Food & Culture
No booze in Seattle? No problem
Seattle is a national leader in the booming nonalcoholic drink category
By Stefanie Ellis June 26, 2023
Kamp Social House in Madison Valley is alive on a Friday night. Customers pile up by the front door and politely squeeze past each other in the narrow path to the host stand, hoping to snag a table, but the place to be is on a bar stool, talking to bartenders Jeannie and Angela.
Jeannie serves us two French 75s with gin, lemon, lavender, and sparkling wine. She then gives a rigorous, ice-clad shake to a drink called “Don’t Scare the Chickens,” which has smoky mezcal, muddled jalapeño, as well as pineapple and lime juices.
From the outside, my friend and I look to be having a typical Friday night at our neighborhood bar, laughing and slinging back fancy cocktails, but nothing about our evening is typical. At least, not in the way most people would define it. There is no alcohol in our drinks.
Up until recently, nondrinkers were hard-pressed to find little more than glorified sodas or seltzer with saccharine sugar syrups on the booze-free section of a menu, which is precisely why Marceil Van Camp and her wife, Katy Knauff, created Kamp. The drink menu ranges from “boozy to non-boozy.”
“Like many others, (during) the pandemic in 2021, I saw myself in a position where there was nothing else to do but stay at home and eat, drink, and bake bread,” Marceil Van Camp says. “I was overindulging, and created some bad habits I wanted to reset.”
She started an experiment that began on her birthday, Oct. 7, 2021, and ended Oct. 7, 2022, called The Dry Year, when she lived sober for a full year.
“I realized there wasn’t really a place to go where I could be social and get something delicious without alcohol, so I started researching NA (nonalcoholic) brands, and talking to bar owners,” she says. “The common thread I heard was this perception that customers weren’t going to pay what was needed to justify having a NA drink on the menu, so I wanted to prove to them that it could be a good business decision.”
When Kamp opened in July 2022, Van Camp trained employees to understand what makes the world of NA beverages unique so they could teach that to customers. Staffers say at least one person at every table every night orders a nonalcoholic cocktail.
A 2021 Gallup poll shows that a whopping 40% of adults don’t consume liquor, wine or beer (the lowest recorded numbers in the past two decades). Data firm Statista says the nonalcoholic market in the United States accounts for more than $414 million in sales and is expected to grow 5% every year. It’s a wave major brands such as Molson Coors, Budweiser, Corona, and Heineken are all hoping to ride by offering NA options of their own.
A 2021 Gallup poll shows that a whopping 40% of adults don’t consume liquor, wine or beer (the lowest recorded numbers in the past two decades).
Meanwhile, New York-based Athletic Brewing, the country’s first and only NA-exclusive brewing facility, has secured $173.5 million from investors like TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, fashion model Karlie Kloss, and NFL player J.J. Watt — with $50 million of that coming from Keurig Dr. Pepper, which can help in national and international supply chain expansion.
Seattle is among the national leaders in the booming nonalcoholic sector. Abbot, launched in 2021, offers the nonalcoholic botanical spirit Pathfinder, often considered a Pacific Northwest-style amaro. It received such major media buzz that it has sold out in many cities and is now available in Europe.
Cofounder Chris Abbott, whose foray into the nonalcoholic space was preceded by cannabis-infused edibles (Mr. Moxey’s Mints), says there were probably fewer than a dozen bars serving nonalcoholic cocktails as recently as two years ago.
“I challenge you to go into a bar in Seattle now and find one that doesn’t have it,” he says. “In a year’s time, it has become the exception.” He also points out that Seattle is leading the way in the NA space, even ahead of cities known for their bar scene. “New York is way behind Seattle in terms of NA cocktail selections.”
Bob Monroe, head brewer and co-owner of Figurehead Brewing Co. in Magnolia, is among those leading the charge. After dabbling in home brewing for years in his garage, he and friends Jesse Duncan and Jesse Warner were excitedly planning their brewery debut when, in March 2017, Monroe was diagnosed with pancreatitis. Six months after his dream was a reality, he had to completely overhaul his own plans.
