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Surely Wines Offers All The Fun Of Drinking Without The Booze

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As someone who has been on the sober curious train for almost a year, I’ve been looking for drink alternatives outside of Shirley Temples (yes, the kids drink) and sugary mocktails. My drink of choice, when I am imbibing on alcoholic beverages, is wine. My experience with non-alcoholic wine has been one of skepticism as they’re frequently thought of as overly sugary.

When I heard of non-alcoholic wine brand Surely Wines, I was doubtful. However, to my pleasant surprise, it tasted more like the wines I enjoy drinking when not sober. The cabernet sauvignon, my favorite among the bottles I have purchased, reminds me of the times I have ordered a glass of red out at a restaurant. Surly sold over 8,500 bottles of their cabernet sauvignon during Dry January.

Here, founder and CEO of Surely Wines Ryan Hanson takes the time to share with Forbes how Surely was started, how Napa is embracing non-alcoholic wines, why now is the time for the sober curious movement and more.

Lisa Kocay: What was the inspiration behind starting Surely?

Ryan Hanson: “I got into a kind of consumer, better for you brand in 2018 and joined a company [called] Perfect Keto. That’s where I met my co-founder of Surely, Justin [Eaton]. At that time, I ended up not drinking for a year, just a personal choice that I made, and I began to really experience that lack of alternative options in the market. I just moved to Austin, Texas, I’m going out and being social and there’s just not a lot of options for [non-alcoholic] products, especially back in 2018.

“Oftentimes there’d be this really sugary mocktail on a menu. I don’t know if that’s doing it for me either….So it got to a point where I think [Eaton and I] worked together for a couple years. We know how to build brands together and we’ve got this personal connection with this problem that I’d like to try to solve. We started Surely with this mindset of let’s build something that’s really high quality and [is] also a really clean label. So kind of feeling like you’re able to have something that’s sophisticated and elevated, just like all the other craft alcoholic beverages, but you don’t have to make that health trade off as a result. And not only not alcoholic, but also not a bunch of sugar, not a bunch of carbs—like something that really feels like you can maintain whatever your lifestyle goals are while enjoying being part of a moment with everybody else.”

Kocay: Can you discuss Surely’s dealcoholization process?

Hanson: “What we do is we take full strength wine. When you’re drinking Surely, 90-95% of what you’re drinking is dealcoholized wine. So that’s a really important part of our process, not only from the grapes that you’re sourcing but also the dealcoholization. So we take full strength wine. We dealcoholize it using this technology called a spinning cone column. It’s effectively a vacuum distillation method. I tend to describe it this way: we have two cones and you put full strength wine into one cone and it spins at a really high heat that causes a lot of molecules to separate from each other. So you’re able to separate the ethanol from everything else….Then the ethanol gets extracted and sold to the spirits industry.

I think to be a true alternative, [wines, beers and spirits] need to taste good….There are other really low quality [non-alcoholic] wines that have been out there for a long time, and they’re really cheap grapes with a lot of sugar. So we really wanted to flip that narrative and give people something that delivered an experience that they would actually enjoy versus kind of have to settle for.”

Kocay: So drilling down a little bit deeper on that, I know you’re saying that now it’s starting to taste better, but why is now the time for non-alcoholic wine?

Hanson: “There’s finally products that are delivering an experience that is something that people are actually looking forward to versus having to settle for. And I think that one of the biggest reasons why that whole stigma I think has always existed in the past when you’ve ordered a non-alcoholic drink is because they’ve been so clearly inferior that like no rational person would choose an inferior drink unless you had some issue with alcohol. And I think it just brought about this weird environment where people were asking you questions….We’re trying to deliver wines that you’re just drinking as they’re good wines and they also just happen to not have alcohol.”

Kocay: So beyond just the products themselves being better, why do you think more people are sober curious now?

Hanson: “I think that we’re so in tune with the inputs of our diet and what we consume and how it impacts our sleep or our energy levels….I think people really have a better understanding now than any other time about what alcohol does to their body, what sugar does to their body, what their diet does to their body and their performance. I think alcohol moderation is just another one of these health and lifestyle trends—similar to keto, paleo [and] vegan—where you’re cutting carbs, you’re cutting sugar [or] you’re eating less meat. Whatever you determine works for you and makes you feel the best. I think alcohol is now another part of that trend where it’s really people being mindful about their alcohol consumption because they have a better understanding of how alcohol impacts all of those factors.”

Kocay: How do you think Napa is embracing this dealcoholization process? Are there more companies popping up or places that make wines that are now transitioning to having dealcoholized wine?

Hanson: “I think that I found the wine community out here really to be a lot like the startup community. As part of the startup community that has grown significantly over the last couple years in Austin, it’s cool to live in that environment because there’s so much knowledge sharing that goes on. People genuinely really want to see your company that you founded, grow and scale, get customers, achieve your vision and all that good stuff in the startup community in Austin. I think it’s the same thing out here in Napa. It’s not like, ‘Oh, you know, don’t talk to me because our wine is real and your wine isn’t,’ type mentality. It’s more like, ‘Hey, that’s really interesting.’ And I think people get it where 80% of our customers are drinkers.

“You’ll find that across all [non-alcoholic] brands for the most part that the core customer is somebody who wants to enjoy this during the week or at certain times of life where they just want to drink less. We actually have the same customers. We’re just providing them a solution for a different time of the day or a different time of their lifestyle journey, so to speak. I think we’re both trying to provide a product to the same customer base. And so that knowledge sharing that exists in the wine world, the startup community, I think the [non-alcoholic] wine world is still very much a part of it.”



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