Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Dry January, not Beerless January

Joe Chura, right, draws an NA beer at Go Brewing in Naperville.

     Joe Chura is more than halfway through a dry January. Or make that Dry January, capital D, now that it is an official cultural phenomenon.
     One in five U.S. adults told pollsters they planned to go the whole first month of 2023 without alcohol. It’s the same in the United Kingdom.
     Why swear off booze for a whole month?
     “One, I needed to, personally, I wanted to take a month off completely from drinking,” said Chura, a 45-year-old father of three. “But secondly, I wanted to create a challenge for a group of people that wanted to try for the first time or do it again. And I couldn’t have it without myself doing it. This is a very unique experience that someone can come here.”
     “Here” is Go Brewing, the craft brewery that Chura started in Naperville last October that brews only no- and low-alcohol beers — the first in Illinois.
     Regular readers might be aware that every January is Dry January for me — and February, and March, and on through the year. For the past 17 years, which means I remember when you were lucky to find O’Douls at a bar. Now you can buy Bud Zero at Wrigley Field and there are shelves of exotic NA IPAs at Binny’s.
     Four hundred people signed up to do Dry January with Chura, and Go Brewing offers regular activities like CrossFit-style workouts and live-band karaoke nights. (The pub does offer several full alcohol guest beers for those who just won’t be denied.)
     When Chura opened his doors, he expected his average customer to be a “40-year-old who is gaining weight and wants to be healthy.”
     ”The brand was built around that,” said Chura, who was surprised by who walked in.
     “Week one, 50% or more of the people who came in here were in recovery or couldn’t drink for health reasons. I looked at them and thought, ‘Holy shit, I got this wrong.’”

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  1. Imagine a world where lots of people obsess about chewing gum. So much so that every place has separate menus devoted to it. there’s a whole movement about giving it up for a month. And when they write about it they only mention in passing exactly why they obsess, it gives them a buzz ( sometimes it’s also mentioned that it helps them relax or it’s a social lubricant but it’s surprising how little space they devote to the reason they like it. It’s assumed. ) And in this world you are the only person for whom this just isn’t true. You like a piece now and then for the taste but you only use half a stick because more than that gives you a headache. And a “buzz” or “ relaxing” you don’t understand what they mean. You wouldn’t be sure the rest of the world isn’t pulling some prank on you except for the fact that some people have such a problem with gum that they need to give it up. They chew it too much. It makes them unpleasant and sometimes violent. It becomes almost impossible for them to stop. They have to work very hard to do so and can never again. You know that you are the odd one out. You know that this makes you lucky. Yet you still find yourself slightly shocked and disbelieving every time you read how others interact with it.

    1. I feel that way about professional sports.

    2. That made me laugh very hard.

    3. Just think of professional sports as wars where nobody gets killed and the combatants are paid ungodly sums for their efforts.

  2. Nice column. Except for the age being off by a generation, and not living anywhere near Naperville, I find myself in the unusual position of being in the target demographic for a business... "40-year-old who is gaining weight and wants to be healthy." Alcohol aside, it took me way too long to realize that a significant drawback of enjoying the fruits of the craft beer explosion over the last couple decades was that those beers have LOTS of calories. The ones available on the Go website clock in between 30 and 100 calories, with 100 being the outlier. Alas, the $13.99 price for a 6-pack is not very appealing, but if they make it into a nearby retail outlet, I might give one a shot.

  3. This is a very illuminating column, and shatters the preconception that I’ve long held that anyone that claims to like the taste of beer must be fibbing. I too, drank heavily for many years, impelling increasingly dire consequences, and stopped cold thirteen years ago before the consequences became irreversibly catastrophic. However, I always hated the taste of alcoholic beverages, and never believed people who claimed to like them, figuring that claim to be a pretext to divert from acknowledging the real reason they drank, which, of course, was to get annihilated, since that was the only reason I did. I always thought there was something pretentious and more than a little phony about people who pretended to prefer, often with great vehemence, one brand of beer over another; it all tasted like carbonated rat piss to me. Who the hell drank it for the taste? Hard liquor all tasted like paint thinner, and wine, although slightly more agreeable to the palette, tasted, at best, like fruit juice spiked with kitchen cleanser. And I say all this as someone whose booze intake in the last couple of years approached Kerouacian levels.

    I understand the cautionary reasoning behind the AA dictum on non-alcoholic beer, but the whole concept of it always seemed utterly pointless to me, a bit like speed-free cocaine, or opiate-free heroin. But I can’t persist in this notion any longer. Clearly there are lots of people that really enjoy the taste of beer, even if I don’t. My only question now is, when can we expect non-alcoholic vodka, bourbon, brandy and gin to arrive on the scene (or have they already?)?

    1. When I was first drinking beer in college, I didn't like the taste much and drank for the buzz, as you suggest, Bruno. Of course, much of the cheap swill I drank back then did taste like it might have been processed through rats.

      That all changed decades ago, as the beer got a lot better and I began to enjoy the taste. Right now is the best time in the history of the universe to find wonderful beer -- of a mind-boggling number of varieties.

      Craft non-alcoholic beer is a thriving market of late. Your thoughts about non-alcoholic beer remind me of folks griping about decaffeinated coffee. Why bother, they wonder? Well, because one enjoys coffee and/or the ritualistic aspect of drinking it either alone or with others, but either no longer appreciates, or can no longer tolerate caffeine. I don't understand what's so hard to get about that.

      As for non-alcoholic liquor, it has indeed arrived on the scene in a big way in the last few years. Wine, too.

  4. I quit drinking when I realized my hangovers outweighed the joy of hops. I didn't swear "never again" that morning, but I have not taken a drink since. The only difficult times were in Mexican restaurants, I missed Dos Equis Dark. Years later, I tried near beer, O'Douls and another whose name escapes me. Like many other brands of real beer, it didn't please my taste buds. Several decades earlier, an uncle took to Jet near beer on the advice of his oncologist. I can only imagine the taste being less than satisfying but he loved beer, and wanted to live. He should have ignored that doctor and enjoyed what little pleasure life had left for him. For me now, exposed to the explosions of craft beers, few of the flavor options are appealing. But if there is an improved Dark, I might give it a try with my next platter of mole.

    1. Here is a non-alcoholic dark beer that is available in many areas, perhaps nationally -- I'm not sure. It seems to be well-regarded, but I haven't tried it, myself.


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