The zero-proof menu at Patent 5 features a half-dozen options for those participating in Dry January. ‘Young Grasshopper’ (right) and ‘Violet Beauregard' (left) are made with the same careful attention to detail that goes into an alcoholic drink. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

The zero-proof menu at Patent 5 features a half-dozen options for those participating in Dry January. ‘Young Grasshopper’ (right) and ‘Violet Beauregard' (left) are made with the same careful attention to detail that goes into an alcoholic drink. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Thirty-one days. Zero drinks.

That’s the idea behind Dry January, a personal health challenge where people attempt to abstain from alcohol for the entire month.

Some sober-curious Winnipeggers are currently engaged in this campaign, temporarily turning down all tipples to re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol in the COVID-19 era and improve their physical and mental health.

No alcohol? No problem

Some bars and places in the business of alcohol production are recognizing a rise in the number of sober-curious Winnipeggers, and are adapting their menus misses so no one out on having a nice drink.

Although Patent 5 Distillery is known for its selection of distilled-on-site gins and vodkas, is also offers a selection of creative zero-proof cocktails.

Some bars and places in the business of alcohol production are recognizing a rise in the number of sober-curious Winnipeggers, and are adapting their menus misses so no one out on having a nice drink.

Although Patent 5 Distillery is known for its selection of distilled-on-site gins and vodkas, is also offers a selection of creative zero-proof cocktails.

Patent 5 general manager Callan Anderson makes a zero-proof drink at Patent 5. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Patent 5 general manager Callan Anderson makes a zero-proof drink at Patent 5. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

General manager Callan Anderson said they are made with just as much care and attention to detail as any other cocktail served at the Alexander Avenue location.

People who can’t drink or just don’t feel like it shouldn’t be disqualified from a night out or a well-crafted drink, she said.

“For a long time, non-alcoholic beverages were kind of an afterthought on cocktail lists, but I’ve seen over the past probably three to five years a massive shift in the bar industry away from that mentality,” said Anderson, who has been in the industry for nearly a decade.

“They should be interesting and, in my opinion, if someone orders a non-alcoholic cocktail it should arrive at the table and it should look like a fully-fledged cocktail — because it is — and it should be just as exciting to want to order a non-alcoholic option.”

The zero-proof menu at Patent 5 features a half-dozen options dreamed up by the staff at large. The two most popular and Anderson’s favourites are the “Violet Beauregard” — blueberry shrub, ginger syrup, lime juice, black walnut bitters and soda — and the “Young Grasshopper” — watermelon and hot pepper shrub, lemon, celery bitters, soda, and rosemary salt.

Anderson makes it clear these are not “mocktails.”

The word “mocktails” casts shade on how good non-alcoholic cocktails can be in their own right, Anderson said. She mentioned she’s seen cocktail bars in other cities integrate non-alcoholic offerings into the regular drinks menu to show they’re in the same camp in terms of quality.

“There’s a lot thought and it’s not just fruit juice in a glass, so why treat it differently than a cocktail prepared with alcohol with the same degree of care?” she asked. “In my mind, it doesn’t really feel fair to charge people for a glass of fruit juice when you can at least put a little effort into it.”

Some craft breweries also offer alcohol-free drinks in their taprooms, despite their raison d’être being beer: at Torque Brewing, they’ll whip together a good-looking non-alcohol cocktail if you ask; Kilter Brewing Co. offers Kombucha, San Pellegrino, and Thom Bargen coffee.

Aaron Menon, doing his third Dry January, does it mainly to refocus after the holidays and start off his new year in a mindful fashion.

"In December… it seems like every social setting, every Christmas party, every get-together, family gathering, it is accompanied by alcohol, right?" the 26-year-old financial planner said.

"By the end of December, we’ve gone through a collection of social interactions where alcohol just happens to be involved more often than not. In January for sure, it’s really just about taking a more mindful drinking approach," he said.

Menon said it’s important to him that he disassociates consuming alcohol with having a good time with friends. He strives to remind himself that the reason he had fun on any given night was not because he was drinking, but because he was with good-quality people.

