DENVER AND ARVADA, Colo. — If you’re taking a break from alcohol for “Dry January,” Colorado’s craft beers and social bar experiences are still in reach. As this health trend grows in popularity, businesses on the Front Range are finding ways to offer familiar tastes and festivities without alcohol.
For Keith Villa, the creator of Coors’ Blue Moon, brewing a zero-alcohol beer has taken years of experimentation in a pilot brewery behind his home in Arvada.
“I really was one of those guys who thought, 'You know, the more alcohol the better, the more flavor,'” Villa said. “But as you learn more about the process and about the effects on health, you say, ‘well wait a minute, maybe there's a better way.’”
“This is a healthy state. People get outside, hike, and at the end of that hike, we're seeing more and more young people turn to non-alcoholic and alcohol-free products to enjoy themselves and relax,” Villa said.
While the craft brewing industry in the United States “has run into some hard times recently because people aren't drinking as much,” Villa said "with alcohol-free beers, that market is growing double digits, typically 20 to 30% every year.”
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His signature beer, Grainwave, is an unfiltered, alcohol-free Belgian-style white ale brewed with blood orange peel and coriander. Villa’s goal was to create an “alcohol-free beer that actually tastes good and has body, has foam,” he said, without the hangover and with fewer calories.
"It's a huge reduction in calories without sacrificing the flavor, the taste or the body,” he said.
For those who want to cut out alcohol, but not the fun of going out, Denver’s Honey Elixir Bar offers a year-round menu of non-alcoholic drinks they call “potions.” These drinks use flowers, herbs, crystal essences and stimulants like chocolate to elicit a feeling without alcohol.
The bar’s Love Spell potion is a favorite for server Kaylee Donovan. She serves the deep red elixir from a glass bottle into a cup adorned with a fresh flower.
"It's a fun pour,” Donovan said, and the drink offers "a very soft, grounding, intentional aspect to be connected back to your heart.”
The bar also serves drinks you might not expect as a mocktail – like Chocolit, a warming mug of cacao and mushroom powders, which Donovan said emerges from the indigenous use of chocolate as a heart medicine and the immunity boosting benefits of mushrooms.
Donovan said whether you drink alcohol or not, Honey Elixir “brings both worlds together.”
“Somebody can come in and enjoy a crafted cocktail, but also a crafted mocktail,” she said. “What's most important is that we create a space where people feel welcome to be able to have that experience.”
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Dr. Jody Ryan with the WellPower mental health center in Denver recognizes the benefits of options like these to avoid alcohol.
“Alcohol frequently is around social events or socializing, and people really enjoy that experience,” Dr. Ryan said. “Decisions around how much to cut back or what days to cut back are really personal.”
He said studies to show that “people who are regular drinkers who abstained for 30 days, they lose weight, they sleep better, their blood pressure goes down, their cholesterol improves.”
If you’re hoping to drink less, Dr. Ryan suggests that you “set your goal and share it with somebody, and even ask somebody if they'd like to do this with you.”
This month, he’s partnering up with a friend to try Dry January as a weight loss experiment. He said having a buddy to check in with can hold you accountable to your goals. But he also encourages anyone making a lifestyle change to have self-compassion.
“If I don't meet my goal one night, that's okay,” he said.