From nonalcoholic wine and spirits to nootropics, now Utah’s got more options
It’s summer, when backyard gatherings under bistro lights might include glasses of rosé, chardonnay, or a tray of mint juleps. But this year, you and your guests might want to try zero-proof versions of your favorite drinks.
If so, you won’t be alone. According to a recent CNBC article, the trend toward alcohol-free imbibing is on the rise. “Sales of nonalcoholic beverages rose 33.2 percent in the past year, with $331 million in total sales. Nonalcoholic beer and cider sales grew by 31.7 percent, but more notably, sales of nonalcoholic spirits grew 113.4 percent during the same period,” the article claims.
Answering the call for zero-proof beverages, Curiosity Bottle Shop and Bar recently opened at the edge of downtown Salt Lake City. It’s serving a growing community of like-minded souls interested in the social delights of sharing in spirits, wine, and beer—without the effects of alcohol.
“A lot of people have expressed wanting a place like this for so long and not feeling like they had any options or places to go where they felt like they were fully accepted,” says Raegan Plewe, co-owner of Curiosity along with Erica Bruin. “Many people have chosen not to drink for a range of reasons—people who are pregnant, people who have been ten years sober, or people who are athletic and don’t like to drink because it affects their athletic performance. I think people often feel alone when they’re in that state where they don’t want to drink anymore. It’s been really cool to see how common it is and how much of a community there is around it.”
Bruin thinks having conversations about alcohol and how we consume it has always been hush-hush. “People don’t really want to talk about how much they drink. I think that it’s good to change that,” she says. “Let’s just make it a conversation that’s normal.”
Zero-proof beverages are not just for people who never drink alcohol, Plewe says—they’re for people who want to explore a healthy relationship with alcohol and socializing. “Utah is so polarized on alcohol. There isn’t a lot of in-between,” she says. “Every once in a while, I’ll still have an alcoholic drink. It’s not a black-and-white issue. It’s about providing another option so people can choose to explore different things.”
Curiosity launched its bottle shop first, where customers can choose from a variety of zero-proof options including spirits, beer, wine, sparkling beverages, and nootropic drinks. Bruin explains that the alcohol replacements (in products like whiskey, gin, and mezcal) are made the same way as their full-proof cousins; they’re simply distilled down to zero proof. “They’re not always similar tasting to a traditional drink, but they get close—and some are really close,” Bruin says.
Next to the alcohol replacements in Curiosity’s spirits section are also interesting surprises, like Spice 94 Seedlip. This distilled infusion includes allspice, oak, green cardamom, cascarilla, grapefruit, and lemon. Or there’s Optimist Smokey, a distilled botanical spirit with tasting notes of bonfire, bittersweet, and spice.
“These complex bottles are presented as a spirit would be, but they’re really complex on their own,” Plewe says. “The ones I really love tend to be more bitter. In general, our wall is not geared toward sweet [flavors]. It’s more complex, herbal, and bitter. There’s a range—some sweet, some not. But we were trying to stay away from that because we don’t want to be perceived as a soda shop. There are enough sweet drinks out there for people who don’t drink. Not everyone who doesn’t drink alcohol wants something super sweet. We were trying to find the most interesting, unique, complex flavors possible.”
As for the nootropic drinks, Bruin explains they’re in their own category. “I wouldn’t consider them alcohol replacements. They’re more like a sparkling herbal beverage with brain-boosting benefits, things that will boost you up or calm you down,” she says. “There are beneficial vitamins or herbs that will give your brain food to function on a higher level.”
The bar side of Curiosity, which opened this month, is a very intentional part of Bruin and Plewe’s mission. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we make it a whole experience—a social experience where people can taste what we’re selling, get a really good idea of what they can do with these products, and explore what it means to connect without alcohol late at night?’” Plewe says. “There’s so much creativity and beauty in going out late at night. I was interested in what types of connections were possible if you’re not consuming something that dulls your senses, but if you consume something that actually heightens your senses.”
Curiosity’s bar service includes a mixed drink menu, tasting boards (think hummus and crudites, chocolate and fruit, cheeses, etc.), and specialty coffee and teas. Mixed drinks include traditionally-inspired zero-proof cocktails and an “elixir” menu that incorporates nootropic beverages. “Our theme is exploring taste in a very sophisticated way and fully telling the story of the ingredients,” Plewe says.
Curiosity may be the first zero-proof bottle shop and bar in Salt Lake City, but its owners hope to be the catalyst for a larger trend. “About a week before Raegan and I teamed up, I had been thinking about names for what I thought was going to be a bottle shop only,” Bruin says. “Months prior, I had read a book called ‘Sober Curious’ and the word ‘curious’ stuck out to me…It’s simply about being curious about taste and drinking something different while socializing. I coined the phrase, ‘same social habits, different ingredients’ right off the bat, and it has stuck with us.”
Plewe says some local bartenders have visited Curiosity to get inspiration for making the nonalcoholic drinks on their menus better. “It’s exciting for me,” she says. “I still love going to fancy cocktail bars, but I tend to be underwhelmed by the nonalcoholic drinks. They tend to be really sweet or juice heavy and not as complex as other cocktails on the menu that do have alcohol. I’m happy that other bartenders are getting inspired, and I hope they start to carry a lot of the products so it’s more normal.”