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Can You Be Sober (or Sober-Curious) If You Work in the Craft Beer Industry?

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The sober and sober-curious (experimenting with sobriety without formally committing to it) are increasingly influential — whether they choose sobriety due to a personal or familial history of addiction, for health reasons, religious reasons, or something else entirely. We’re seeing their influence in the growing demand for non-alcoholic beer, low-alcohol beverages, and cannabis-infused non-alcoholic drinks. Keen industry-watchers have taken note of this trend, and it’s certainly something we expect the alcoholic beverage industry to continue to adapt to in the coming years.

Far from being confined among only the public, we know there are also employees, founders, and creators of all kinds in the alcohol industry who, for whatever reason, are grappling with the role of alcohol in their lives. But unlike those outside of the industry, these folks also have to deal with potential social pressures at work when making decisions about sobriety. Many wonder if it’s even possible to be sober in the craft beer industry. In this article, we’ll get into the details of the rise of sober-curious people across a variety of industries, and explore how sobriety fits in an industry focused on creating and selling alcohol.

The Rise of Sober & Sober-Curious Communities

The major social and cultural changes of the past decade have normalized a more thoughtful, deliberate approach to alcohol consumption. Gen Z (the young generation born between 1996 and 2006) have much lower levels of risky behaviors — binge drinking included — than previous generations did at the same age. Many Gen Zers seem to have cut back alcohol consumption dramatically or even gone sober entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the generations, the change in the way we socialize during the pandemic has also affected the way we drink alcohol, since many people drink alcohol in social settings. For others still, the prolonged pause on their normal routines and habits has caused them to reevaluate the role of alcohol in their lives and the effects it has on their physical and mental health.

Sobriety in the Craft Brewing Industry: Is it Possible?

Of course, experimenting with cutting back or eliminating alcohol is far more complicated when one works in the craft brewing industry. Folks in the beer industry support each other and independent breweries by buying and consuming different types of beer. Social drinking with coworkers is normalized, and depending on a person’s role in the brewery, they may feel job-related pressure to drink or taste new products.

But none of this means that a person can’t be sober in the craft brewing industry. It may be difficult, but it is possible. Decent people will understand a private, personal commitment to abstaining from alcohol, whether temporarily or permanent. The alcohol industry may be one of the more challenging places to work for sober people, but there are still many people who feel the same way and who will respect your choices.

Tips for the Sober or Sober-Curious in the Craft Brewing Industry

Consider moving into a role that is less likely to require tasting the beer, like logistics, marketing, or operations

Honesty Goes a Long Way

The decision to drink or not to drink alcohol is a highly personal one, and no one should ever feel pressured to share that information. But for folks trying out sobriety in the craft brewing industry, being honest with bosses and colleagues is sure to smooth out any wrinkles that come up in the process. You don’t have to provide too much detail. Consider something simple like, “No thanks. I’m actually experimenting with going alcohol-free for a few weeks to see how it makes me feel.”

Cross-training or Upskilling

Most people should be able to continue their normal job duties without drinking alcohol. But if it truly is absolutely essential, and you’re committed to sobriety, consider cross-training within the business. Acquiring new skills can help you take advantage of your pre-existing knowledge to succeed in a role that doesn’t require you to drink alcohol. Most craft breweries have employees in a variety of areas (e.g. operations, logistics, sales, marketing) that don’t require tasting the product.

Find a Community

It can be isolating to feel like you can’t join in on something your co-workers love. But there are communities out there for sober people who share your passion. Ben’s Friends is a group for sober people who work in the food and beverage industry – they have daily meetings via Zoom! You can also check out Facebook groups for people who brew non-alcoholic beer to find like-minded people. And of course, you can join local AA groups for sponsorship and personal support on your sobriety journey.

Prepare Yourself

If you’re newly sober, you may not anticipate some of the reactions you’ll receive from co-workers, friends, family, and even strangers. Some people may take your sobriety as a criticism of their personal choices, or they may believe they’re entitled to information about how and why you became sober. Be polite but firm about your boundaries. Most people mean well and will come around to respect your choices with time.

Tips for Managers of Sober Folks

  • Respect privacy. Sobriety is a personal choice that people make for any number of reasons. You are not entitled to know why someone is sober.
  • Stay open-minded. Many of the jobs that on the surface require a person to taste or drink alcoholic beverages actually don’t. With some creative problem solving, ingenuity, and curiosity, you’ll be surprised what people can accomplish.
  • Provide non-alcoholic options. During company events, consider providing non-alcoholic options to accommodate sober employees. You might also think about including non-alcoholic beers or beverages in your tasting room (if you have one). Make your brewery a fun place for a sober person to visit.
  • Listen to their perspective. Sober people will have different perspectives on marketing, branding, sales, and every other step of the brewing process. Whether they’re on a temporary break from alcohol or have made a more permanent choice, their unique approach can provide valuable insight into the needs and preferences of certain buyers. But they will only feel comfortable sharing this perspective if you create the environment for it, so make sure your employees understand that they’re welcome.

Sobriety is difficult no matter what industry you’re in, but folks in craft brewing may find it even more challenging due to the constant exposure to beer and the expectation to drink among work colleagues. Still, there are sober people who are happily thriving in the industry. It certainly isn’t impossible. With some effort, you can find success and community in the craft brewing industry — without compromising your sobriety.

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