On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss why, even as Dry January has become a more established cultural phenomenon, consumer interest is in decline. The trio debate why millennials in particular might be losing interest in the month-long practice of abstention from alcohol. From a greater interest in year-round moderation aided by a proliferation of non-alcoholic alternatives, to a realization that a different phase in life requires different approaches to everything. Tune in for more.
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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: I’m Johanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: This is the “VinePair Podcast.” It’s been a while since we talked about the things we’ve been drinking recently because we’ve had some time. I’m curious Joanna, what have you been up to? What have you been drinking?
J: I’m trying to think back. Some notable things, had a lot of good Nebbiolo with Adam and friends for New Year’s Eve.
A: Did you eat anything notable at this time, Joanna?
J: Not really. Just some snacks.
A: Just snacks. Just some deviled eggs, some pasta.
J: Just some pasta.
A: Nothing that baller.
J: White truffle fest at the Firestone-Teeter residence for New Year’s.
A: There’s lots of truffs, lots of good Nebbiolo including, which was crazy, obviously, most of them are Barolos and Barbarescos but then we had a 2002 Nebbiolo from Virginia from Barboursville that was pretty amazing.
J: America’s wine representative, Keith Beavers, brought it.
A: I brought it.
J: Oh, really?
A: It was mine. Keith just opened it. He doesn’t get the credit for everything American now. It was expertly decanted. Yes, lots of Nebbiolo.
J: Lots of Nebbiolo.
A: What else, Joanna?
J: Another thing I had, Evan and I went to Oxalis, which is a restaurant in Brooklyn.
A: Was it good? Did you like it? Was it awesome?
J: Yes, it was really great. We sat in the bar room and did that menu.
J: They have a really thoughtful cocktail program there. The bar director is Piper Kristensen. They use a lot of local spirits instead of using bigger brands. I had a really nice take on a Corpse Reviver No. 2, which was really good. I like that cocktail.
J: Then the last thing I had that was good and notable was the non-alcoholic Wölffer Estate Spring in a Bottle.
J: Their dry rosé sparkling, which was good.
A: Just very balanced and nice and rich?
J: Yes. I think they do a good job. The non-alc wine scene is challenging right now. I think it’s getting better. I think this was a nice option.
A: Cool. What about you, Zach?
Z: Wrapped up 2022 with a little celebration. Had some nice bottles of wine, had a few friends over.
A: Happy birthday, Zach.
Z: Thank you. I feel like I’m already closing in on 40 this year so it’s definitely alarming. Had some nice bottles of wine, a really beautiful bottle of Etna Rosso from Benanti from the Cavaliere’ Contrada, one of the many single-vineyard sites. Also a really interesting wine for me, a Pinot Noir from Tasmania. I’ve had a little bit of sparkling wine from Tasmania but this was my first still wine. It was kind of fun. I’m trying to think of anything else. Had some Champagne, of course. Can’t really ring in the new year without a bottle of Champagne or two and it was good. Just drinking some good wine. On topic for this podcast, I had my last alcoholic drink for a month. Just shortly before midnight, I had just a little bit of a marrow to finish the year off. That was nice.
A: You’re not one of these Dry Jan — some people who are pushed like. “Oh well, New Year’s Day, you can have a Bloody or whatever.” After midnight on New Year’s Eve, do you stall drinking?
Z: Yes. I also went to sleep, which made it easier.
A: You don’t allow yourself to-
Z: It’s not a philosophical point to me. For one, I don’t really care what anyone else does. For me, it’s just always been like — even frankly I reached New Year’s Eve and I’m already ready to be done. I have been fortunate, I suppose, that I don’t tend to get — especially with kids — all that into it on New Year’s Eve. I just have a few drinks, go to bed. It’s easier for me just to be like, “Okay, I’m starting new.” This year was a little tough because of the timing of everything. We went over to my cousin’s house the next day on New Year’s Day and had a family gathering and there was definitely lots of drinking going on for other people. It’s also true that probably my willpower is strongest on Jan. 1, so it’s the easiest day for me to resist temptation. Get at me in two weeks and I’ll be like, it was really hard to not have this wine that I happen to be around or I really want a glass of Scotch at 9:30 at night or something. That’s really when it tests me. Not so much the first couple of days because I am relatively committed to this plan.
