Reclaiming the Bar Experience at the Club Soda Tasting Room

Wotcha! I’m back from my travels with a report on my visit to London’s Club Soda - a place that should be on your NA bucket list.

Next week, I’ll be back with the usual format of three drink recommendations; an IPA from St. Paul, an Aperitivo that barks bitter and, well, something I haven’t quite decided upon.

In this week’s edition: 

  • 📰 NAN - Nonalcoholic News my Nan would approve of!

  • 👅 TASTING ROOM: A visit to Club Soda - London

First time reading this? (Join here).

P.S. If you are in Portland this coming Wednesday, June 5, come join me and Naomi Veak of My Sober Girlfriends for our second NA Social between 6-8pm at the Beaverton John’s Marketplace at 3700 SW Hall Blvd. I’ll buy you an NA beer if you are one of the first three people to come and say hi!

Read time: 5 mins 29 sec

NAN

Nonalcoholic News my Nan would approve of!

🍺 BEER: If you are ready for summer then you must already have a 6-pack of Mexican Style Brew from Partake Brewing in your fridge, if you haven’t, then you aren’t. (link)

• 🍹 COCKTAILS: Keep an eye out in July for four new cocktails from Siponey Spritz Co. (link)

• 🍺 BEER: In case you were missing new weekly releases from Uncool Brewing, fear not, they have just launched a brand new Big Dill Pickle Pils. (link)

• 🍷 WINE ALT: Brooklyn’s OOSO Sparkling Tea have just debuted their first two sparkling teas inspired by natural wine. (Link)

CLUB SODA - LONDON

My recent trip back to England had two notable NA “moments.” The first was the unexpected surprise I stumbled upon in a remote village in Somerset during a long walk with my stepsister.

The second was my first visit to Club Soda in London’s Covent Garden.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit my unbridled excitement about visiting this tasting room. Despite being sober for two and a half years and writing this newsletter for the best part of 10 months, I had yet to go to a bar dedicated solely to nonalcoholic drinks.

There just aren’t that many out there and certainly none currently in Portland, despite more bars leaning into the NA category. So going to Club Soda was like Charlie’s invitation to visit the chocolate factory. I couldn’t wait!

What Is Club Soda? 

Started by Laura Willoughby over a decade ago, Club Soda is an ever-evolving mindful drinking movement offering a range of courses to help people cut down or stop drinking. They also provide guidance to bars, restaurants and venues on how to design no-and-low alcohol menus while also educating their staff on how to make and sell the drinks.

As word spread and interest grew, Club Soda opened successful pop-up shops before eventually taking up a more permanent residence on Drury Lane, with a store and tasting room.

Education 

What was apparent from the moment we were shown to our seats was that we were going to leave the tasting room with far more knowledge about nonalcoholic drinks than we walked in with.

Quentin, working that afternoon, possessed an extensive knowledge of both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. His infectious enthusiasm for the subject was palpable, as he passionately guided my friend and me through each of the nonalcoholic categories, pointing to the successes and the difficulties faced by the industry.

Tailored Tastings 

Amongst the many courses and masterclasses that Club Soda offers, one I would highly recommend is the Tailored Tasting (£30). Though I wasn’t aware of it when I booked our table, two ladies had booked a session while we were there. If we left feeling like we had taken a course in NA drinks, those two left with a degree. Quentin gave them a grand tour through spirits, cocktails and wine. By the time they left, they had probably tasted 20-25 drinks. As they walked out, arms full of newly discovered bottles, they enthusiastically promised to be back.

Drinks 

Here are the drinks we enjoyed:

  • Big Drop Brewing Company: To get started, my friend and I had a quick half pint of Paradiso Citra IPA, an excellent fruity IPA with a nice little bitter kick at the back end.

  • Botivo: A little taste of this botanical aperitivo, a shrub-like spirit with delightfully strong herbal and citrus flavors.

  • Wild Eve: Another small taste of this fabulous spirit from Scotland. A mix of floral and citrus notes to start and rounded out with a gentle smoky pepper finish. This was a huge hit at our table, and my friend was quick to snap up a bottle to take home.

  • Herbal Iced Tea: Onto the cocktails. We both enjoyed this cocktail featuring Everleaf Forest, Botivo, Wine Syrup, Dr Zero Zero Amaro, and light tonic water.

  • The Spritz: This one was as stunning to the eyes as it was to the mouth—featuring Bel Nada L’aperitvo, Nonsuch Apple and Cardamon Shrub, Bemuse Pomona, and Ginger & Cardamon Honey Wine.

  • Smoky Paloma: I had asked Quentin to make me one of his favorites, and this was really the hit of the afternoon. Mahala Amber, agave honey, grapefruit soda and a splash of Wild Eve.

People Watching 

The building itself is in the heart of the theatre district, perfect for catching both the curious and well-acquainted during theatre hours and for inquisitive tourists as they wander around taking in the sights.

Some walk in, and you can tell within seconds, as can they, that they’ve come to the wrong place. Others aren’t sure what they are looking at or where to start, and then there are those who have clearly been here before, striding in with confidence, getting what they need, and being off on their merry way. It’s great people-watching. It's also a masterclass watching the staff manage, educate, and create an experience for their customers. They are first and foremost, teachers.

Why You Should Visit 

For those of you who’ve been to London, it won’t have escaped you that there’s an awful lot of things to see and do. A week or two in England’s capital barely scratches the surface. However, if nonalcoholic drinks are your jam, and I assume they are or you wouldn’t be reading this, I would strongly suggest you spare a couple of hours to visit this tasting room. You’ll be introduced to drinks you’ve likely never heard of. You’ll leave, full to the brim with ideas of where to take your NA journey. And if you are anything like me, or those aforementioned ladies, you’ll be exiting the place with a plan to come back.

The Bottom Line 

The bottom line for me is this: For the first time in a very long time, I walked into a bar, and all the drinks on the shelf were for me. Not just one style of Athletic Brewing in a fridge below the bar—all of them.

Bars and pubs are meant to be places where community naturally blossoms. Places shared by friends, family and neighbors, to talk, tell stories, play games or watch sports. A refuge from the outside pressures of the day-to-day.

What binds these people together, at its basest form, is the liquid they put in their mouths. So as society shifts inch-by-inch toward more mindful drinking, places like Club Soda are showing an entire industry what the way forward looks like.

There needs to be a Club Soda in every city and every town. Sooner rather than later.

For more information on Club Soda visit joinclubsoda.com

To find over 50 U.S. adult nonalcoholic bars and pop-ups please visit this Zero Proof Nation’s listing page and if you are travelling this summer, bookmark this global map of stores and bars.

To find regular bars, anywhere in the country, offering nonalcoholic drinks download the Buzzcutt app—it’s a lifesaver.

One thing before you go. Here’s a great newsletter on fitness and nutrition that I think you should check out. There’s excellent advice on living a more healthy life in this weekly 5-minute read.

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