Enough About You Professionally

“Enough about you professionally. I see from your resume that you write ‘SavoyStomp.com’. Tell me about the Aviation Cocktail. I’ve been trying to perfect it…”

One of the biggest challenges to stopping drinking, well, more accurately, continuing to not drink, is redefining your life without alcohol, and finding the acceptable parameters for interactions in your life, which might, in the past have included alcohol.

One method is to stop hanging out with drinkers when you stop drinking.

However, for most of us, after, say, 30 years of drinking socially with friends and family, it’s pretty impossible to completely isolate yourself from alcohol and drinkers.

I mean, unless you pick up and move yourself to a Muslim country and start a new life, you’re going to have to talk to your friends and family, and you’re probably going to have to talk about drinks and drinking. Not to mention deal with people drinking around you when you’re not.

I may have a particular problem here, as, for most of the last 10 or 15 years much of my identity, and many of my interactions with friends, have revolved around a singular obsession with cocktails, spirits, and drinking.

So, frankly, with a lot of people I know, we don’t have much else to talk about besides booze and cocktails.

And, also, I do still know A LOT about booze and cocktails.

I didn’t forget everything I know about alcoholic drinks because I stopped drinking, (though I did try a bit to forget and avoid those conversations for a while.)

I don’t have any real answers.

But it’s something I’m going to be thinking about, and writing about for this blog.

Imitation of Life

A lot of the available non-child, non-alcoholic beverages in the US are alcohol-free versions of boozy beverages.

Non-alcoholic beer, non-alcoholic wine, and such.

I am ambivalent about most.

First, as a non-drinker, I don’t super want to be reminded of what I am missing in alcoholic beverages when I drink a non-alcoholic beverage.

With every non-alcoholic wine I’ve ever tried, about all I’ve ever thought is, “Wow, this is a suckier version of wine, without the alcohol. I’d rather drink grape juice.”

Likewise, with non-alcoholic beer, while some are actually pretty OK, the point of drinking non-alcoholic beer is sort of lost on me.

As my friend Camper English once said about the non-alcoholic beverages at a certain tiki bar, all the calories and none of the buzz.

I guess part of it is, imitations always fall short.

The best non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic beverages ever get is “OK”.

They’re never “great” beverages.

And to get back to my issues with a specific example, I like sparkling tonic water with a squeezed lime wedge, but mostly drinking them reminds me that I miss the Gin and Tonics I used to drink. And frankly, a tonic and lime is just a pale imitation of a Gin and Tonic.

So that’s not SUPER ideal. For a lot of reasons.

So, I propose some rules for non-alcoholic beverages:

First, and foremost, they must be tasty on their own merits. They should be great drinks without alcohol.

Second, please leave off reminding me of alcoholic beverages with pale imitations.

Third, they should not be over rich. My main rule for adult beverages is they should be “more-ish”.

You should get to the bottom of your drink and say, “That was tasty! Maybe I’ll have another!”

Not, “That was kind of tasty to start, but I could barely finish it by the time I got to the bottom, and now I don’t feel like drinking anything else. Or even eating my dinner.”

Tips for a Successful Detox-uary

A lot of people choose to not drink for a month a year, and a lot of those people choose January to do it.

Worn out by the holiday parties, drinking, and eating to excess, a Dry January seems almost like a relief.

When I was drinking, I also used to try to do this.

(Of course, nearly every year I would find some excuse to start drinking again after a couple weeks.)

As a now somewhat seasoned non-drinker, here is some advice for making it through January.

If you are a heavy drinker, and stop drinking, the first month is the worst. Maybe the worst part of the whole experience.

(If you are a really heavy drinker, be careful. Talk to your Doctor first. It may make more sense to taper off, or just reduce your intake for January, rather than to go cold turkey. Be honest with yourself.)

And the first few days of the first week will be awful, especially if you overdid it on New Years’ Eve.

(I can never decide where the apostrophe goes on New Years Eve. is it after or before the ‘S’?)

Eventually, after the really bad part, you’ll get to a sort of “up” place, after a week or two.

I believe AA calls this the “Rosy Glow” period.

Then afterwards, you will level off, things will start seem back to normal again.

This is when you will really start to crave drinking again.

That is just the way it works.

