It’s a dry January even for booze brands

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Back on the (Band) Wagon

At first glance, the concept of Dry January would seem to clash with the alcohol business. But many such companies are increasingly using the campaign to boost their brand awareness, even as customers abstain from using the products they sell.

For example, a recent commercial released by vodka distillery Tito’s featured Martha Stewart using its product — not by drinking it, but rather in various DIY projects. But for many companies, it’s more than just an advertising gimmick.

Beverage conglomerate Diageo (DEO) has acquired a stake in zero-proof brands Seedlip and Ritual. And Heineken’s (HEINY) alcohol-free 0.0 beer, which represented over a quarter of all US nonalcoholic beer sales as of last October, grew 7.9% in year-over-year sales between September 2021 and September 2022.


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Tito’s and Your To-Do List

Since it doesn’t sell any non-alcoholic products, Tito’s participation in Dry January is solely within the advertising realm. Its DIY commercial explains spritzing vodka inside boots keeps them fresh, while adding it to cut flowers keeps them fresher for longer. However, it will be followed by a product launch: a limited edition collection featuring bottle-topper attachments for use while cleaning, along with a “list of tips and tricks” of dry ways to utilize the vodka.

Industry observers argue this represents a strategic shift for major alcohol brands, who are responding to changing drinking habits — as well as a sign that more consumers are embracing Dry January.

Dry Beer (Not the Flavor)

Heineken’s success selling non-alcoholic beer goes well with Dry January, and other beer brands appear to have taken note. Budweiser (BUD) is promoting its non-alcoholic beer this month, while Japanese brewer Asahi is introducing its Asahi Super Dry 0.0% in the UK and Ireland.

Across the board, beer brands are facing facts: beer sales are on the decline. They’re responding by associating themselves with Dry January — and hoping non-alcoholic options can carry revenues forward for more than just one month.

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Why is some alcohol called ‘hard’? And other booze facts


First of all, let’s look at the word “hard.” It’s an old Germanic word — so old that one of its first recorded uses is in “Beowulf,” the epic poem written around 700 AD. Maybe because it’s so old, the word has come to have many shades of meaning. It can mean firm and unyielding, rough and abrasive, or stubborn and obstinate.

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Another meaning that developed early on was “harsh and unpleasant.” It makes sense, then, that in the 1500s, it started being used to describe alcohol that had a sharp, acidic flavor.

A “hard wine” was one that contained a lot of tannins — compounds that come from grape skins and seeds and have an astringent flavor. A treatise on good manners written in the 1500s notes that “Neither hard wine is pleasant to the taste, neither haughty behavior acceptable in company.” Indeed!



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Another sense of “hard” that developed over time was “powerful and potent.” That’s the sense we use today when we refer to drinks with a high alcohol content, like vodka — in contrast to ones with a lower alcohol content, like beer.



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The final sense of “hard” we’ll talk about is the sense of an action that involves great force or that a person does recklessly. From this sense comes the expression of someone being a “hard drinker.” It doesn’t mean they drink hard alcohol (although they might). Instead, it means they drink persistently and drink in excess. Not usually the best combination.


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One other fact about “hard drinks.” You might think of them as the opposite of “soft drinks.” Today, when we use that phrase, we think of sugary, carbonated beverages like Coke, Pepsi or Dr Pepper.

By the way, if you care about punctuation, take note: The “Dr” in “Dr Pepper” does not take a period. If you have a problem with that, talk to the ad executives who decided in the 1950s to take it out because they thought it would be easier to read the name on the bottle without the period.

They were Americans, so they would normally have used a period. But I believe the British don’t put a period after the abbreviation for “doctor.” But Dr Pepper wasn’t owned by a British company at the time.


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But the term “soft drink” originally referred to any beverage that was non-alcoholic, such as lemonade, soda water or ginger ale. That usage appeared in the mid-1800s, in an advertisement for an establishment offering “hot mutton, … custards and soft drinks.” Sounds yummy!



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Let’s jump back a minute to when I mentioned that certain drinks have a higher alcohol content than others. These drinks — brandy, gin, whisky, rum, tequila and vodka — are created by distillation.

That process gives us a hint about another word that’s used for hard alcohol: “spirits.”



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Spirits are made by taking an already-existing beverage like wine and heating it in a still. Because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water (78.5 degrees Celsius/ 173.3 degree Fahrenheit versus 100 degrees Celsius / 212 °degree Fahrenheit), the alcohol in the beverage will evaporate before the water does.

So, if you collect the vapors rising from the still, and let them cool and condense back into a liquid, you’ll get a beverage with a higher alcohol content than the one you started with.

And what might those wispy vapors look like, rising into the air? A ghostly presence. A spirit, if you will.


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Another possible explanation for why we call alcoholic drinks “spirits” is that a person’s spirit is considered the most essential part of their being. In the same way, alcohol has long been considered essential to life, whether for palliative, medicinal or recreational reasons.

In fact, some historians believe that the reason our primate ancestors came down from the trees in the first place was to eat fermenting fruit lying on the forest floor. And that early humans began to plant and domesticate grains not so they could make bread — but so they could make beer.


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One thing we know for sure is that for centuries, before the advent of modern sanitation, drinking alcohol was often better for you than drinking plain water. That’s because alcohol is produced by fermentation.

And when grains and fruits ferment, they produce not just ethanol — which can kill bacteria — but also many other vital nutrients, including B vitamins like folic acid, niacin and riboflavin.  In fact, one of Noah Webster’s biographies describes his usual breakfast as “bread and beer,” which wasn’t the red flag back in the 1700s that it would be today.

And we’ll end with a final synonym for alcohol: “aqua vitae,” which is “water of life” in Latin.

This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by


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(1)  Orchard, Andy. A Critical Companion to Beowulf, pp. 231. Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2003 (accessed July 9, 2019).

(2)  Krebiehl, Anne. What are Tannins, Really?Wine Enthusiast, Sept. 11, 2018 (accessed July 9, 2019).

(3) Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Oxford University Press. Alcohol, hard, soft, spirit (subscription required, accessed July 9, 2019).

(4) Encyclopedia Britannica, online edition. Distilled spirit, Distillation, Why is Alcohol Measured by Proof? (subscription required, accessed July 9, 2019).

(5) Foley, Michael. Drunk Catholic History: Spirits and the Holy Spirit. One Peter Five (accessed July 9, 2019).

(6) Curry, Andrew. Our 9,000-Year Love Affair With BoozeNational Geographic, February 2017 (accessed July 9, 2019).

(7) Alba-Lois, L. & Segal-Kischinevzky, C. (2010) Yeast Fermentation and the Making of Beer and WineNature Education 3(9):17 (accessed July 9, 2019).


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