking for the fun of a neighborhood bar without the alcohol downside.

"You can sit there, chat with the bartender, chat with the person next to you," Thonis said. "It's a social place - the alcohol almost seems secondary. We are just offering something that I think people want: a social experience without the alcohol."

Are millennials turning away from booze?

Judging from photos we've seen of customers at Getaway in Brooklyn, millennials are the bar's major demographic (the astute owner is a 31-year-old millennial himself).

A recent article in The Atlantic quotes a Denver, CO, local who woke up with her usual hangover after a usual evening drinking with friends, and realized that "this is not what grown-ups do." She cut way back on her drinking, and says she feels great about it.

The article's author, Amanda Mull, says she's recently heard similar stories from more than 100 people in their 20s and 30s who are making changes in their drinking habits.

News stories aren't exactly scientific research, but in the past year there's been quite a few of them pointing out a shift away from booze among America's hard-drinking millennials. For example, just days before the Atlantic story, Vox ran a piece saying "as more young people opt for wellness-oriented lifestyles" we're going to be hearing more about what it calls "the sober curious movement."

Distillers and brewers gearing up for change

All this signaling points to a sea-change in alcohol consumption coming in the near future. According to American distilleries and breweries and multinational booze makers, it's already time to invest in something different.

According to Time, Nielsen research says about half of U.S. adults (and two-thirds of those ages 21 to 34) say they're trying to drink less.

The Wall Street Journal reported that nonalcoholic beverage sales are on the rise, while traditional alcohol sales are down. In fact, low- and no-alcohol beverage sales are already up 3.9 percent and the market is predicted to grow 40 percent by 2022.

"Now beverage companies are clamoring to provide what Getaway [the Brooklyn bar] does - fun without the booze - and major alcohol producers are some of the first in line," Time reported.

This data from Time's story seals the deal:

  • Anheuser-Busch has invested in everything from fruit juice to probiotic drinks, and has committed to making 20 percent of its beer volume no- or low-alcohol by 2025.
  • After a 2 percent drop in sales last year, Molson Coors acquired a company selling kombucha, the "fermented darling of the wellness world."
  • Heineken and Budweiser have both recently rolled out no-alcohol beers.
  • Numerous craft breweries are experimenting with low-alcohol by volume (AVB) brews.
  • And finally, a new lower-alcohol vodka, called Keel, helps point the way to what's now being called the "moderation movement."

Bottom line

Excessive alcohol use still claims 88,000 deaths a year in the US. Binge drinking continues to be a deadly problem among younger adults 18 to 25. And alcohol use disorder plagues 17.6 million Americans in total. We've still got a lot of work to do.

But with these news stories about moderation, and the alcohol industry gearing up to meet the need, it seems certain that big changes are afoot and we're about to watch it play out.

It couldn't come a minute too soon.

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