Some tips:

If you are committed to a successful alcohol “Detoxuary”, don’t be too hard on yourself about sugar/calories.

Your body’s metabolism is going to be seriously missing the empty calories from alcohol and you are going to have all sorts of cravings. A little ice cream (probably) isn’t going to kill you. For the record, I have found it harder to deal with my body’s craving for the empty calories related to drinking, than my craving for alcohol itself. Metabolism is very powerful, once it has been trained.

Find something else to do instead of drinking. Go for hikes. Watch movies. Re-take up an instrument you enjoyed playing as a kid. Join an athletic league. Go to the gym. Exercise. In general, I cannot stress enough how important it is to find something, anything, else to occupy yourself and your mind instead of drinking.

Avoid situations which you previously associated with drinking. Go to the cafe instead of the bar. If you drink at home, change up your routine. Skip your serious drinking friends for a month, they will just rib you and give you a hard time. They’ll still be there at the bar after your “Drynuary”. I guarantee it. Though, they will probably still make fun of you for calling your exercise in abstinence “Drynuary”.

If you can’t avoid situations which you previously associated with drinking, be honest and forthright with people about not drinking. Don’t lie or try to sneak around the subject. It doesn’t work, people who drink are super aware of what other people are drinking. If you waffle about it, or try to lie, in my experience, you’ll just end up drinking one way or the other. If you’re honest, you’ll probably be surprised by how supportive your friends will be.

As I’ve mentioned before, find a substitute drink, which you enjoy enough to imbibe as frequently as you drank beer/wine/spirits/cocktails. I don’t know what works for you, but I currently like an equal parts mix of Lime LaCroix and Cloudy Apple Juice/Cider with a splash of Knudsen Just Cranberry. Have your drink on hand at all times. Bring it with you to parties. Take it to picnics.

If you are in a relationship, if it is at all possible, make not drinking a team effort. Make up charts. Cross of the calendar. Whatever you need to do, but you will have a much better chance at success if your partner isn’t next to you on the couch with a Mai Tai or Martini tempting you with a drink. If you can’t convince them to join you, tell them you would prefer if they didn’t drink around you for a month. But don’t shame them into closet drinking, or distance them from you. Keep the lines of communication open.

Also, just sort of FYI, it’s weird, but after not drinking for a bit, you may find you are hyper sensitive to the smells associated with drinks and drinkers. Things you never noticed while drinking. The breath and smell of people who have been drinking, that sort of thing. That is what I’ve found, anyway. It’s fun, and you too can start playing the “hand sanitizer user or vodka drunk” game on public transit.

Best of luck and don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up a bit. You can always try again next year (or next month)!

Keep it positive!

Imbibe 75: People, places, and flavors

There was a lot of good stuff in 2016, but a lot of tough things to get over as well.


Joined a band.
Started Reluctant-Teetotaler Website.
Traveled to Baja, Mexico.
Attended the 2016 Big Ears Festival in Knoxville.
Started Lutheran Hymnal Project.
Remained Happily Married.
Remained Happily Sober.


Got kicked out of the band.
A lot of people died.
That whole Trump thing.

So when Paul Clarke, editor of Imbibe Magazine called to tell me he had “some space” in the Jan/Feb issue and thought he might be able to fit something in about the reluctant-teetotaler, I was in a bit of a dark place. Not sleeping too well. I didn’t really think the mention in Imbibe would be anything too special. A side bar, maybe, or mention in another article.

While we were out of town for the holidays, I was puzzled when a friend texted me to say, “Hey! Congratulations on the Imbibe article! You’re first!”

First in what? Least likely to succeed? I know I’m not the first middle aged ex-bartender to give up drinking.

When we got back to California I resolved to track down this pesky new issue of Imbibe Magazine and find out what was going on.

Happily, when Mrs. Flannestad looked through the mail we’d gotten over the holiday, she discovered we had been sent the issue!

Huh. Paul didn’t mention anything about this being a special issue. That’s odd.

Page through the first few features, don’t see anything about my website. Get to the feature article, “Imbibe 75: People, places, and flavors that will shape the way you drink in 2017” and see my friend Humuhumu across from Paul’s summary. Well, that’s cool! Some San Franciscans made the Imbibe 75!

Turn the page to the first section, “People to WATCH: Drink innovators poised to make an impact in 2017”.

