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Mocktails ahoy! Tournée Minérale starts next week

12:50 28/01/2021
Lock your liquor cabinet and hide the wine, Belgium’s dry month is at the door

It might at first seem unfair: You take away our friends, our cinemas, our haircuts … and now our beer?

But Tournée Minérale is not meant to punish us or to deprive us, assures Tom Evenepoel of De Druglijn. Belgium’s alcohol-free month is meant to point out to us just how omnipresent drink is in our lives.

“Day-in and day-out, we are confronted with alcohol,” says Evenepoel, co-ordinator of the Dutch-speaking addiction helpline. “It’s on TV, posters in the street, in the newspaper, on social media, in your cupboard. It’s everywhere you go and no matter what you do.”

This was the main reason that De Druglijn launched Tournée Minérale – a February dedicated to abstaining from alcohol – five years ago. “If you need discipline to keep up a whole month without alcohol,” says Evenepoel, “it’s only then that you notice how it sort of sneaks into your life.”

The national initiative – organised on the French-speaking side by Univers Santé – kicks off on Monday and encourages us to consider how much alcohol we drink, and to try alternatives. Mocktails, points out Evenepoel, are all the rage.

In fact, restaurants and bars (back when they were open) soon cottoned on to the fact that they could earn as much profit with special mocktail menus as they did with regular cocktails. All the concerns of the first edition of Tournée Minérale – that they would lose scads of money every February – disappeared.

The shortest month

De Druglijn was inspired by other such initiatives around the world when it launched Tournée Minérale – a title inspired by the phrase Tournée Générale, which means buying a round. The most popular concept is Dry January, followed by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, including in the UK, France and the US. The Netherlands also has a January edition, called IkPas (I’ll Pass).

So why did De Druglijn and other Tournée Minérale sponsors choose February? “Well, we are Belgians,” Evenepoel starts. He pauses and laughs. “February is the shortest month of the year!”

And while other countries have the idea that it’s time to sober up after the holidays, Belgians might like a little buffer period, they concluded. “We thought, toasting in the New Year and then dropping every alcoholic drink for the rest of the month? We went with the safer option of February.”

Whether it was the timing or not, more people responded than organisers ever thought would. “We hesitated to launch this because this is a country of brewers, and we like our beer,” says Evenepoel. “So we were actually perplexed by the enthusiastic response from both the media and the public. The debates that took place, and even more so the number of participants. We were secretly hoping to get 10,000 to 20,000 people to register on the website, and we ended up with more than 120,000.”

Alcohol-free beersBrewers have jumped on the alcohol-free bandwagon

During the second and third editions, when bars and restaurants got more involved, the event took on a life of its own. It was suddenly hip to order alcohol-free beer or a mojito sans rum.

While people taking part in Tournée Minérale are no longer asked to register on the website, recent market research shows that more than 90% of Belgians are at least familiar with the initiative. And some people become teetotallers during other months of the year, either in addition to February or instead of it. One in five Belgians take part in one way or another.

Organisations that work on drug and alcohol-related issues are noticing a general trend, in fact. “Tournée Minérale and similar campaigns around the world are successful because it’s the right time,” explains Evenepoel. “It’s not Tournée Minérale that is changing people’s attitudes about alcohol, it’s the other way around. Attitudes were already changing.”

This is particularly noticeable, he says, between the generations. “When you look at a high consumption of alcohol on a weekly basis, it’s the boomers who are drinking the most. Young people tend to binge more, but when you look at people who are regularly drinking more than 10 units a week, it’s mostly people in their 50s and 60s. Those generations grew up in the 1970s when nobody cared how much you drank. Nobody cared about drink-driving. And they are growing old with this attitude. But if you ask young people if it is OK to drive drunk, they say that it’s an absolute no-go.”

He also points to a decline in beer sales in Belgium over the last decade and the increase in alcohol-free products. “That’s really a sign. Companies wouldn’t launch those if they didn’t think they were profitable. So the alcohol industry is actually taking part in this shift.”

Home version

This year – like with so many other events – we’ll be taking part in Tournée Minérale at home. That’s no bad thing, notes Evenepoel. “At home we have patterns, routines that we aren’t always aware of.” That includes wine or beer with dinner – a nightly habit for some, especially now that many of us don’t have to report to an office the next day.

Aside from that, the World Health Organization recommends not drinking alcohol if you are fighting a Covid infection. And less alcohol consumption can have a radical effect on our skin as well as how well we sleep.

“People are tending to take better care of their health anyway,” notes Evenepoel. “We go walking, we go cycling, we are spending more time in the kitchen than ever before. So why not experiment with mocktails? Make it fun rather than thinking, we are locked up at home, and now we have to survive on water.”

Family enjoying orange juice with meal

The health aspect is, after all, at the very heart of dry month initiatives. “Alcohol isn’t just an everyday product, like it is made out to be,” asserts Evenepoel. “It’s basically unhealthy.”

Really? Haven’t we always heard that alcohol has health benefits? “That’s something that the alcohol industry has been promoting for many years,” he responds. “But the idea that a glass of wine is good for your heart is an outdated concept. Those same substances that are good for your heart are also in different types of fruits and vegetables, and in higher concentrations. So there’s always a more healthy alternative. If you look at it purely scientifically, there is no benefit to be had from alcohol.”

Rather than being depressed by that little titbit of information, let it buoy you into a February full of new flavours. Evenepoel: “It’s about being creative, being positive. Let’s replace one joy with another joy – which might be a bit healthier.”

Tournée Minérale takes place from 1-28 February. The website offers recipes for alcohol-free drinks

Photo top courtesy Tournée Minérale, photo above ©VioletaStoimenova/Getty Images

Written by Lisa Bradshaw


Frank Lee

I haven't had a glass in months now, not out of a conscious decision, but simply because I associate it with going out with friends. I'm not drinking at home by myself...
Now, Tom Evenepoel saying that alcohol is "basically unhealthy” is pushing it a little too far. Production of beer and wine, along with the development of agriculture, was a key factor in the birth of civilizations. One of the oldest examples of writing at the British Museum is a cuneiform tablet that represents a merchant's inventory of his beer supply. Alcoholic beverages were a major safety factor for humans, as they provided drinks that were guaranteed to be free of germs.
While alcohol excess is indeed dangerous, used in moderation, it isn't more dangerous than other drinks. Soft drinks with sugar or aspartame are certainly not a better alternative.

Jan 28, 2021 15:39