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Sober Suppers: Beverage Pairings Without the Alcohol

Food was served family style, including this dish with clams, mussels, chorizo in a smoked tomato Hairless Dog IPA broth and plenty of sourdough bread to mop up the delicious sauce.

The Lynhall’s first Sunday Sober Supper was a sellout. And because no one was tipsy, it wasn’t hard to twist your tongue around the concept of a non-alcoholic pairing. 

“The idea for Sunday Sober Suppers came out of conversations with our guests, friends and colleagues who do not drink … telling us they longed for the opportunity to connect over a communal fine-casual dining experience,” says Anne Spaeth, owner of the communal-eating style restaurant in the Lyn-Lake area. 

People in recovery—or those who just no longer want to drink alcohol for health or lifestyle reasons—get frustrated with having to decline wine pairings at fine-dining restaurants, Spaeth says. 

And beer and cocktail pairings are also becoming more popular as well. And while these diners aren’t interested in the traditional pairings, they do crave an elevated food experience with some sort of a sophisticated beverage. “They wanted an experience which felt inclusive and safe, but at the same time honored their lifestyle choice to not drink,” she said of the guests she queried.  

For the first event in September, Chef Carrie McCabe-Johnson of Nighingale was the guest chef, along with her son Jakob, who did the non-alcoholic pairings. Ann Ahmed of Lat 14 did the October supper featuring a Lao Pha Kwan dinner along with the Baci Ceremony. 

Seating is first come and diners sit at the long communal tables, which invites conversation as well as passing dishes of food. About 140 paying guests were in attendance in September.

A savory pink drink greeted guests who sat at communal tables to enjoy the four-course meal. 

“It felt like the beginning of something very special in the Twin Cities—the start of a community that values cuisine and high-quality alcohol-free beverages,” says Suzanne Kubach, who was a dinner guest at the September event. “The huge turnout demonstrates that diners want sophisticated, alcohol-free beverage options on menus. I hope other restaurants follow Nightingale’s and Lynhall’s lead.”

The idea of foregoing the alcohol but not the spirit of pairing food and wine is cropping up more and more often. The events are sometimes called “dry dinners” and the participants, “sober curious.” In trend-setting California, the events cater to millennials and include activities, such as tarot card readings, life coaching and something called a “cuddling sanctuary,” according to the Fix, an online information source for the addition and recovery population. There are also such things as “juice crawls.”

According to Social Standards’ Consumer Analytics, which monitors what’s being talked about on social media platforms, conversations about low-alcoholic options are starting to gain traction. Around 15 percent of consumers are talking on social media about non-alcoholic topics and mocktails, which is nearly double what it was over the past few years. 

Ironically, there’s a downside to the trend, as well: Seeing it as a trend. Since for many people, including a high number in the hospitality industry, being sober isn’t a choice, it’s a lifeline. Making sobriety the flavor of the day—as in here today, gone tomorrow—is doing a disservice to people who struggle with it on a daily basis, some sobriety advocates are saying. 

But offering diners a choice is what hospitality is all about. And if it’s a healthy, life-affirming choice—all the better. 

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