Looking to kick off 2023 with a fresh slate? Try going dry this January.
Dry January is a month-long challenge to abstain from drinking alcohol after a season of indulgence. It’s a way to kick the habit of heavy drinking, save money, lose a bit of weight and try something new. Participating in Dry January can also encourage long-term healthy habits to your lifestyle, according to The Washington Post, such as improving your sleep, mood and energy. Participating for the month also helps create new habits, including lowering the amount of alcohol consumption and having more control over your urges.
Although many Charleston restaurants and bars offer deliciously tempting cocktails, there are many alternatives to stay sober (or sober-ish) this January, and possibly beyond.
King Street shop Sèchey offers nonalcoholic alternatives for at-home drinks, so you still feel like you’re sipping a tasty cocktail or wine without the effects of alcohol.
Sèchey initially launched last year as a spirit-free alternative retail store before finding a permanent home at 540 King St. in December.
Owner Emily Heintz started her spirit-free venture during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when she said she wanted to “stay present.”
“If you’re looking to drink less or deliberately take a break,” she said, “have a few things in your refrigerator to just easily make a drink that tastes great or has great flavor, but doesn’t require a lot of energy or effort. So one thing I always keep is sparkling water and nice stemware.”
She said mixing sparkling water with a nonalcoholic mixer, like Wilfred’s Aperitif, and a little bit of lime is an easy way to trick your brain into thinking you’re drinking a riff on an Aperol Spritz.
But if you really want to trick yourself into thinking you’re drinking a cocktail, stemware is key. “Sometimes just the act of pouring a drink into a glass is a nice thing. Even if it’s just as simple as pouring sparkling water in a wine glass with a lime or lemon. You feel like you’re drinking a glass of wine and you’re not.”
Joel Sadler, co-owner of Line Street coffee shop Sightsee agrees: “If you think about your morning coffee or your evening drink, sure there is the chemical impact of caffeine or alcohol on the brain, but we often underestimate the tremendous value we receive from just the ritual itself.”
If you want to give Dry January a go but still feel like you’re drinking, Heintz said, there are functional spirits you can try. Alternative spirits or adaptogens include Delta 8 or CBD-infused seltzers, ashwagandha and some strains of mushrooms.
“[Adaptogens or functional spirits] are best for people who are used to drinking alcohol because it’s going to give you some of the functions that you may look for in alcohol, like to help you sleep,” Heintz added.
Coffee alternatives like Huskwell cascara (shell of the coffee fruit) or Chitta Latte (mushroom-based coffee enhancer) feature many of the same ingredients used in functional and nonalcoholic beverages.
According to Heintz, several products offered at Sèchey have adaptogens like Rasāsvāda, a nonalcoholic line of restorative spirits using plant-based adaptogenic ingredients like black ginger and ginseng.
“I keep the black ginger Rasāsvāda in my refrigerator with my stemware because I’ll drink that at night,” Heintz said. “The black ginger has reishi and meshima mushrooms, which have adaptogenic qualities that increases blood flow to your muscles and cleanses your liver.”
Sèchey isn’t the only place in town to sell alcohol alternatives, either. Sightsee also offers a handful of alternatives to stay dry this month.
“We have canned drinks we’re obsessed with from Recess and DRAM with adaptogens and hemp extract that genuinely do ease you into a calmer mind and brighter mood,” Sadler said. “They are perfect in the afternoon or evening when you want that satisfying experience of popping open a cold one without the common mood-depressing experience of beer.”
Huskwell’s website recommends a recipe similar to Heintz’s simple cocktail alternative — sparkling water and something flavorful. Using Huskwell cascara, you can make what it calls a Cascara Fizz with sparkling water, Huskwell simple syrup and lemon juice.
Other local products, like The Other Mary Bloody Mary Mix, offer up different ways to enjoy a cocktail without the spirits.
“Our main goal for [The Other Mary] is to be kind of nonalcoholic,” co-owner Gina Moore told the City Paper in October. “Mocktails are big now, so you can have a Bloody Mary mocktail using the mix and be part of the social connection [of] having a drink and not feeling like an outsider or the peer pressure.”
Many restaurants and bars, such as downtown establishments Felix Cocktails et Cuisine and Little Palm, offer mocktail or spirit-free alternatives to cocktails.
“When crafting a cocktail, we try to pick ingredients that are in the current season and pick spirits that we think would complement those flavors,” said Rachel Arnett, general manager at Little Palm. “It’s the same with mocktails. There are lots of options on the market now for no ABV beverages. We are big fans of Seedlip, which is a nonalcoholic distilled product that has a few different flavors.”
And some places that don’t normally sell alcohol, like Sightsee, offer alcohol-substitute items on the menu, like the Dark & Stormy espresso tonic.
“It is the exact recipe for one of our favorite cocktails except we use espresso instead of dark rum,” Sadler said. “Bonus points if you get it decaf.”
If you realize you may have a problem and are looking to change your lifestyle for the better, and aren’t just trying to stay sober for the month of January, there are many support groups in town to help — most notably, Ben’s Friends, started by local restaurateurs Mickey Bakst and Steve Palmer. Ben’s Friends is a community of food and beverage workers who come together to help each other fight addiction and alcoholism.
“There are those that are social drinkers who just are thinking they need to cut back for good health and things, but then there are those with problems,” Bakst said. “The alcoholic is someone who’s saying, ‘I’ve got a problem with alcohol, and I cannot drink or it will totally destroy me, eventually or right away.’ ”
Bakst offered three ways to help stay sober and change the lifestyle:
“My first suggestion would be to connect with other people. It is so important to have a support system that helps you when you feel a desire to drink.
“Number two, make sure you always take your own form of transportation. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck at a party where you think you can’t get out of there and all the people around you are drinking.
“And the next thing is to know why you don’t want to drink, because maybe if you drink, you’ll cause problems. You don’t want to drink because you want to feel better, you want to be healthier, you want to be more sane and responsible or you’re sick and tired of being the person that you are and you want to change.”
These choices are key to changing your daily habits and mindset in a positive way, he added, but finding a community and support system is the best chance at staying sober.
Where to get mocktails in Charleston
Charleston is rife with delicious cocktails and alcoholic beverages, but nonalcoholic choices abound at many bars and restaurants.
Here are some places to get a tasty, nonalcoholic drink to stay dry this January:
82 Wentworth St. (Downtown)
550 King St. (Downtown)
182 E. Bay St. (Downtown)
526 King St. (Downtown)
237 Meeting St. (Downtown)
463 King St. (Downtown)
Park and Grove
730 Rutledge Ave. (Downtown)
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Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.