When Alcohol Change UK launched the first Dry January back in 2013, the campaign drew a modest 4,000 participants. It may have started small, but its message resonated and served as a catalyst for honest conversations about our collective relationship with alcohol. Public figures like journalist Peter Oborne opened up about the fact that one’s drinking habits might not be cause for rehab, but they were in need of an overhaul.
Fast-forward to the present and Dry January is a global movement, one in which roughly one-fifth of Americans participated last year. Some of those embarking on a month of sobriety are looking for a break, a physical and mental reset after the excess of the holidays, while others use the time to reexamine if alcohol is something they want to be part of their life at all. Either way, Dry January helped lift the social stigma by adding an element of solidarity to it all. The sober-curious among us now have better non-alcoholic beer options—and hop water and sparkling CBD water and kombucha—than ever before, plus bars and other social spaces that cater specifically to teetotallers.
All this is to say that whether or not you choose to participate this month, the net effect of Dry January has been pretty positive—unless you happen to be in the business of selling booze. Rather than accept a month of slumping sales, a number of macrobreweries are attempting to capitalize on the phenomenon.
It’s 2020 here and warping Dry January into a marketing gimmick for alcohol just feels tired.”
This week, Molson Coors debuted an ad campaign for “Dry-ish January” to promote Miller64, a lower-calorie 2.8% ABV beer. In the commercial, actor Nicholas Braun—Cousin Greg, if you happen to be hooked on Succession—appeals to consumers who might not want a completely dry January. Meanwhile AB InBev (an investor in October) has been using the season to push similarly sessionable, but not alcohol-free, beers such as Karbach’s Game Changer.
Smaller breweries have been getting in on the marketing action as well, with offerings like Fair State Co-Op’s “guilt-free” 3.5% Dry January IPA. Even the American Cider Association has been trying to cash in with their Dry Cider January campaign—“dry” in this context simply meaning “brut” rather than 0% ABV.
More sessionable options on the market are a boon to everyone and there is something to be said for more moderate drinking year-round. Still, all the efforts to use a movement rooted in sobriety to market alcohol is raising some eyebrows on beer Twitter, especially when it comes to breweries that deliberately miss the point with defiantly boozy releases. Among these trolls, you'll find Harpoon’s 11% ABV Dry January triple IPA and Heavy Seas’ 10% ABV Dry January hazy IPA. Throughout the month, Fremont Brewing is throwing a series of releases titled Not So Dry January.
It’s 2020 here and warping Dry January into a marketing gimmick for alcohol just feels tired. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a beer (or cider) this month, but there has to be a better way to sell it.