scorecardUnited is jumping on the non-alcoholic cocktail craze and offering boozeless spirits in its exclusive clubs for top-flyers
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United is jumping on the non-alcoholic cocktail craze and offering boozeless spirits in its exclusive clubs for top-flyers

Allana Akhtar   

United is jumping on the non-alcoholic cocktail craze and offering boozeless spirits in its exclusive clubs for top-flyers
LifeThelife3 min read
  • United is offering non-alcoholic spirits to lounge members during Dry January.
  • I visited a United Club location and tried the Clean Co. boozeless beverages.

United Airlines is getting in on the sober curious movement.

For Dry January, United is offering samplings of Clean Co., a UK-based, non-alcoholic spirits manufacturer. The free Clean Co. drinks are available at United Clubs in Newark, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other United hubs.

Beverage analysts predict non-alcoholic drinks will continue to explode in sales as fewer young people imbibe. Non-alcoholic beverage sales increased 33% to $331 million between 2020 and 2021, according to data from Nielsen.

The rise in non-alcoholic drinks is part of an overall growth in the wellness market, which refers to products that help consumers lead healthier lives. Millennials and Gen Z are already big on Dry January, or when drinkers take a break from alcohol during the first month of the year.

I visited a United Club at the Newark airport to try out the non-alcoholic drinks. Here's what it was like.

Out of the three "spirits" I tried, one was a clear winner

After getting through security at Newark Liberty International Airport, I walked a short distance to the United Club. The lounges provide free food, drinks, and WiFi to frequent United flyers that pay for a subscription.

Clean Co.'s table was situated just to the side of the United Club's large bar and offered three "spirits" to members: non-alcoholic rum, gin, and tequila.

I noticed some United Club members stopping by the Clean Co. table on the way to the bar, including one man who thought the drinks were alcoholic, and seemed delighted by how good the non-alcoholic samples tasted.

Another woman overheard my conversation with Eric Kaplan, a Clean Co. representative at the United Club location, and stopped by the table when she realized the drinks were not alcoholic.

I tried the "rum" first because Kaplan said it was his favorite spirit.

I was impressed at the dark brown color of the drink, which matched the color I've seen in real rum bottles. As sobriety influencers have told me in the past, having non-alcoholic drinks that closely resemble the real things help with socializing in bars and clubs.

The "rum" boozeless spirit tasted like a light, herbal iced tea. I tasted holiday spices that reminded me a bit like a star anise tea. Although I was a little worried the half a glass would be too strong for me to finish, I drank most of it and would be happy to get it again in a larger cup.

Next, I tried the "gin" with a lime wedge. Although the gin smelled a little alcoholic, the taste was unlike anything I've ever had. The drink had the taste of a mildly flavored water, but without the chemical and unnatural flavor you get from flat LaCroix. I really enjoy infused waters and drank the entire "gin" serving.

Lastly I tried the "tequila," which Kaplan mixed with a little bit of tonic water. The "tequila" had by far the strongest flavor profile, similar to a sour, lime-infused water. The taste wasn't unpleasant, but it would be better mixed with soda or fruit juice.

Overall I genuinely enjoyed all three spirits, but would pick the gin over the other two options.

I appreciated United's Dry January initiative in light of last year's rise of violence against flight attendants

It was refreshing to see that the Clean Co. stand created a welcoming environment for both drinkers and non-drinkers, particularly after last year's rise in violence towards airline workers.

The Federal Aviation Administration received a record 5,981 reports of unruly airline passengers. Flight attendants said they had been kicked, assaulted, verbally attacked, and spit on as a result of the rise in unruly passengers.

Flight attendants earlier told Insider passenger aggression had a higher likelihood of escalating if the person had been drinking. Airlines like Southwest, United, and American, extended a ban or partial ban on alcohol service last year on some flights as a result of the violence.

"The incidents of violence on planes is out of control and alcohol is often a contributor," a spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants union told Insider in June. "The federal government should provide guidance to airlines and airports on pausing alcohol sales for a period of time."

United will offer Club members Clean Co. beverages for the rest of January, and might bring them back if they receive requests to do so on customer feedback forms.