Z: Adam, do you have anything besides all this Nebbiolo and white truffles?
A: I had a fun day where I took a pizza tour of Staten Island and had lots of Peroni. That was funny. I had a Pilsner. I had two Peronis, it was on one another but it was fun. Lee’s Tavern, super good.
J: That was the favorite?
A: Joe & Pat’s was delicious but I feel like Lee’s Tavern is the one that felt the most Staten Island. It’s a bar and they happen to make really, really good pizza and it was filled with regulars. We went the day before New Year’s Eve and it was just a very good time. Everyone was in very good spirits and it felt like everyone was also straight out of central casting and it was just the best. People coming over making complaints about the union, it was just so good. I saw a bunch of cops and it’s just everything you think of Staten Island, it was just at Lee’s Tavern. That’s where I had my Peroni because I was like, “What should I get?” Like. “Peroni.” I was like, “Okay, cool. I’ll have a Peroni.” You bring it to me, man. That was probably my most fun drinking experience besides the Nebbiolo. One thing we are going to talk about is something that is Dry January but a trend that is changing in Dry January. That is that actually, interest in Dry January this year has gone down. I’ll read some of the stats now and we can chat about why we think this is. I had it open in my phone, guys, and then I just lost it. My bad. Here we go. Basically, according to CivicScience, they do this study every year and they provide a lot of data insights into numerous trending topics. The data they found from surveying in the month of Dry January shows that the interest and participation in Dry January is significantly down in 2023 compared to years prior, especially in the 25- to 34-year-old age range. Gen Z leads the interest in Dry January with the most. I think it’s interesting because 25 to 35, I thought there were some Gen Z in 25 but I guess they’re thinking that’s core millennials. Maybe we’re saying Gen Z’s really the 21- to 24-year-olds and a little bit of an uptick in interest in Dry January by boomers. Up from 39 percent of interest in 2022 to 41 percent; they must not live at The Villages. They must be like other places. I feel like in those kind of places they f*cking get wasted. Just all day long. Have you guys seen any of the documentaries on The Villages? All they do is drunk drive f*cking golf carts. That’s literally all they do. I feel like it’s very interesting, though, because what they’re saying is they’re just seeing that millennials who were the core driver of this holiday claim to be the creators of this holiday or dry time.
A: Actually, they’re starting to lose interest in it and starting to say that it’s not as much of a priority as it used to be to them where they felt like they had to abstain for a month. My belief here is, no shit, it’s not a priority anymore. Life’s gotten harder. You probably have a family at this point and you’re like, “Why would I take this thing that gives me pleasure away if I can manage my consumption?” We’ve gotten this before but I also think that abstention is a horrible way to prove you don’t have a problem. Proving you don’t have a problem means that you are able to not drink throughout the week and actually being able to take days off. This thing people do where it’s like, “For 30 days, I won’t drink to reset.” I don’t think it actually works.
J: I think that applies to other things too.
A: I think everything.
J: I’m not going to eat dessert for 30 days.
A: Everyone binges when they come back, everyone binges.
J: That’s diet culture, right?
A: Diet culture’s bad. I think, instead, it’s mindful culture that is much more important. I think the interest is waning because as you get older, this desire to probably have this competition prove with your friends is less appealing, whereas in Gen Z, it is a challenge. Who can go the longest?
