UNDATED (WJON News) -- Dry January, the idea of giving up alcohol for the first month of the year, has been growing in popularity in recent years.

This year I decided to join the movement.  I also gave up alcohol in January once before back about 10 years ago before Dry January was a trendy thing.

I understand many people who read this article choose to not drink alcohol ever, or have been sober for many years now.  Good for you, but that's just not where I am at.

I am a big fan of full-flavored craft beers and enjoy visiting local breweries, I've also started to enjoy the craft cocktail scene especially with the new local distilleries opening up recently.

So, how did the month go for me?  First, physically I really haven't noticed any big changes.  I dropped a few pounds, but honestly considering I gave up high-calorie craft beer for a whole month I was expecting more weight loss.

I did learn that while non-alcoholic beers generally have slightly fewer calories than a typical light beer, most of the ones I tried were way higher in carbs.  So, if you are trying to cut back on carbs NA beers might not be the way to go for you.

Secondly, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of non-alcoholic options that are out there now.  I am a social person who enjoys going out for happy hours and attending community-type events and I didn't want to just drink water everywhere I went for the whole month.

Let's start with the liquor store isles.  Pretty much every major beer maker is offering at least one NA beer option now.  There are even some small breweries and craft beer makers that have NA beers in their rotation.

Photo by WJON.com's Jim Maurice
Photo by WJON.com's Jim Maurice
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The ones I enjoyed the most include Samuel Adams Just the Haze NA, Blue Moon Belgian White NA, Sierra Nevada Golden NA, and Summit Nialas Irish Dark.  They all gave me the illusion of drinking a craft beer.  Not the same full flavor I am used to, but all very reasonable options.

Athletic Brewing, which exclusively brews NA beer, has grown to become the 14th largest craft brewer in the U.S.

While those are all great options for NA beer at home, I found that most bars are restaurants are still sticking to the longtime usuals like Busch NA, O'Douls, and Coors Edge.

A recent poll commissioned by the Beer Institute found that of those participating in Dry January, 58 percent felt that the new options like low and no-alcohol beer helped them moderate their consumption.  Also, 55 percent say that the quality of non-alcoholic beer has improved over the past few years.

Beer makes up 86 percent of all non-alcoholic beverage dollar share in the United States.  The non-alcoholic drink market now exceeds half a billion dollars a year, up 31 percent in the past year.

As I mentioned earlier, I am starting to get into the craft cocktail craze as well.  I learned during my Dry January that there are whole lines of NA craft spirits on the market as well.

Photo by WJON.com's Jim Maurice
Photo by WJON.com's Jim Maurice
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I did buy an NA bouron to try at home.  Admittedly, my experience with this product was not a good one.  I tried several concoctions and just couldn't get the taste right on this one.

The price point for a bottle of NA spirits is also much higher, which may be a barrier for some people.

Photo by WJON.com's Jim Maurice
Photo by WJON.com's Jim Maurice
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However, several bars and restaurants around the St. Cloud area published, promoted, and offered a full line of craft mocktails throughout the month.  The professional mixologists did a much better job with this than I did at home.

I assume these craft mocktails are available at most of these locations year-round, and not just during Dry January, so you'll have to continue to look for them or ask your server for their craft mocktail menu if it's not offered.

Photo by WJON.com's JIm Maurice
Photo by WJON.com's JIm Maurice
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I also found that places like the Martinie Lounge regularly carries NA whiskey and gin in stock and can make whatever cocktail I want with these spirits as a base.

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The bottom line is I treated the whole Dry January experience as an experiment and a challenge.  I sought out a variety of NA beers and NA cocktails, and made notes on my phone which ones I liked and which I did not.

Moving forward as we turn the calendar to February I know that I will return to alcohol-based beverages again.  However, now with this expanded knowledge of what NA options are also out there, I plan to incorporate those choices at times as well.  Cheers to a Damp February.

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