The Rise of Conscious Drinking in Europe


In an increasingly health-conscious world, young people are turning more and more towards low-alcohol and alcohol-free alternatives.

Spain, France and Italy have long been synonymous with languid afternoons spent sipping beer or wine at sun-drenched pavement cafés. However, young people across Southern Europe are increasingly opting for low- or non-alcoholic alternatives as awareness of the negative effects of drinking gains more traction than ever before. A recent survey on drinking and nightlife in Western Europe found that 47% of young Italians are now consciously limiting how much they drink, while 45% of Spanish youths are drinking less now than they did in the past. Nearly a quarter of all respondents said they no longer consume alcohol at all.

Reasons for choosing to drink less alcohol

There are many reasons behind this emerging trend. For some people, cutting down on alcohol or avoiding it completely is a permanent lifestyle choice – perhaps for religious reasons, perhaps because of a negative experience with alcoholism in the past, or because of the expense at a time when the cost of living is skyrocketing everywhere. Often, health is the most compelling reason for choosing not to drink. Alcohol consumption is linked to a dizzying array of medical issues, from liver failure and chronic kidney disease to cancer.

During the pandemic, finding a healthier way of living became a top priority for many people. Cutting out alcohol, with its high calorie content and negligible nutritional value, was a no-brainer for those with a new interest in personal fitness – especially after alcohol lost much of its appeal as a social lubricant when it was no longer possible to visit bars or nightclubs.

For others, cutting out alcohol may be a temporary choice – while pregnant or breastfeeding, when taking certain medications, or when designated as the sober driver during a group night out. Abstinence challenges (including Sober October and Dry January) are also becoming increasingly popular. Sometimes, conscious drinking isn’t about avoiding alcohol completely but rather about consuming it in lower volumes. In the study mentioned above, 23% of young Western Europeans said they were interested in low-alcohol beverages.

A wide range of low- and non-alcoholic alternatives

As the demand increases, so the options for conscious drinkers improve in quality, variety and taste. Avoiding alcohol no longer means being restricted to soda water or plain fruit juice: instead, most bar menus have embraced the art of the alcohol-free mocktail, while the majority of mainstream beer manufacturers (including Italian brands Birra Moretti and Peroni, and French brand Kronenbourg) now offer non-alcoholic beer. In 2021, Heineken launched the world’s first alcohol-free draught beer.

Artisan producers have also developed low-alcohol and zero-alcohol wines of all colours and varieties, while alcohol-free spirits range from whisky and rum to gin and vodka. Increasingly, conscious drinkers also have access to an impressive array of drinks that are not meant to imitate alcohol and instead taste great in their own right. From iced tea to flavoured sparkling water, ginger beer, fruit cordial and kombucha, these beverages are delicious on their own or as ingredients in mocktails with all the sophistication and flavour of their alcoholic counterparts.

(*) Average meal price calculated on the basis of starter and main course or main course and dessert, excluding drinks, menu and promotional offers. The average price is an estimate only, calculated according to the prices provided by the restaurant. Depending on the country, the average price may or may not include all taxes.