Aaron Menon is taking part in Dry January, an annual phenomenon of alcohol abstinence. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Aaron Menon is taking part in Dry January, an annual phenomenon of alcohol abstinence. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press)

"It’s about making sure you remind yourself at the beginning of the year that you can have a great time in a social setting without alcohol, contrary to what you might think at the end of December," he said.

"Doing that right at the beginning of the year helps you set the stage for the year ahead," he said, adding it’s easier considering there aren’t many social event after Christmas, especially during the Omicron wave.

"I’ll be the first to admit it’s definitely a whole lot easier to do a Dry January than a dry August," he said.

He was weighing how he was going to approach drinking at his close friend’s open-bar wedding that was scheduled for yesterday. He was planning on allowing himself to drink with no feelings of guilt, but the wedding was postponed.

While Menon said he would have found it difficult to abstain at the wedding, overall, he doesn’t find it too hard to stay sober once he gets into the swing of things.

"I would say honestly after the first or second time that you say ‘oh no, that’s OK, I’m going to pass, I’m actually not drinking this month,’ — once you get over that first or second hurdle, it becomes fairly easy," he said.

"You kind of go through five minutes of discomfort when everyone at the table orders a drink, and you just kind of pass on it… After five, 10 minutes of a get-together or gathering you’re kind of just in the zone. You’re happy to see people and it has nothing to do with alcohol."

Menon, an avid gym-goer, said he also understands why people do Dry January be physically healthier.

It doesn’t take long to reap the benefits of abstinence. A peer-reviewed study by medical trade journal The BMJ found that regular drinkers who abstained for one month saw reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and cancer-related proteins in the blood.

They also slept better, had more energy, and lost weight.

Megan Lamirande walks her dog near her home Friday. She is on the wagon for January and February. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Megan Lamirande walks her dog near her home Friday. She is on the wagon for January and February. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Megan Lamirande, meanwhile, is planning to extend her Dry January into March.

The 30-year-old therapeutic recreation facilitator is doing Dry January as part of the "75 Hard" regime, a "transformational mental toughness program" designed by motivation speaker Andy Frisella. The rules include — in addition to no alcohol — working out twice a day for at least 45 minutes, drinking four litres of water daily, and taking a five-minute cold shower daily.

Lamirande has been doing Dry January for a few years as a way to "take a bit of a break from alcohol after some overindulgence over the holiday season," she said.

She reports she’s done well thus far, but does miss having a Caesar or two while watching NFL games on Sundays (she’s a Las Vegas Raiders fan, by the way, and the reporter got in touch with her a day after they were eliminated by the Cincinnati Bengals in their wild-card matchup.)

In lieu of her usual game-day beverage, she’s been sipping on carbonated water made with her SodaStream, cans of Bubly, and virgin Caesars.

Dry January is simple, but not easy. Not only has society accepted alcohol as a "social lubricant" and cornerstone of many events, it is also an societally-accepted vice. A hard day at work, an unexpected stressor, or the uncertainty the Omicron era has brought can make one desire a drink to "take the edge off."

One person recommitting themselves to Dry January after a mid-month "lapse" is Jim Simard.

Zero-proof cocktails are not 'mocktails', says Patent 5 general manager Callan Anderson. “There’s a lot thought and it’s not just fruit juice in a glass." (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Zero-proof cocktails are not 'mocktails', says Patent 5 general manager Callan Anderson. “There’s a lot thought and it’s not just fruit juice in a glass." (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

A bartender by trade, Dry January — and a few other dry months — are annual traditions for Simard.

"I just find that especially given my line of work I can sometimes tend to drink more often than I should, so it’s good to set some time aside where I just don’t do it at all," he explained.

Simard said his Dry January was going all right until midway through the week of remote learning with his seven-year-old daughter at home. As the primary caregiver during the day while his wife is at work, a few things started to get to him.

The frigid weather made it too cold to take his daughter outside to play; his bar decided to shut down during the Omicron wave, putting him out of work for now.

