“Oak Reserve Tea” and the Lack of Non-Alcoholic Alternatives to Beer, Wine & Liquor

Can I drink what’s in this?

Today in Slate  L.V. Anderson writes on the introduction of a new product from Arizona Beverages, “Oak Reserve Tea” brewed with oak chips. While I can have a good laugh along with Anderson at the marketing and presentation of the product and the faux wood-grain of the plastic bottle and the “Reserve” labeling, Arizona may actually be heading in a new and promising direction for many people with this product.

As a thirty year old alcoholic who also struggles with depression and anxiety one of the things that I find myself missing since I quit drinking in March is the feeling that I’m not at the kids table when I go out to dinner. A few weeks ago I was out at a restaurant with family, and as I sipped my club soda and lime they were pairing their steaks with reds, the fish with whites, etc. My older brother, on the same night, brought a bottle of wine to the cocktail hour. While I have no doubt his intentions were innocent, the effect of saying “Oh, try this, we really enjoy it…” to my parents and other siblings is exclusionary. Alcoholic beverages are a central part of many social and dining experiences. I wouldn’t trade my sobriety for a craft beer pairing menu at a restaurant, but where are the options available to those of us who, whether through choice or treatment, abstain?

There’s a paltry offering of alternatives readily available. I’ve already offered club soda and lime as an option, but while perhaps effervescent, the underlying notes and subtleties of club soda leave much to be desired (don’t even get me started on discovering the nose- the carbonation prevents such examination without irritating the proboscis). What about the sugary sweetness of soda? Certainly many restaurants offer tea (sweetened or unsweetened) and coffee, but unless it is a specialty restaurant, I’m limited in my choice to a cup of instant from an industrial grade coffee maker or a bag of Lipton and some warm water from the sink.

While Arizona, based on their other product offerings, may not be the best source for expanding the market for non-alcoholic beverages that one might choose to pair with a rib-eye or swordfish, at least is introducing something to the market. Maybe the answer isn’t oaked tea (I haven’t tried this particular offering yet). But perhaps someday I can go into a restaurant and peruse their non-alcoholic beverage offerings as a connoisseur and offer recommendations to my dining companions without feeling as though I’m at the kids table when my drink comes served with a bendy straw.

While the presentation Arizona is offering may be silly, the idea behind it is, for me anyway, somewhat promising.

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