When Nicole, a retired executive assistant, began preparing her new year get-togethers with family and friends, her first purchase was an artisan bottle of French alcohol-free gin.
“There’s something in the air right now,” the 71-year-old said. “Young people in their 20s and 30s drink so much less booze than we did. My generation was rock’n’roll, we drank a lot, smoked a lot. Times have changed. Young people are finding alternatives – and it’s benefiting us oldies too as we try to step back from bad habits.”
France is one of the fastest-growing markets in the global boom in alcohol-free drinks. The rush of startups creating alcohol-free spirits, wines, cocktails and beers marks a departure in a country with a vast alcohol industry and a president, Emmanuel Macron, who is so supportive of wine that he was voted person of the year by the nation’s wine review, and hailed for saying: “I drink wine every day, at lunchtime and in the evening.” A growing number of major vineyards are producing alcohol-free options alongside their standard production and young French developers are inventing new forms of alcohol-free rum and gin, while big companies such as Pernod Ricard are investing in the sector.
Augustin Laborde of Le Paon qui Boit. Photograph: Laura Stevens/the Guardian
At Le Paon qui Boit in northern Paris, France’s first specialist wine cellar for 100% alcohol-free drinks, which opened this year, trade was brisk in the run-up to New Year. A young clientele, many in their 20s and 30s, were browsing the 400 different types of drinks, including up to 50 alcohol-free sparkling wines that could be served as an alternative to champagne.
Augustin Laborde set up the shop after a career in international human rights. He quit alcohol during the Covid lockdowns but said the French alcohol-free market was about more than people wanting to stay sober. “It’s about a new kind of flexibility of thinking,” he said. “Around 80% of our customers still drink alcohol, but they’re interested in alternating with alcohol-free. At the start, people thought our customers would be mainly Muslims or pregnant women, and although those customers do come in and are welcomed, they only account for 20%.”
Browsing the shop, Anna, 29, a digital project manager, said: “I often have a month off alcohol, just for a break. It used to be considered a really odd thing to do, but that’s starting to change. Drinking water all night was never fun. The new drinks are innovative, and it’s nice not to be infantilised by only having the option of drinking Coke.”
Felix Bogniard, a sommelier who ran a restaurant in central Paris, had already created a tasting menu with homemade, non-alcoholic drinks paired to dishes, included fermented drinks and rare types of juices. “It’s progress to be able to offer the joy of a specific drink paired to a dish, even for people who don’t drink alcohol,” he said. “We’re at a really important moment, there’s a trend starting. People are …….