By Katrina Simyab | Pictured: Cambridge Mocktail Walk; Photography by Micki Oldenburg Photography
In the Midwest, it can feel strange to socialize without a drink in your hand. Whether it’s beers before a big game or cocktails at brunch, many meals, gatherings and events center around alcohol. While some are comfortable with drinking when they’re out and about, a growing number of women are choosing to be sober for a variety of reasons.
Katy Ripp’s love for a decent glass of wine inspired the creation of wine bar Nineteen09 in Cross Plains, which she opened in 2019. While she doesn’t identify as an alcoholic, she noticed the effects of drinking starting to take a toll in her everyday life.
“I just couldn’t run my life anymore hungover,” says Ripp.
After deciding to pursue total sobriety, Ripp added more NA options to Nineteen09’s menu that would allow non-drinkers to feel included. This put her on the ground level of what would become a local mocktail movement.
“We discovered really quickly that the more NA options we had, the more we sold,” Ripp says.
When she sold the bar to staff member Cassie Ballweg and her husband, Tyler, in 2023, Nineteen09 offered over 20 unique nonalcoholic options. Ballweg (who is also sober) and Tyler have since curated their zero-proof menu (left) to include three wines, a selection of beers (including five from Athletic Brewing), and canned and signature mocktails.
Aside from bars and restaurants, more local events are also offering nonalcoholic alternatives to imbibe while enjoying others’ company. Sabrina Madison, founder and director of The Progress Center for Black Women, has long been an advocate for alcohol-free networking events. While she was never a “big drinker,” Madison saw how alcohol use negatively affected a close family member. After a difficult phone call with them in 2018, something clicked.
“I never wanted to put myself in a position to be calling my younger relatives … drunk,” says Madison. “I decided on that day, I didn’t want to drink anymore.” Madison started normalizing mocktails at her own events. The Progress Center will continue to host happy hours where attendees can learn how to make trendy mocktails and enjoy non- alcoholic options.
“I just want us to figure out how to be in community with each other without needing … alcohol,” she says.
Dusty Rogers decided to “give her body a break” by participating in Sober October in 2022, after a summer full of alcohol-centered social events. As owner of Revive Salt Room & Spa in Cambridge, Rogers had observed periods of sobriety in the past to increase her productivity or reach a health goal, but this time it was different. Rogers joined a 21-Day Alcohol Reset program which included education on the effects of alcohol.
“It really helped me get clear on … why do I drink alcohol … and is it something that I want to go back to?” she says.
By the end of that month, her answer was a resounding “no.” Rogers knew being sober was going to be a big change. “It was scary, I’m not going to lie,” she says, but mocktails were an easy way to still participate in social events. “I could toast and cheers my friends, and still feel included.” Rogers decided to host Mocktail Mingle events at Revive to build community among other non-drinkers.
When she started seeing signs for local wine walks, inspiration struck. Dusty created the country’s first ever Mocktail Walk through downtown Cambridge, which sold out.
“I had no idea it was going to take off the way that it did,” says Rogers. With annual mocktail events planned throughout 2024 and beyond, Rogers hopes her efforts to be “sober out loud” will help others see that sobriety is a real, attainable lifestyle.
“I genuinely think if I had seen more people talk about being alcohol-free while still maintaining a vibrant social life, I would have quit drinking sooner.”