LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When someone stops drinking alcohol or cuts down, they may wonder what their social life will be like when they make the switch.
A booming market around the world is addressing this challenge for some people by serving alcohol-free and low-alcohol (non-/low-alcohol) products, from spirits to beer. A new Louisville-based non-spirit brand, NKD LDY (pronounced Naked Lady), is tapping into this growing market in Bourbon Country and beyond.
Eron Plevan, who started running a bar nearly 12 years ago, loves the hospitality and creativity of his job.
“You would treat cocktails like you would if you were in the kitchen exploring food ingredients. Cocktails can be just as complex, just as deep, and sometimes they’re a work of art,” explained Plevan, who is the bar manager and beverage director at Gold Bar in Louisville.
From managing bar staff to choosing what gets poured, Plevan said he does a bit of everything at the Gold Bar. Lately, he’s stocked the bar shelf with non-spirits, such as non-alcoholic gin, tequila, and whiskey. Some may think no liquor behind the bar is dry, but Plevan explained that it’s the opposite of boring.
“If you’re a cocktail lover and really love science, non-alcoholic spirits are just as complex, if not more so, than regular spirit production,” Plevan said.
Alcohol-free or low-alcohol products are growing in popularity. Currently, this sector accounts for 3.5% of the total alcoholic beverage market, according to a 2022 no/low alcohol consumption report. strategic study conducted by IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. In 2018, the market value of alcohol-free or low-alcohol products was $7.8 billion, according to the same study. Now it’s almost $10 billion.
Plevan has seen a boom in new alcohol-free and low-alcohol spirits and beers over the past three years. The latter being the most requested, he said. As for the popularity of mocktails at Gold Bar, Plevan said he makes anywhere from a handful of mocktails in a week to that many in a night, based on requests from bargoers.
“Sometimes, you know, people just come for the non-alcoholic menu because we posted it or advertised it,” Plevan told Spectrum News 1. “And they just want to try like everything. cut them, not because they are drunk, because maybe sugar,” he added jokingly.
Moderation is the most common reason people choose to drink alcohol-free or low-alcohol products. According to the new IWSR Research, 43% of adults who have purchased alcohol-free or low-alcohol beverages say they use them as a substitute for pure alcohol on some occasions rather than not drinking them at all. Most people who drink little or no alcohol also enjoy alcohol. While 17% buy alcohol-free or low-alcohol products because they don’t drink alcohol at all.
Louisville native Becca Garnder quit alcohol four years ago because she felt she was crossing a line with why she drank.
“I went from being like a social drinker to realizing I was using it to not get the feelings I was feeling, and so I decided to take it off my coping mechanisms shelf, and that was best decision I’ve ever made,” she told Spectrum News 1.
However, Garnder also said she felt removed from many social experiences, such as going to concerts, bars, and going out dancing.
“And so I was really nostalgic to live my whole life, even though I felt amazing.”
Sober living eventually led Gardner to distill the script from his own life. During a week-long interview for her dream job, Gardner said she was in a bar in London when she ordered a non-alcoholic Manhattan, which caused her to rethink her dreams of career. This non-alcoholic experience led Garnder to abandon her consulting career and her life in New York. She returned home to Kentucky to pursue her new dream of starting a non-alcoholic spirits business in an industry she had never worked in before.
His new dream came true when NKD LDY was born, which includes three non-alcoholic spirits: whiskey, tequila and gin.
“My clients are usually not people like me, [who] don’t drink at all. It’s people [who] I just want more options and make the best choice for them, without sacrificing anything,” Gardner said.
All three non-alcoholic NKD LDY spirits start in their original alcoholic form. For example, NKD LDY whiskey comes from Bardstown Bourbon Company.
“It’s a process called cold distillation or vacuum distillation. We have the ability to remove ethanol from spirits, while preserving much of their natural essence,” Gardner explained. “Then we reconstruct the flavor profile with other natural flavors, so people still have the experience of having a real spirit that has a lot of flavors that you just can’t recreate in a lab.”
Plevan knows that NKD LDY’s non-alcoholic whiskey won’t taste like his favorite brand of alcoholic whiskey because he said that was beside the point. However, he still treats non-alcoholic spirits the same as if he were making an alcoholic cocktail.
“Alcohol-free spirits like NKD LDY really invite us to experience what goes on inside them, just like we would with a regular spirit. So I treat it like I would a gin, considering all the botanicals in it. I treat the bourbon alternative like I would a bourbon, and I think of the flavors in it and [look] for different things to accentuate them,” Plevan told Spectrum News 1.
It’s about drinking non-alcoholic spirits properly, Plevan said, just like one would drink normal spirits. With this spirit, creativity comes into play.
NKD LDY is currently served in the following bars:
- Gold Bar – 1601 Story Ave., Louisville, KY 40206
- Meta – 425 W Chestnut St., Louisville, KY 40202
- Boutique Bar – 950 Barret Ave., Louisville, KY 40204
- Expo – 114 W. Main St., Louisville, KY 40202
- Barn8 Restaurant at Hermitage Farm – 10510 W. Hwy. 42, Goshen, KY 40026
Gardner said the plan is to focus on expanding to more Louisville bars and then expanding to Nashville bars in about two months. Atlanta and Los Angeles are also on the horizon, Gardner added.
If you want to try NKD LDY, you can also buy their non-alcoholic spirits in line.