When his cabin fever combined with "trying to keep a bored child, full of pent-up energy, focused on school assignments on the iPad and reading and educational games," he felt overwhelmed.

"By Wednesday, I told my wife ‘say goodbye to dry January!’ And I cracked one of the beers we got for Christmas, and that was that," he said.

But Simard said when he commits to something, he likes to see it through. He plans on finishing the month dry and said he might do a dry week in February to "make up" for his mid-month blip.

Like Simard, Ell Hastings decided to end Dry January early, having half a glass of wine last Saturday while relaxing and watching The Witcher.

An employee for Manitoba Justice, Hastings — who identifies as they/them — found themselves drinking more since the pandemic began, having two or three glasses of wine per night recently.

"I’d buy four bottles of wine on a Saturday and it would be gone before the next weekend," they said.

Hastings said they are a "routine person" who finds the evening wine-drinking ritual hard to break. Evening wine was a signal of transition to "relaxing time" and to create a "wind-down kind of feeling after a long and stressful day," they said.

"I was secretly worried I was becoming an alcoholic and felt if I could break the routine without any issues, it would prove I wasn’t an alcoholic."

For the first two weeks of January, Hastings replaced glasses of wine with mugs of tea, and found tea served the same purpose — signalling the transition to relaxation.

While three weeks is not a lot of time for a deep examination of one’s tendencies, the Dry January participants have all learned something about themselves.

"I think my relationship with alcohol is fine ‐ it’s not the alcohol that I was wanting, but rather a signal to myself that it was ‘chill out’ time.' I think the pandemic made this worse because I was looking for something to do constantly to distract me from the stress of the pandemic." ‐ Ell Hastings

For Menon, he’s learned his motivation is highest at the beginning of the year, and said he’s realized he might as well "flex that self-discipline muscle a little bit more."

As for Lamirande, she said she’s learned she’s "a pretty disciplined person, and completing goals when I set them for myself (is) very important to me."

Hastings said one takeaway is that "you don’t have to always be doing something."

"I think my relationship with alcohol is fine — it’s not the alcohol that I was wanting, but rather a signal to myself that it was ‘chill out’ time," they said. "I think the pandemic made this worse because I was looking for something to do constantly to distract me from the stress of the pandemic, and not being able to visit friends or go out definitely reduced the number of things available to distract and keep me busy, so I was always looking for something to do."

One question remains: once the calendar flips over to February, will these folks go back to their typical alcohol consumption levels, or will they have a new mindfulness?

Menon said he doesn’t drink much at all until his birthday in early March. He is not one to crack a beer at home by himself or drink to unwind, and only has alcohol in social settings, usually between four and five times per month.

As a result, he’s drank less since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago.

"It’s OK to kind of remind yourself that… ‘I don’t need to drink to have a great time because I had a great time at the beginning of the year.' I don’t have to rely on alcohol to be a part of these social settings." ‐ Aaron Menon

But he said that even in the summer — when opportunities to drink with friends in backyard and on patios are aplenty — doing Dry January reaffirms that he doesn’t have to imbibe every time.

"It’s OK to kind of remind yourself that… ‘I don’t need to drink to have a great time because I had a great time at the beginning of the year,’" he said. "I don’t have to rely on alcohol to be a part of these social settings."

For Lamirande, she said "once the 75 Hard challenge is finished I will go back to having a drink or two on weekends, but I don’t think I’ll overindulge or anything."

As for Hastings, they said after having that half glass of wine, they realized they didn’t miss alcohol at all. They actually report disliking the taste of most alcohols and being choosy with wine. ("I’m not a connoisseur at all, just picky!")

Another bonus for Hastings is they’ve began running again and reported it easier when not drinking, likely because of higher-quality sober sleep.

"I won’t be drinking as much as before, maybe a half glass every once in a while…" they said. "Drinking tea is just as good of a reset-slash-rest signal for me now."

declan.schroeder@winnipegfreepress.com