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2020 is shaping up to be a year of firsts. Although framed mainly by the inescapable eye of a pandemic, 2020 is also the year when the world populace start to take better care of their bodies both physically and mentally. I'd go as far as to reckon that historians would look back at this moment in time as the impetus to a burgeoning movement dedicated to wellness, self-care, and a diet that's mainly plant-based and alcohol-free.
It's a trend that serves non-alcoholic purveyor Lyre's well, evident by its growing presence in Singapore, counting in its midst, well-heeled establishments such as Manhattan Bar, Don Ho, and Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall. Lyre's tour of beverage inclusivity in Singapore is lead by the energetic, and highly spirited Rachel Ling who waxes lyrical about the rapidly growing sober curious movement and readily offers up her personal story of discovery and growth which lead her to become the regional Asia manager of Lyre's.
She shares her thoughts on some of the biggest misconceptions people have about non-alcoholic drinks and what this movement means for the F&B scene in Singapore.
How would you describe what you do to someone you’re meeting for the first time?
My name is Rachel Ling, and I’m the Regional Asia Manager of Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits. I look after business development and distributor relationships for Asia except China (China is a region of its own; we have a dedicated team there).
If I’m describing my personality, I recently discovered that I am an ambivert, which is both an extrovert and introvert, depending on the situation and the people I’m with. I love being around people and making sure everyone is happy, having a good time and being taken care of, but I also appreciate my own time and being on my own to do things in quiet.
I love yoga, travelling (when we could), exploring new places even locally, and eating healthy with the occasional pizza. I abstain from alcohol most days but will drink once every one or two weeks with friends and family. I’m a total workaholic and love being productive, and so I prefer being clear-headed, sober and hangover-free on most days.
As a child, what did you aspire to be when you grew up?
Call me weird, but as a young child around six, I imagined myself as a CEO running a company—even I think it’s strange looking back now. As I grew up (I’m still growing up), I turned to more creative and artistic hobbies and wanted to be a Fashion Designer.
Eventually, I got the best of both worlds and ran my own event company, where I got to run my own little business and be creative at it at the same time. I was young and felt I wasn’t growing enough being my own boss. I love learning and having mentors, so I decided to venture into the corporate world and learn from experienced colleagues and peers. I love what I do now and continue to learn and adopt new skills.
Balancing the New Normal:
What is your origin story in deciding to immerse yourself in the world of non-alcoholic spirits?
I’ve been in the alcohol realm for over ten years; I could drink my body weight as people would describe. It was intense being a former APAC Brand Ambassador to one of the world’s largest vodka companies, Stolichnaya. I would drink back-to-back five out of seven days a week, and so you can imagine the kind of toll it was taking on my health. My ‘office job’ was travelling, going to bars, meeting amazing bartenders and bar owners around the region. It was super awesome, and I had the best time of my life.
I tried very hard to balance doing that and working with a hangover, but I eventually realised I was completely neglecting my health. I started to feel unwell, my health was deteriorating, allergies began to form out of nowhere, and I was uncomfortable in my own body physically, and it was mentally draining. It was the best job in the world, but it felt empty everywhere else, and I would fall into depression once in a while.
What steps did you take to recover and regain control of your physical and mental body?
I decided to take it easy on the alcohol and focus on regaining my health. I went full-on vegan, exercised as regularly as I could and would do water fasts over the weekends as my way of cleansing. Eventually, I became more drawn to a lifestyle with much less alcohol and into health foods and drinks to enhance my wellness.
Landing a job with Lyre’s was an unexpected dream come true really. I’m very grateful because I deeply love the bar industry, but I couldn’t dive back into my previous lifestyle. This job allows me to stay in the industry and gives me the flexibility to drink or abstain alcohol and keep close to the bar community.
The immersion into non-alcoholic spirits was not immediate after being an advocate of so many fantastic alcohol brands for so long. Still, it grew on me very quickly, and I’ve fallen in love with Lyre’s and what the brand can do. We’ve got the most extensive range in the world, so I can still re-create and enjoy my favourite cocktails without or less alcohol in it. I don’t feel like I’m missing out—I can still walk into a bar like everyone else and receive the same experience without feeling like an outcast.
