Why non-alcoholic alternatives need to increase at drinking venues

Society needs to change its attitude towards alcohol and licenced venues can help people cut down excessive drinking by broadening their range of non-alcoholic alternatives, according to an entrepreneur.

“I found it, since I’ve given up, incredibly difficult to get a good, cold alcohol-free beer," says Andy Mee.

Andy Mee became alcohol dependent during the lockdown as the stresses of helping run his wife’s business against an uncertain backdrop became too much.

However, since March 5 of this year, Mr Mee has not touched a drop of alcohol, turning to non-alcoholic beers instead.

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Mr Mee has now set up The Alcohol Free Drinks Company - a distributor and retailer offering non-alcoholic beers, ciders and wines.

“You can have a bottle of non-alcoholic beer in the same way as you would an alcoholic beer," says Mr Mee.

He said: “I found it, since I’ve given up, incredibly difficult to get a good, cold alcohol-free beer.

“My whole journey actually started on Father’s Day when I went out for a meal with my son. He sat there with a cold pint of Birra Moretti and I said to the restaurateur ‘can I have an alcohol-free beer’. He said ‘we don’t do any’. I ended up with a warm Diet Coke with some ice in a glass and that was it.”

Many venues feel that there isn’t enough demand for alcohol-free beers, says Mr Mee, however he believes that is not the case.

“People do want the choice,” Mr Mee says. “It isn’t just about drivers and pregnant ladies.”

“I have a phrase which is that it’s great to wake up rather than come around," says Mr Mee.

The quality of alcohol-free drinks has also come on leaps and bounds in recent years, giving people the experience of drinking without the drawback of alcohol, he added.

Mr Mee will be opening a concept pop-up store, a ‘Dry Off Licence’, next week on Cambridge Street in Harrogate. He admits that he doesn’t know whether the concept will work yet.

“I’ve taken it as a pop-up shop to test the concept,” Mr Mee said. “I’ve also got the same pop-up shop for the week commencing December 27 with what I am calling the Dry January Survival Shop. I’ve signed on the dotted line for two weeks. If in those two weeks no one comes through the door, I’ve got my answer. If I can sell a couple of hundred bottles or I can make some money out of it then it’s going to be worth it.”

Mr Mee believes there is a generational problem when it comes to alcohol dependency. He believes people like him in their 50s have been programmed to guzzle alcohol when they get a chance.

Andy Mee has opened a pop-up shop in Harrogate.

While younger people are increasingly turning away from excessive alcohol consumption. He said: “Being quite blunt about it, I think a lot of them have had alcohol dependent fathers like me and they have looked and gone ‘I don’t want to do that to myself. Why would I want to do that?’ I think they also realise that they don’t need the ABV to have a good time.”

Mr Mee is targeting a wider audience with Alcohol Free Drinks and wants to convince different venues to sell a broader range of alternatives.

“I went to a shisha lounge, I’d never been to a shisha lounge before,” he says. “It’s anywhere that sells them. I’ve talked to a couple of bring-your-own curry houses, who don’t need a licence to stock my products.”

But the tied-house system in the country is “very restrictive”, Mr Mee says, leading to a lack of variety when it comes to non-alcoholic alternatives

He added: “The breweries own most of the pubs. Not only do they own most of the pubs, they also own most of the distribution companies as well.

“If you are a small independent restaurant and you want to offer a range of alcohol free drinks, you basically get given the choice of one.

“The breadth of choice for people, who want to cut down, flexi-drink or have quit, has to increase. If the tied-house system is restricting the ability for customers like me to have a choice, it’s not going to help.”

Mr Mee also believes that society needs to stop “sober shaming” - putting pressure on those not drinking on nights out to do so. By having non-alcoholic beers, wines and spirits readily available at venues, it would make it more acceptable for people to opt for the alternative.

He said: “You can have a bottle of non-alcoholic beer in the same way as you would an alcoholic beer. It’s still the same thing. The only thing that you have missed is the ABV in it, which means you’ll have no hangover.

“I have a phrase which is that it’s great to wake up rather than come around.

“It’s terrific to wake up in the morning and feel great. You haven’t got a splitting headache, you haven’t sweated in the night through the alcohol that you have had. It’s brilliant.

“If ever at the moment I even contemplate having a drink, I just remember that the sun will go down tonight and it will come up tomorrow morning and when it comes up tomorrow morning I’ll feel great.”

Looking to open options

Andy Mee hopes The Alcohol Free Drinks Company becomes a leading non-alcoholic drinks distributor and expands the range of non-alcoholic beverages available to people at venues such as bars and restaurants.

He added: “I’d love to be able to franchise it. I’d love to be able to give men and women of my age, who can’t currently get a job, a job.”

Mr Mee himself was made redundant from the American firm he was working for in 2017.

He said: “I, unfortunately, fell victim to what a lot of people in their mid to late 50s have. A lot of mid to late 50s people are finding it incredibly hard to get jobs.”

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James Mitchinson