The Mindful Drinking Festival: What’s that all about, then?

 |   |  The Modern Drinker 

On August 13th, we’ll be pitching up at the Mindful Drinking Festival in Bermondsey Square. The first event of its kind, this will be a celebration of #DryNotDull drinking (click the hashtag for more details) – a chance to try out some of the best non-alcoholic beers, cocktails and sophisticated soft drinks on the market today. As brewers of an adult-oriented, non-alcoholic drink, we’re quite excited. We’ll be lining up a series of tasting tables and offering around our wares. It’s going to be a grand old day out. 

To find out more about the Mindful Drinking Festival we jumped on a Skype call with Laura Willoughby (MBE), the founder of parent company, Club Soda. Here a few things you ought to know about mindful drinking and the event in Bermondsey Square.

You don’t need a ‘label’ to get involved

“Don’t assume that this is an event aimed at alcoholics. This is more aimed at people who are looking to change and moderate, but not those who have ever put a hard and fast label on themselves.”

“I gave up drinking five years ago and we launched Club Soda in January, 2015. There are lots of things aimed at dependent drinkers, but less that are aimed at people who are just a bit of a tw*t around alcohol. I’m talking about people who are just as capable of doing this on a self-guided journey, just like you might if you were getting fit or losing weight. That’s where Club Soda came from.”

There’s a movement afoot… 

“Club Soda has over 9,000 members – all people looking to either cut down, stop for a bit, or quit and go alcohol free for the longer term. Our members still want to go out to a restaurant and have something nice to drink. They still want to go to the pub, but they feel very disappointed by the choices they’re offered.”

“We call Club Soda a movement because we do a number of things that are intended to help people who are changing their drinking habits. You can sign up to our website, set your goals and track your progress. We have online courses to take you through a month off drinking or eight weeks to mindful drinking. We run events and workshops, and we do that with corporates as well.”

“We also created the Club Soda pub guide, which pushes pubs to ask themselves questions about what they’ve got – to get them to rethink what they offer their customers in what is a growing market segment. We’ve got tonnes of data – we visited 400 pubs to talk to them, face to face, in order to create that guide and to create a rating system.”

“A pub that scores five in our guide is really a very good pub generally. They score highly for customer service, for being polite, for having thought through a lot of their business proposition. For me, being in our pub guide is shorthand for a being a good pub to go to.”

Drinking behaviour in the UK is changing

“The biggest group of people not drinking in this country are the under-25s. (That’s 16-25 – I’m not including all the toddlers!) I think there are a number of drivers. Firstly, standing up in a pub and holding a pint for three hours is no longer considered a good night out, which is why cocktails have become more popular. Cocktails have an element of theatre – they’re Instagrammable. People would rather spend money on an immersive cinema experience than just spending a night in the pub.”

“The under-25s have more access to more health information than any generation before, so they’re more likely to be doing more stuff around their health as well – many of them have cut sugar from their diet, for example.”

“There’s also the fact that many of their parents are 40+ and they’re fed up of seeing them pissed! The biggest drinking group in this country are the over 55s. So, there’s an embarrassment aspect – they don’t want to see their parents drunk, and they definitely don’t want pictures of themselves drunk on social media. All of that has a huge effect.”

“Obviously there are young people still drinking, but there are different drinking rituals now. Young people will drink more heavily at the weekends and drink all of their units then, whereas older people are drinking more, and they’re doing it every night of the week. So younger people are likely to be giving their liver three days of rest, whereas older people aren’t. Also, younger people are poorer and therefore likely to be saving their money and looking for special weekend deals, whereas older people can afford to drink more and pretend they’re not drinking as badly because they’ve spent £10 on a bottle of wine and not £5 on a bottle of vodka.”

It can’t just be the drinkers – the pubs have to change, too

When we spoke to many pubs they told us there was no non-alcohol demand. We didn’t think that was true, so we started doing some research into the behaviour of pubs and bars. What we found is that pubs and bars make a decision on behalf of their customers before they’ve even asked them. That said, customers won’t buy a drink in this space unless they know that they definitely like it. If it has alcohol in it, it doesn’t matter to them so much. They’ll buy a six-pack of beer not knowing whether they like that brand or not, but they won’t do the same with an alcohol-free drink.”

“That’s where the idea for the festival came from, really. There’s a lot of curiosity; the most common questions we get asked are around what to drink instead, and there a whole load of new brands starting up focusing on this area.”

“We’re definitely seeing change, though. The fact that pubs like what we’re doing, that they’ve invited us to conferences to speak, that we’ve started seeing them signing up organically… there’s definitely been a change. It has become an easy sell.”

This is the first Mindful Drinking Festival, but not the last

“Yes, this is the first Mindful Drinking Festival. We do lots of tasting events, and we’ve developed a lot of knowledge around the product range because we’re obviously brand agnostic – people send us samples and our members review them, so we probably know more in this space than anybody else. It’s scarring the sh*t out of me now, doing it for the first time, but we’ve already had a phone call from Bristol to ask us to do it there as well, so I’m hopeful that there will be more.”

“Normally, what you get at food and drinks festivals in central London is loads of food and two or three drinks. This will be flipped on its head. There will be lots and lots of different drinks for you to sample, buy glasses of and take away. There will also be a selection of food stands that we’ve picked to compliment the range of drinks, and the Bermondsey Square Hotel will also be selling food. We’ve got a number of tasting events happening, and there’ll be music and other things. People can come for the afternoon, sit and try different drinks and chat with their mates. It’s going to be very cool.”

Head to the Mindful Drinking Festival website for more information, or just come along at midday on August 13th. If you’d like to book a place at one of Real Kombucha’s tasting tables, drop us a line