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How to go alcohol free when you work in the drinks industry

More of us are trying to move away from lives defined by drinking, but for some, the challenge can feel insurmountable.

(Photo: Milkos/iStock)

Some 4.2 million people in the UK said they were planning to take part in Dry January this year, up from just over 3 million in 2018

Globally, alcohol consumption has been in decline for some time. The pubic are trying harder to pursue lives that aren’t punctuated by catching up with friends over a pint, celebrations toasted with fizz, or dinners washed down with wine.

Despite a conveyor belt of stories linking alcohol to good health, it is well known that drinking to excess is bad for you in many, many ways.

But cutting down on booze isn’t easy when your income depends on being surrounded by glistening bottles of amber elixirs all day.

“I’ve been listening to podcasts on sobriety and reading sobriety books,” Gala Osborn told the drinks business. Pub supervisor Osborn, who lives above The Swan in Lewes, East Sussex, gave up drinking at the end of May 2018, and finds the start of the year far easier than the rest of it thanks to the higher number of drinkers taking part in Dry January, “so it feels way more supported by the masses.”

The hospitality industry has a well-documented history with drug and alcohol abuse.

In June 2017, TV chef Darren Simpson, who trained in some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the world, including Le Gavroche and Sir Terence Conran’s Sartoria in Savile Row, died from a heart attack after struggling with alcohol abuse throughout his culinary career.  Two months later, former Ritz head chef Michael Quinn died after a long battle with ill-health as a result of alcohol addiction.

Similarly, chefs such as the late Anthony Bourdain have been very open about how drugs and alcohol influenced their early careers, and how prevalent it has been in the restaurant industry.

But there is a small but increasingly vocal number of bartenders, brewers and chefs who are choosing to go alcohol-free.

Aster Sadler, the marketing director of her own brewery Sadler’s in Dudley, has been alcohol-free since December 2017 after she found she was relying on drinking for stress relief.

“I have two young children and wanted to set a better example for them about healthy ways to reduce stress,” she told db.

Of course, giving up alcohol while working in the beer industry comes with its own unique set of challenges. Osborn started a blog last year to stay motivated when times are hard, from attending weddings and going on dates sober, to keeping punters at the pub entertained without joining in.

Thankfully, drinks entrepreneurs have started to supply the rising demand for low and no-alcohol beverages. Following the successful launch of Seedlip’s first botanical drink in 2015, Distill Ventures, a Diageo-funded spirits innovation group, bought a minority stake in the business in 2016. The sober spirit is now widely available in UK supermarkets as well as bespoke cocktail menus in the on-trade.

“My friends now provide AF alternatives that I am really enjoying trying out,” Sadler said.

Osborn, Sadler and Tim Etherington-Judge, the founder of Healthy Hospo, which provides information, advice, and support on mental & physical health for hospitality workers, told db their tips that bar staff and brewers should bear in mind to help them keep their drinking in moderation.


“Sleep is the foundation of good health, and when we’re sleep deprived, not only do we feel tired, we make worse decisions and are more likely to rely on alcohol,” the Healthy Hospo founder said.

“When we’re well slept we feel better and we are more likely to make good health decisions.”


“If you want to cut down on alcohol consumption, make it easy.”

“Keep non-alc beers in your fridge, have alcohol free spirits on the bar and celebrate that end of shift with something boozeless.”

Attitudes to low alcohol beers are changing. More than half of Brits who took part in a OnePoll survey last year said they have at least tried a non-alcoholic beverage, while 52% also said that non-alcoholic beers have become more socially acceptable in the past two years.



Etherington-Judge said it’s a good idea to promote a non-alc menu in your own venues and “engage your guests”.

“Health and wellness is a huge movement at the moment and by engaging with your guests you might just find some support in the most unexpected places.”

Sadler has been working on a similar project herself. “We have worked with an AF drinks producer to provide them with a beer to de-alcoholise,” she told db, “and are looking at AF beer production too so it has also helped shape some of our business.”

The non-alcoholic drinks market has become so popular in recent years, it has enabled groups like Club Soda — which offers support to those who wish to develop a healthier attitude to their booze intake — to work with alcohol companies like Heineken to launch The Mindful Drinking Festival — an annual celebration of low and no ABV alternatives to beer, wine and spirits. Events like these offer a fun alternative to your average beer festival.


Group of young men having fun at a bar

When you’re working behind the bar, it’s easy to let envy seep in as your customers enjoy their evening over a cold beer, but Osborn said that observing other drinkers became something of a lifeline in the first few months of her sobriety.

“It’s usually after around three drinks that personalities start to merge together and chit chat becomes shouting and sounds almost aggressive at times. Often by the end of the night someone gets teary, another doesn’t want to stop drinking and some customers who at first were shy and polite end up being bolshy and arrogant. It really does help to observe all of this in sobriety.”

“You realise that it is an illusion what we think alcohol provides us with – the reality is very very different.”

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