Oh. I see what my friend meant by, “You’re first!”

Wow! This went a long way towards making a pretty dark end of 2016 a lot better. It gave me hope that there might be some light in the new year. Nice Holiday Gift, Paul!

Though, ahem, I guess I have a lot of work to do this year to earn my place among Imbibe’s illustrious cast of characters!

New Years’ Eve, 12.31.2016

Pearls Before Swine cartoon for 12.31.2016 by Stephan Pastis.
Pearls Before Swine cartoon for 12.31.2016 by Stephan Pastis.

Getting over major events and holidays where you previously drank heavily are always a bit tough while sober, especially the first few times.

The anxieties leading up to these events or holidays are the worst part, at least for me.

Finding out whether or not you can get through a New Years’ Eve without drinking, for example, is a big one.

Sure, for every New Years’ Eve from, say, 1983-2013, I would either work, get plastered, or some combination thereof.

That doesn’t mean I can’t do something else today.

That’s all I have to say to myself.

That, and, not drink.

I recently came across this article on NPR, by Sarah Hepola, which was pretty good.

Eat, Don’t Drink And Still Be Merry: Staying Sober Through The Holidays

She takes a while to get there, but I like her closing sentiments a lot:

But in time, I got used to this new world, and more accepting of myself. I still go to holiday parties, although I tend to arrive early and leave when everyone starts talking really loudly, but I don’t struggle with that sense of radioactive weirdness anymore. I feel at home in my body, and in the world, in a way I did not for many years.

So if you’re struggling to stay sober, hang in there. Because that feeling of comfort — of no longer being wracked by shame for who you are or what you did — is a gift the bottle can never give you. But it is a gift you can give yourself.

With only two years of New Years’ Sober Eves under my belt, I’m still working on it, but I feel like I’m getting there.

But, back to today, 12.31.2016.

The best things about New Years’ Eve are surrounding yourself with good friends and family, hanging out, talking, eating, and agreeing to work together towards a better next year.

We just have to try.

Tacolicious, 09.26.2016


One of the best things about restaurants with Mexican food is, as a matter of course, they usually have more non-alcoholic options than many other restaurants. You’ve got your grain drinks like Horchata and Atole and you have your fruit drinks like Agua Fresca and Limonada. (All of which will get posts of their own!) Not to mention Mexican Coca-Cola and Jarritos.

The extremely successful Tacolicious chain of restaurants steps those normal Mexican restaurant options up a notch or two by adding a brace of creative non-alcoholic refreshers to their menu.

Started at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market in 2009, they now have 3 very popular locations in San Francisco, one in Palo Alto, and one in San Jose, making them, perhaps, one of the most influential purveyors of non-alcoholic beverages in the Bay Area.

Tacolicious’ founder, Joe Hargrave was kind enough to respond to my questions about the humorously named subsection of their menu dedicated to non-alcoholic libations.

1) Recently, it seems more common for restaurants to leave their non-alcoholic options off the menu entirely, and have them as verbal options. What prompted you to feature non-alcoholic drinks on the Tacolicious menu?

“We know plenty of folks who choose not to consume alcohol for one reason or another and we feel strongly that a beverage program needs to be inclusive and not just give teetotalers the usual, pedestrian choice of iced tea or lemonade. Call them mocktails or just call them delicious drinks, but offering up mixed non-alcoholic beverages gives everyone—including kids—some more creative choices. “

2) As an, ahem, actual Recovering Bartender, in several senses of the phrase, I really like the humor in the subheading of the menu section you use for non alcoholic drinks, “Drivers, Kids, and Recovering Bartenders”. Who came up with that subheading and what sort of feedback do you get, positive or negative?

“I came up with it. It’s important not to take ourselves too seriously. Humor is a huge part of Tacolicious’s culture. “
3) Do you think having non-alcoholic drinks on the menu at Tacolicious increases their sales?
“Yes. Tons of people appreciate the fact that we’re looking out for them as much as the folks looking to imbibe a full-blown cocktail.”
4) What is a ball park figure for the percentage of non-alcoholic vs alcoholic drinks at your restaurants?
“We offer the Mia, Silas, and Moss on our regular menu (all named after our three kids), as well as housemade horchata and seasonal, housemade agua frescas. Of course the percentage of cocktails, beer and wine is higher than the NA, but we hope that we’re giving people enough options to satiate their desire for something non-alcoholic yet fun to drink. (And btw, you can always ask for our cocktails to be made without alcohol. The paloma is delicious without the tequila.)”