A: We’ve all seen “Seinfeld’s” “The Contest.” We know what that’s about. That’s where it bore out. Zach, I want to be clear. This is no judgment on the fact that you do this. I think that it is good for people to do and I find people who really enjoy doing this and have done this for a very long time. I just think the reason it is waning is for those factors for a lot of people. I also think it’s waning because — you guys can tell me if you think this is incorrect — but I do think that it is a lot easier to now abstain throughout the week than it used to be because of all of the non-alcoholic options that are out on the market. You can say, “Hey, I’m not going to drink on a Monday when I go out to dinner,” and just order the Athletic beer and that’s okay, and nobody looks at you, whereas you used to need to have Dry January just to take a f*cking break. It was like, “Okay, everyone understands that we’re all taking a break together.” whereas now it’s like, “Hey guys, I don’t drink on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesdays.” and people are like, “Cool, but can we still have dinner? Can we still get together?” I think that’s also probably why it’s gone away.
J: I think that’s actually the driving factor here. That’s what I was going to say. I think there are so many more options and we’re talking about this all the time now. There is also Sober October. Do we remember that?
J: I think that there are just so many more opportunities for people to abstain over the course of the year that when it comes to January, there is less desire to really test yourself and challenge yourself to not drink for the entirety of the month because you can do that pretty easily now throughout the year.
A: I think it’s also interesting that Sober-tober has become a thing, and part of the reason it probably has as well is if you were into this as a thing to prove to yourself that you don’t need a drink for a month, that’s a month where at least it’s not horrible. I think there’s been a realization as well that I wanted to mention, January sucks. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s depressing. Being able to treat yourself to a bottle of wine with friends on a Friday night on a weekend in January is a really nice thing. To take that away from yourself in a month is very depressing for a lot of people and people become less social, and we know that alcohol makes you more social, and people go into very dark places because they’re less social. It’s like the worst time. Again, if you’re able to drink responsibly to not have a drink or two with friends
J: Well, this made sense for January because people are coming off of December, which is an incredibly overindulgent month, but I think also because there are so many opportunities to not drink or other options that perhaps people are indulging less in December and feel-
A: I think they are.
J: -less of a need to completely abstain in January.
Z: Yes. I want to add a couple of things here. One of them is that I think that one reason why I Dry January as a societal trend is perhaps losing steam is because in addition to what both of you have said, I think it’s been realized by a lot of people that it’s not a magic bullet. If you are looking at it as a, not just in terms of your relationship to alcohol, although it is 100 percent not that, but also just in terms of whether it’s broader health and wellness or potentially financial concerns, where I do think there is a conversation we had about non-alcs and their essentially equivalent price point to alcoholic beverages, which we can discuss in a minute, I do think that for a lot of people, it has become clear that if you’re trying to get in better shape, not drinking is helpful, but it’s not the end of the story. Especially when you then a month later return to drinking in the same way that you had in December or just the rest of the year. For some people, it was a trend, it was perhaps seen as a panacea for a thing that it just didn’t do that. For me, those are not really my reasons for doing it. Some of it is probably, at this point, just habit and stubbornness. I’ve been doing it for a long time, but I also think that some of it is, for me personally, it is more about — for lack of a better way of putting it — a professional palate reset. It’s less true for me the last couple of years when I’m not tasting wine professionally, but I would find that for me when I would taste wine into the late fall and early winter just for work, that my sense of taste got, over the course of the year, overwhelmed. There are ways that it would reset and all that. This is a very niche concern. I don’t think this is an issue for most people who are considering abstaining in any given month. For me, I found that when I came back to drinking, I would taste a little bit in January professionally, because I sometimes had to, sometimes there would be big events that I couldn’t really skip, but then in February in particular when I would come back, I felt like my sense of taste around wine in particular was much more acute. I liked that. It was a good time for me to be getting back into it because it’s also a time when, again, not that this is a concern for most people, but with a lot of restaurant inventory was getting turned over, a lot of new vintages of wine were being released, it was an important time for me to feel like I was at my best tasting wines. Again, really just my concern, not really anyone else’s, and less my concern now because that’s not what I’m doing, but still, I like taking the month off. It’s a nice reset from, as Joanna mentioned, the general indulgence of December.