What is the biggest misconception teetotallers have about non-alcoholic spirit and what would you say to change their misperceptions?
That it is flavoured water or syrup.
If the alcohol buzz is what people are going for, it’s not something I can change people’s minds. Everyone has different motivations to abstain from alcohol—some for health reasons, allergies, pregnancy, training for sports, detox, cleansing, minimising intake or just taking a break for a while.
Lyre’s is unique because there are so many flavours mimicked from the alcoholic versions to choose from, that you can get creative with it. They are flavours that people can relate to, that bartenders are familiar with and can easily re-make cocktails that already exist in the world, into non-alcoholic versions. If you’re at a nice restaurant eating really good food and had the option, would you rather pair it with a sugary soft drink, or have a nicely crafted cocktail thoughtfully created by the bartender, to match your experience?
We’ve created our range with natural ingredients such as essences, extracts and distillates, that are vegan and gluten-free. On a ‘calorific’ note, we’re 75-90% fewer calories than the alcoholic versions. Many test and trials, thousands of flavour combinations, and advanced food technology have been used to create this range to achieve incredible flavours.
The practice of consciously adding non-alcoholic spirits to a menu is slowly but surely picking up in Singapore. Coincidentally, there’s also been renewed interest in vegetable-forward menus and plant-based food. Do you think these phenomena happening concurrently is merely coincidental or is there something more to this situation that we should be more aware?
In general, as we become more exposed to information, people become more aware of the environment and the cause and effects of meat intake, which has, in most parts driven the vegetable and plant-based lifestyle. The other part is being more self-aware and health-conscious and realising that we can live without meat. I’ve not taken meat for over four years now, and I’m still alive and kicking. If anything, I’m healthier, and most people would say I’m energetic. We’ve also seen many athletes going meatless and performing even better than they did before.
The rise of both plant-based and non-alcoholic spirits supports each other. The pandemic of 2020 has accelerated people’s consciousness to having a better immune system to protect their health. It’s not just a trend—it’s becoming a lifestyle.
Some people might not have gone entirely meatless, but I know many of my friends that are significantly trying to reduce their meat intake, just like drinking a lot less alcohol. That said, people still don’t want to give up on the experience of going out, socialising and enjoying a good dining experience—so the need for more plant-based foods and non-alcoholic cocktails is growing in demand to fulfil that ‘want’.
Is the adoption of non-alcoholic spirits an encouraging measure of inclusivity, or are restaurants and bars merely opportunists to meet supply with much-needed demand?
For Asia, we are still at the early stages of growing the non-alcoholic spirits category, but the Western parts have almost reached maturity. There, it’s becoming very normal to have non-alcoholic drinks while dining outside and drinking at home.
Bars that have adopted it take into account that they regularly receive guests that both drink and don’t drink, and are adopting it for their guests’ inclusivity. For example, usually non-alcoholic cocktails are presented at the back end of a menu, but Atlas Bar has a non-alcoholic cocktail on every page of their alcoholic cocktails. MO Bar has their non-alcoholic cocktails from the front of their menu to increasingly more alcoholic cocktails towards the back. It makes their non-drinking guests feel indifferent and very much included.
It’s no longer a stigma to go to a bar and not have alcohol and still enjoy the experience with ‘bespoke cocktails’ that isn’t a juice, soda or syrupy mix. The phenomenon is turning into a norm.
When you look at the state of dining (and by extension, drinking) in Singapore today, what is the one thing that gives you hope?
Within Asia, Singapore is still leading in the world of F&B trends. Witnessing the non-alcoholic spirits category grow and evolve at speed here, it’s very evident that we’re ahead of the curve. It gives me hope to observe that Singapore, even with the COVID-19 situation, has not reverted cut-off times and curfews imposed. Restaurant and bar owners and bartenders are still their creative and forward-thinking selves—they take pride in staying ahead and considering every guests’ need as much as they can.
They follow strict rules set by the government and yet still put their creative minds to work, making improvements and getting ready for when we reopen to full operational capacity again. This gives me a lot of hope—it shows that we are not afraid to venture out of our comfort zone, as our industry continues to adapt, grow and lead even during something as dire as a worldwide pandemic.
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