The Crafty Fox, 10.14.2016

Mrs Flannestad and I were not feeling particularly social, so we decided to try somewhere we hadn’t visited before. Well, and we were also both craving Fish & Chips, an item, which, at least executed well, is not particularly common in the SF Bay Area.

The Crafty Fox seemed like an interesting choice, and, indeed, it does appear to be quite popular with the well dressed tech set for an after work drink. Tables filtered in, had a round, and filtered back out.

However, not feeling social, does not mean that the reluctant teetotaler is off the job!

You will be pleased to know, at The Crafty Fox, I did ask the bartender, “What are your non-alcoholic options?” To which he replied, “We have Root Beer on draft, Mexican Coca-Cola, and Fizzy Water.”

Is the Root Beer, perhaps, Devil’s Canyon Root Beer? My favorite of all Root Beers?

Why, yes, yes it is!


Make-Out Room, 10.3.2016


When you order, “Ice water and change for a twenty” and you get “Ice water and a Jameson Whiskey on the rocks with soda and a lime wedge”.

I didn’t even know that was a thing. Who would order their Jameson Whiskey with a lime wedge garnish?

Maybe I look a lot like another person whose regular order is “Jameson on the rocks with soda and a lime wedge”?

That’s about all I can think of.

Tosca Cafe, 09.23.2016


Apparently, Tosca Cafe agrees with Bruce Dern’s alcoholic Dad character in the movie “Nebraska” that, “Beer Ain’t Drinkin'”. The lowest ABV beverage on their drink menu is a 7oz pony bottle of Miller High Life clocking in at 4.2%. Now, admittedly, when I was drinking, I had a tendency to call Miller High Life, “Vaguely Beer Flavored Vitamin Water”. Ahem. We live and learn.

How about some statistics?

  • As anyone knows, you will sell more of any drink if you put it on the menu.
  • Leaving any drink as an off-menu choice to be explained by the bartenders and servers costs them time. Time they could be using to serve other guests or make drinks. Time is money.
  • In the dining room, it also adds a second problem of misunderstandings between customers and servers and also between servers and bartenders. More often than not, bartenders can make more than a few off menu non-alcoholic drinks, but few servers have been trained to understand the full spectrum of drinks the bartenders may know and be able to execute with the ingredients they have on hand. More than once I’ve told by a server that the extent of a restaurant’s non-alcoholic drinks is water, coffee, tea, and a few soft drinks, only to discover a completely different story when sitting at the bar and talking to a bartender.
  • Plus, asking about an off menu bar item means the server has to take a trip to the bar, get the attention of the bartender, ask what he can make, then bring that information back to the customer. More time wasted, and more money wasted.
  • When calculating pour costs for a bar menu, i.e. how much the ingredients in a drink cost, the management usually doesn’t even take into consideration the cost of non-alcoholic mixers, (unless they are exceptionally expensive.) Lemon Juice, Lime Juice, and Orange Juice, for example, must be squeezed every day, and are usually thrown out after a day or two. These ingredients are just part of the cost of doing business. Looking at it like this, selling non-alcoholic drinks is, essentially, making a profit on what is a “rounding error” for most bars and restaurants. Thus, non-alcoholic drinks may, in fact, help a bar to gain profit on what otherwise may go down the sink at the end of the night.
  • While we’re talking about costs, let’s not forget that most of the “pour cost” for drinks is usually in the spirits and alcoholic mixers, so from the restaurant’s perspective, putting a well executed non-alcoholic drink on the menu, even at a lower prices the regular cocktails, is probably going to have a higher profit margin for the restaurant than a regular cocktail. Something I am more than willing to allow for, if it encourages more restaurants and bars to serve good non-alcoholic drinks!
  • According to a Gallup Poll from 2004, on average, 37% of Americans totally abstain from liquor. A bit less for the younger folks, but significantly more once adults are over 50.

