December is a busy time for booze. Whether it’s a holiday party or a family gathering, you may have already felt the punch that alcohol has had on your body this month.
Many studies have been released this year debating the pros and cons of drinking, which can leave would-be partiers confused as to whether they are drinking too much altogether.
While the debate is far from over, it’s safe to say that a balanced approach is needed, and for some, a tasty mocktail alternative is as good as the real thing.
Robin Goodfellow brings that balance to Toronto with his specialty “placebo” drinks served at his Parkdale bar, PrettyUgly. The name “placebo” serves its purpose because, by sight and smell alone, you could easily mistake it for the real thing. The perk? It’s completely booze-free.
Goodfellow says while a lot of people enjoy socializing for the beer and the wine, going out to a holiday event shouldn’t only rely on drinking alcohol.
“There are a lot of reasons people opt for our placebo drinks, some people have never drunk, or are pregnant, religious, or have drunk too much,” he explains.
Mocktail drinks have become a rising trend, and the drinks themselves are being developed to really satisfy your taste buds. An ordinary Shirley Temple isn’t going to cut it anymore.
“Placebo drinking” is a movement that is happening globally, according to Ben Branson, owner of Seedlip, which launched in 2015 to develop the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit. Branson wanted to solve the dilemma of what to drink when you’re not drinking.
“I think the main reason for the movement is because people are changing, and therefore, our relationship with alcohol is changing,” Branson says.
Branson believes there are lots of factors at work which have created a growing need for alternatives, with our health and public lives being at the forefront.
“Some of the difficulty comes from not having options. Some people would rather have a glass of OJ at the bar, but they don’t want to look like an idiot,” he continued. “I think our public lives have a big impact, whether it’s your boss looking at your Facebook profile or a future employee being spotted in a photo, everyone has become hyper aware.”
Goodfellow agrees and says that part of the reason he created the placebo drink is that he noticed the need for a product that people can drink without feeling like the odd one out.
“I decided to package them so that the people who were used to drinking fancy wines and cocktails, and now don’t drink, can still feel comfortable enough to enter a bar,” Goodfellow says. “They too deserve to have a sexy-looking drink.”
If you’re looking for a costless mocktail option, some bars have you covered with free non-alcohol drinks for designated drivers. Braden Ruby, owner of Toronto bar Nightowl, says he teamed up with Mothers Against Drunk Driving in an effort to prevent drinking and driving year-round.
“Definitely a lot of time goes into the creation of the mocktails, we want to make sure we put as much time and effort into making those as we do our alcoholic drinks,” Ruby said. “At the end of the day, the people that are drinking them are being responsible so it’s a good way to reward them.”
Tips if you choose to booze
And if you do choose to drink this holiday season, Goodfellow’s biggest suggestion for watching your alcohol intake is pretty straightforward: don’t do shots.
“Shots are like pills, you’re not enjoying the alcohol you’re just shooting it down.”
Goodfellow suggests staying well hydrated if you do choose to indulge.
If you’re throwing a party, support those who prefer to stay sober by including non-alcoholic drink options, such as mulled grape or apple juices or mixed-fruit punches.
And Ruby advises that if you’re looking for the perfect holiday drink to serve, this recipe for non-alcoholic eggnog is beyond delicious – you just have to try it to understand.
Despite the debate, Goodfellow reminds us that moderation is key and it’s really all just about the savour.
“People just want something tasty, whether there is booze in it or not.”
Watch: More tips for imbibing responsibly this holiday season