How Booze Edged Its Way into Holistic Living

Wellness extremists and hardcore boozers don’t always keep the same hours or frequent the same haunts. But as the craft cocktail and healthy living movements become ever more mainstream, their target audiences have begun to merge. Echo Thomas explores how the two mix.

On a recent walk home from Whole Foods, I looked down at my bulging shopping bags and wondered what was so unbearably heavy. I was carrying two reusable totes, one from Pangaea Juice on my left and the other, from Cocktail Kingdom, on my right. I laughed to myself. Could it be the paradox that was weighing me down? The contradiction represented by these tokens of past purchases was almost cartoonish. I was the classic character in a moral dilemma—an angel on one shoulder, the devil on the other.

Yet, today, these lifestyles—one of glorified boozing, the other of wellness by way of juicing—are not incompatible, and their increased intersection speaks to the normalizing of both within our culture.

Fresh pressed juice and craft cocktails rose to prominence over the past decade in almost parallel trajectories, each starting as relatively obscure branches of food and drink culture and arriving at mainstream ubiquity. Ten years ago, the two worlds barely overlapped—health food extremists and hardcore boozers don’t always keep the same hours or frequent the same haunts—but today both incorporate elements of the other as they target the same consumers.

First, consider alcohol’s crashing of the juice party. While still a minor component in the overall landscape of wellness-focused lifestyles, alcohol certainly figures into the practices of raw foodists, vegans and paleo disciples. At Pure Food & Wine in New York, guests wash down their raw vegan entrees with cocktails featuring superfoods and house-pressed juice, such as the Himalayan Paradise, a mix of goji-infused sake, ginger and lemon. The Chalkboard Magazine, an online journal and spin-off of L.A.’s Pressed Juicery, regularly features cocktail recipes using their juices. JUICE, a San Diego juice store which features a Bad Decisions hangover package, was opened this year by bartender Lindsay Nader and bar owners CH Projects. And health guru and integrative medicine champion Dr. Andrew Weil’s True Food Kitchen—a chain that exemplifies approachability in healthful dining—features alcoholic beverages, such as the Farmers Market Sangria, that appear to blend seamlessly with a wholesome night out. His cookbooks, including True Food, advocate for plant-based diets, but also include recipes for antioxidant-rich Pomegranate Martinis.

Knowing that alcohol is not some miracle food, health communities seem to accept that it’s part of attaining mass appeal. And rather than ask consumers to give up drinking, they’ve woven in alcohol. Brands such as BluePrintCleanse only asks for a detox to be added to a lifestyle they assume includes overindulgence, hence their motto: “Work hard. Play hard. Cleanse. Repeat.” Sustainability and balance are tenants of any holistic lifestyle, and the inclusion of minimally manipulated alcoholic drinks, whether it’s biodynamic wine or cocktails made with natural sweeteners, work with those values when carefully selected.

For example, the health-conscious restaurant, Rouge Tomate—which is currently in the process of relocating its New York City location further downtown—bases its cocktail program on green market ingredients and pairs them with certain dishes based on their ability enhance nutritional properties in both. Pascaline Lepeltier, the restaurant’s beverage director, goes one step further with her wine list, which focuses on organic, biodynamic and natural wine.

Five years ago, when Rouge Tomate integrated fresh cranberry juice into their cocktails, customers were shocked by the flavor of the real ingredient. But today, guests don’t automatically expect Ocean Spray in their drinks, a new normal that can be credited to both the craft cocktail movement and the juicing craze in equal measure.

Matthew Biancaniello, a Los Angeles-based bartender devoted to making sustainable and artisanal cocktails draws from both to further bridge the gap between good and evil, so to speak. Coming from a health-focused background, he views drinks—like his famous Arugula Gimlet—as both food, and a modern extension of alcohol’s medicinal past. He is convinced that the power of the natural foods he integrates counteracts drinking’s negative effects, reducing cravings for midnight drunk food and hydrating drinkers in a different way.

While it’s easy to see the influence of a holistic approach to drinking and eating in Biacaniello’s approach, the way juice culture has infiltrated bar culture is generally a bit more complicated to dissect. Most bartenders involved in the advancement of cocktails over the last ten years didn’t set out to make their drinks more beneficial to their guests’ health. Yet the visibility of what the health communities have bestowed, whether it be the integration of ingredients like chia seeds—which show up at New York’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar in the Chia Fresca, a combination of mezcal, Aperol, pineapple, lime and chia seeds—or algae, which has showed up in drinks at LA’s Pour Vous. True, the health-factor is often just an added benefit in the eyes of drink makers, but regardless of whether their motives diverge, there is still a common philosophical base that the avant-garde incarnations of both worlds share.

Our not-so-distant ancestors were necessarily connected to their food sources, but when post-war industrialization created a suspicious separation from the source, the current generation became determined to reestablish a sense of provenance. The history behind a bourbon allows a cocktail to play with the imagination, just like knowing the restorative properties of cold-pressed algae juice enhances one’s sense of being healed. And as consumers of all shades seek salvation and inspiration in their next drink, the difference between choosing a cold-pressed green juice or a cocktail made with artistry doesn’t seem so large.