A: I think also it probably is waning because in the last few years, we saw that what was happening with Dry January is that people were doing it, but they were just replacing it with other vices. For example, you heard lots of people, there have been articles written about it, et cetera, that people were sober from alcohol, but they were consuming cannabis the entire month. Then people were like, “Well, then that’s not really a sober month. You’re still inebriated in some way.” They were eating a lot more sweets because also when you drink alcohol, your body tends to crave sweets at certain times, so then your body just craves a different sugar. Zach, I think the first point you made is a really good one. A lot of people have realized that it’s not the thing that gets you to the gym. It’s funny because I was talking to the lifeguard at my gym this morning and we were saying how the gym is insane the first two of weeks of the month.
J: Of course. It’s so annoying.
A: Then it goes away. The locker room is more crowded than it’s ever been this week, and it will go away. That’s what happens. Everyone makes this resolution, and then they’re like, “You know what, I’ve got other sh*t going on in life.” It’s not about just signing up and going, it’s about planning out how you’re going to be able to pull that off every single day. That’s where I think the Dry January thing isn’t helpful if you actually are trying to figure out how you have a healthy relationship with alcohol. It’s instead sitting down and saying, “How do I have a healthy relationship? Is it that I don’t drink these three days of the week? Is it then on Wednesday and Thursday I’m only having a glass. On Friday is the night where I’m willing to go out and actually have a cocktail, a bottle, and then a nightcap.” No one can do that every day of the week. That’s not healthy. It’s not healthy to drink that way where you’re literally going out every night. That’s why I think it’s really hard to be a professional in the industry because if every night is cocktails, then wine at dinner, then after-dinner drinks, that’s not good for your body even if you say you feel fine and you have full control. It’s more figuring those things out and being able to manage those kinds of things than doing it for one month. Just like, “Okay, how do I ensure that I exercise three days a week starting or two days a week starting, then four days a week, then five days a week?” as opposed to, “I’m going to exercise for four weeks straight and then I’m going to stop.” You know why you’re going to stop? It f*cking sucks to exercise that much that early. You get sore, it’s no fun, and you quit. That’s why most people quit. Instead of saying things like, “I’m going to do it once, then twice, then three times.” Same with alcohol. It starts to suck that you’re denying yourself this thing that, again, you probably hopefully don’t have a true issue with. Again, for me to say, if you have a true issue with alcohol, I 100 percent support abstention. If the only way that you can handle your issue with alcohol is to not drink, you should be sober 100 percent. That’s why we have counseling and things like that to help people who need to be sober. If you’re just trying to reset your relationship with alcohol, it’s more sitting down and intentionally saying, “How do I reset my situation with alcohol? How do I not become the person that’s out every night or the person that has to be always closing down the bar, et cetera?” That’s very different, and I think that that is something that Dry January doesn’t help people do.
J: Right. You’ve both said it, but it ties back to this idea of resolutions and setting goals and being realistic about those goals. I think for a lot of people, abstention or saying that you want to lose 50 pounds or whatever, 10 pounds a month, or something, those aren’t realistic goals. I think there’s been a lot of discourse around this in recent years, especially around this idea of resolutions, and every January we set them, and we have these great intentions, but we set ourselves up for failure. I think this is definitely part of it because I certainly know people who, as part of New Year’s resolutions, say they’re going to stop drinking, or for January, or one month on, one month off, or something like that. I think it’s difficult. It’s really hard for a lot of people and maybe part of this dip in interest in Dry January is related to that.
A: Look, I’m hoping that it’s us realizing that we in American society for whatever reason,
don’t have to always live in a culture of extremes.
J: Oh, we love it.
A: We love it, man. That’s why we have the first person that can’t be confirmed as the speaker of the House in a hundred years on the first ballot because we live in a culture of extremes. It’s the best. They’re just idiots, man. It’s literally like watching a clown car. It’s the best. I know you’re-
Z: Adam has C-SPAN out of the background apparently.