“Since I couldn’t even drink our product, I had no idea whether I could even stay in business and have a passion for it,” recalls Monroe, who initially refused to drink nonalcoholic beers because he didn’t want a reminder of what he was missing. “But you can’t just drink sodas and juice.”
Monroe began experimenting with something he could consume himself. He worked on recipes for two years and even contracted with a company to remove the alcohol, but couldn’t meet the required production level. Figurehead released its first nonalcoholic beer, a brown ale, last October.
Monroe makes his beer without alcohol, which is one of two main ways to produce NA products. One path is to brew a beer (or wine) as normal, and take the alcohol out in the end. The other is to brew the beer in such a way that you mimic the flavor profile of beer without ever having put in any alcohol. Monroe says the first option requires expensive equipment to filter out the alcohol, and it just wasn’t feasible for a small operation like his.
The journey was made more frustrating by the fact that most nonalcoholic beer companies generally refuse to share their recipes, so he posts all his trials and exact recipes on his blog. Several brewers have reached out to him.
Nonalcoholic beer is still a small percentage of the overall market, but Monroe notes that it’s the fastest-growing category in the industry.
“For me, though, it’s a very personal journey,” he says. “It’s about getting back to my home-brewing roots and having something I can create that I can consume myself. If I can create some really good NA beers that we can offer to our customers, it’s enough for me.”
Seattle is also a leader in the nonalcoholic wine category. Joyus, launched in 2021, is the first and only nonalcoholic winery in the Pacific Northwest and the first 100% woman-owned and sober-owned nonalcoholic winery in the U.S.
Founder Jess Selander quit drinking 17 years ago. She kept her sobriety private for a long time, noting that, until recently, many people had a negative perception of teetotalers.
“When I started researching seven or eight years ago, there was one sparkling wine in the entire country, and it was rare to find in stores,” she says. “Plus, it was very sweet. Going from one option for sparkling wine and a few NA beers, to enough to fill a storefront, I honestly did not think that would ever happen.”
Though there is now much to celebrate, the road Selander took was not an easy one. She started by speaking to anyone in the wine industry who would take her calls, and estimates she talked to more than 100 people. The response she received was “overwhelmingly negative.”
But, as someone fed up with not being able to see anything in the marketplace that reflected her preferences and interests as a consumer, she persisted. She had to invent her own process and techniques. Joyus is made just like any other sparkling wine, but has the alcohol removed at the end. Joyus is now in more than 240 stores across the country.
“Our mission is to normalize non-drinking, but we’re so far from it being normalized,” Selander says. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”
“Our mission is to normalize nondrinking, but we’re so far from it being normalized.” – Jess Selander, Joyus founder
The Toast of the Town
Here is a short list of some of our favorite nonalcoholic establishments
Eight Row in Greenlake Village has a rotating list of at least five seasonal NA cocktails and one sparkling wine, proudly displayed on the front of the drink menu. The five-course chef’s tasting menu also offers the option of a nonalcoholic drink pairing, with every drink curated solely for each course, perfectly complementing the flavor profiles of each dish.
Life on Mars on Capitol Hill has built NA drinks into the fabric of its menu, with just one cocktail menu that lists the ABV in each drink, making a conscious choice to show no separation between worlds. There are usually at least six NA options on the menu.
Cactus, with several locations across the city, has a No Sin Cocktail list section on its menu with five options. And though Cactus doesn’t use any NA spirits, it makes its own ginger beer, and the drinks are as pretty as their other cocktails.
Stampede Cocktail Club in the Fremont neighborhood offers NA beer and five NA cocktails, all made using NA wine and spirits (including one made of sea buckthorn berries), and a variety of house-made syrups such as peppercorn or fig vanilla, mulling spices, cardamom, rosewater, and tonka bean.
Navy Strength in Belltown, a tiki-themed bar, has at least three NA drinks on the menu, including the “Sober Saturn,” made with Wilderton Lustre, passion fruit, falernum, and coconut water.
Rumba, on Capitol Hill, pours a “Just for Halabas,” made with Joyus sparkling wine, coconut cream, cantaloupe, yuzu, lime leaf, and lime juice.
Meesha in Ballard offers four non-alcoholic cocktails.
Waterbrook Winery in Walla Walla lists a line of NA options it calls clean wines.