Americans and Alcohol

“According to the aggregated data, 63% of Americans report that they drink alcoholic beverages such as liquor, wine, or beer, while 37% totally abstain. Men are more likely than women to drink (69% vs. 58%), and adults under 50 are substantially more likely than adults over 50 to drink (70% of adults aged 18 to 49 drink alcoholic beverages, as do only 54% of those over 50).”

So, for adults, we’re talking about approximately 1 out of 3, to nearly 1 out of 2, Americans who don’t drink, depending on the average age of the patron in your restaurant.

If you don’t have an item on your food menu you can sell to one out of every three people that comes into your restaurant, would you consider it a success?

Likewise, then, is your restaurant’s bar menu a success, if the only option you offer to non-drinkers is water?

Dear Reluctant Teetotaler

“Dear Reluctant Teetotaler,

I have to go to a party this weekend and I am not sure what to do?

Yours in teetotaling solidarity,

A fellow traveler”

First, as discerning drinkers, we need to be aware that whatever beverages are available at any party, they may not be our ideal, alcoholic or non-alcoholic. So the my first recommendation is to do exactly as you would do if you were drinking alcohol: Bring Your Own Beverage

Bring enough tasty beverage for yourself, some to share, and, (if you think they’d enjoy it,) leave whatever is leftover with your hosts. (If you don’t think they’d enjoy it, feel free to recover the leftovers and take them home with you.)

However, your larger question may be, “Help! I have to go to a work party! I hate small talk. I can’t stand my coworkers! I can’t imagine going without drinking myself into a coma. Everyone else will be drinking! What should I do?”

Well, yes. The easiest answer, if you truly think attending this party will trigger some sort of alcoholic episode, is to make an excuse, (cat’s sick, family emergency, no sitter for kids, transport problems, &c.) and not go. Attend a meeting, if you have to. I hear meetings can help.

However, if you must, or really want to attend said party, perhaps some hints are in order.

First off, aside from the alleged therapeutic and psychoactive benefits of booze, mostly, in social situations, it is just something to do while you’re not talking. Occupy your hands, take a sip with your lips. Maybe you can avoid making a funny face, or exclaiming out loud in dismay, while your neighbor posits a horrible theory regarding the nature of human existence.

Alcoholic Beverage is, essentially, a PROP.

So, the first thing you need to do, is to get yourself a decoy prop, because there is nothing sadder than the clunk of a plastic water bottle or empty hands when someone is making a toast.

So, rocks glass with soda water, bitters, and a twist. Who could tell you weren’t drinking an old fashioned. Perfect. Tall glass of tonic or soda with a lime or lemon wedge. Why it might be a Gin and Tonic or a Tom Collins. Personally, I like a mix of Knudsen’s Just Cranberry, Cloudy Apple Juice, and a little water or soda in a wine glass. If you get the mix right, it looks, and pretty much tastes, like a glass of wine. Well, better than most non-alcoholic wine, anyway. It took almost 3 dinner parties until my in-laws noticed the color was a bit off from their Zinfandel and ask if I wasn’t drinking.

Alternatively, you can carry around a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail and just NOT drink it. The old skill of many a bartender. To appear to be drinking, while you are, in fact, not. At one of my jobs, we used to give a hard time to one of the managers (*cough*Trevor*cough*) for leaving full bottles of beer all over the restaurant every night while pretending to drink with his friends. Now, however, I admire the skill with which he carried non-drinking of alcoholic beverages off. Only the few of us who knew him pretty well even noticed. However, this is a bit of a slippery slope, especially if you forget you’re carrying a loaded drink.

Most importantly, let’s get back to the idea that drinking is really just “something to do”. Strip it of its ritual meaning and associations, just let them go, and suddenly drinking loses much of its power over you.

If you’re going to a party and aren’t going to drink, the best thing to do is to find something else to do!

Help out in the kitchen, I’m sure they’ll appreciate some sober help. Volunteer ahead for different duties, since you know you won’t be drinking. Can you bring a punch? Heck, if you know how, make drinks for other people. The bartender is supposed to be sober, or at least less drunk than the other people. Or make a game of finding an interesting person to talk to. As a sober person, you have a certain advantage!

But most of all, try to find some way to have fun or at least be occupied.

Parties are supposed to be fun and no one wants you staring at them, sad and mopey because you don’t have a drink.

Get over yourself.

(OK, this note is really just to myself…)