A: Just for me to go on a tangent real quickly, what is happening right now is that this is like when people take someone hostage and they ask what their demands are, and they say, “Yes.” That’s literally what’s happening. Anyways, I feel like this culture of extremes has gotten to be a lot and maybe this is our generation starting to say like, “Hey, we have to figure out this balance here.” I think Gen Z is trying to figure that out as well. What is the balance? Not just this black or white, yes or no, one month on, one month off. Again, when that happens, you over-imbibe in the month that you’re on. You then take it off and then you over-imbibe again. As you said with diet culture, with all of these things, that’s what happens. We have so many studies that prove that’s not healthy. Again, Dry January wasn’t created by nutritionists or psychologists and psychiatrists who help with these issues. It was created by a dude in his living room in New York who happened to be popular on social media. He was a former journalist. We’ve written about him and started talking about how he did this and it became super popular in the late aughts into the early 2010s. That’s how it blew up. This was not the NIH or whatever being like, “Hey, we should all take a month off as a way to reset.” Maybe that’s what we’re all realizing.
Z: I want to ask you guys a question that’s related to this, but is a little bit a departure from what we’ve been talking about because I think a little more about the industry. Joanna mentioned that there’s a much greater abundance of NA beverage options for people than there used to be. I remember a few years ago now, I think I interviewed Bill Shufelt who was one of the founders of Athletic Brewing. He talked about how January was a huge month for Athletic. Even at that time relatively strong sales throughout the year, they noticed obviously that there were a lot of people who either only were going to purchase Athletic during January because it was the month out of the year that they didn’t drink or were first looking for alternatives in January because they wanted to have something that was non-alcoholic that still met some of their needs. I was wondering if we’re in this weird place where at the same time, individual consumers are perhaps less interested in Dry January than ever before. We all have experienced the sheer deluge of PR pitches and things like that from new and old non-alc brands trying to get in Dry January coverage. I’m wondering if it’s this weird thing where consumers are saying, “Hey, we don’t necessarily want to do Dry January, but we do want to incorporate these drinks into our life more often, maybe two or three days out of the week that we don’t have alcohol or just sporadically here and there, or as a pacer beer when we’re drinking beer. Otherwise, Dry January still has tremendous value if you are a marketing agency, say, because it’s a handy pitch for your non-alc clients. I’m wondering how we feel about this weird dichotomy because again, like I said, every January I get more and more of these emails and I’m sure the same is true for you. How do we reconcile these two contradictory facts?
J: I’m trying to remember what the question was.
Z: Why is the marketing of Dry January only getting more and more extensive even if consumer interest is lessening?
J: I think that’s part of it. I think it’s because the trend has passed at this point because your conversation with Bill was a few years ago at this point now. Athletic sells well all year round now but I think this happens with marketing and with PR sometimes.
A: It takes a while to catch up.
J: Yes. It takes a while to catch up and we’ve moved beyond it in a lot of cases.
A: I think that the idea that it takes marketing a while to catch up is very true. You often plan for the last year and if we were to dig more into the data, it would show that — so basically, Dry January was down in 2021, but then it rebounded in 2022. I think people just assumed it would rebound. The reason it rebounded in 2022 was it was the coming off of Covid. People being like, “Sh*t, we drank straight through Covid and maybe this is a good reset.” Now people are — they’ve recalibrated, we’ve fully come out of Covid and it’s down even further than it was in 2020. I think this is why a lot of people are starting to say, “Huh, maybe this is over as a happening” because again, no one’s saying that No & Low is over. What we’re saying is this one specific moment in time is over.
J: That’s a really good point.
A: For all the reasons we’ve discussed, people are over the challenge. They’re overdoing this for a full month when a lot of other sh*t’s going on in their lives. For all those reasons and because there is a lot of No & Low alc options out there. I do want to bring up one thing about No & Low alc which really pisses me off, especially with no alc.
Z: Please, unburden yourself, Adam.
A: Thank you. As you mentioned at the top, first of all, after a very long time trying to have a family, we’re able to have one.
A: Thank you. I will say that maybe it’s because of what we went through and how long it’s taken, et cetera, we’re very conscious of everything that Naomi puts in her body. She’s fully upstanding because of that. Non-alcoholic drinks do not tell you half the time what’s in them and if they do, they are the weirdest ingredients that as someone who literally is choosing not to abstain, does not feel comfortable drinking. There’s all these crazy things like adaptogens, roots, and things like that actually almost feel they could be worse for you once we do research on them than just actually having alcohol. I want to stop. Can we stop that trend too? Let’s just make something delicious and not put all this weird sh*t in it. If we put weird sh*t in it, let’s not be these brands like some that pitch us when I ask what’s in it, who say, “Sorry, that’s a proprietary recipe.” If you’re not going to tell me the herbs and spices you’ve used to make this thing taste like in a marrow, I don’t know, maybe I don’t want to drink that as non-alcohol because if you’re going non-alc, you’re also probably trying to be healthier and being healthier means like, “I’d like to know how much sugar is in this. I’d like to know what else has gone into these things.” Actually, I think sugar, they have to tell you because it’s a non-alc beverage, it’s like juice, they have to tell you. It would just be nice to know a lot of these things and I feel no one shares that. I feel it’s a huge missed opportunity especially when one of your audiences every single year is going to be people who are expecting. Fix that, please.
Z: Well, I also think that is part of a bigger problem in some ways with this space. It is an area of very low consumer information and therefore an area where a lot of bullsh*t is allowed to fester and spread. You see this with some of the ridiculous claims that are being made, and to be fair, this happens in alcohol too. We’ve all seen an annoyingly high number of claims of good-for-you wine and stuff like that. It’s where you see the weird celebrity one-off endorsement brands or collab brands and stuff like that. It’s because it’s such a relatively new space, especially here and a growing space and a space that’s rife for — whether it’s well-intentioned bullsh*t or let’s say ill-intentioned bullsh*t. It’s all bullsh*t, nonetheless. Because in a way there isn’t a lot of understanding about how you make a product that is meant to give you the impression of drinking beer, wine, spirits, whatever, but is made from different ingredients and differently, or very few people are going to have a healthy working knowledge of the processes that go into that. As you said, Adam, if these brands are not divulging that information, and or being intentionally cryptic about it, it just makes it all the harder for even people like us professional journalists to uncover that information and perhaps relay it to our audience who might not want to have to invest the time and money or time and energy, I should say, searching the internet for what these various ingredients might be. It is an unfortunate feature of a boom market that you get a lot of bad or at least negligent actors.
A: Yes, totally. Anyways, that was my beefing with Adam today. I’d love to hear if you are planning to do Dry January this year, or if you’ve noticed people in your social circles who are not doing it, and who’ve done it in the past. Shoot us an email at [email protected]. It’ll be our unofficial official study on top of the research we just put in.
J: We love those types of studies.
A: Yes, we love this. I’d be really curious. If you’re someone that owns a wine shop, restaurants, or spirit store, are you seeing more people coming in and buying No & Low this month than last month? I think we see a lower drop in traffic in general because people have gone out so much over the past few months. They also reign back their budgets in January. I’m curious if you are seeing your customers in the restaurants, are they drinking or are they choosing to not? All that is always super cool and interesting to hear. Shoot us that email [email protected] and we’ll chat with you guys again on Friday. Thanks for listening.
J: Have a great week.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast,” the flagship podcast of the VinePair podcast network. If you love listening to this show or even if you don’t, but I really hope that you do, as much as we really do love making it, then please drop us a review or a rating wherever it is that you get your podcast. Whether that be iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, anywhere.
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