“Drink Differently, Live Fully”: Celebrating the Vail Valley’s “Sober Curious” Momentum

“First chair, last call.”

A comedic mantra intended to illustrate the pure freedom and constant fun surrounding life in the mountains. And, yet this phrase also reveals a more sinister side to mountain living and the harmful normalization of substance abuse. With a heightened party culture tied to many ski towns, including Vail and the Valley as a whole, comes a drinking scene rich in binging habits, superficial connections and unhealthy experiences surrounding nights out. Further, in an area where the snow and spirits help to uphold Vail’s economy, alcohol and substance abuse issues may be overlooked or cast aside as part of the “ski bum” experience (and not just in the winter months). Fortunately, progress towards a more inclusive drinking lifestyle is in the works known as “sober curious.” This relatively recent movement encourages people to evaluate their relationship with alcohol and practice more mindful drinking — a mindset where alcohol and drinking do not need to be synonymous.

“There is a definitely a strong ‘sober curious’ community forming in this valley and I love to see it,” mentions Sam Biszantz, co-owner of Root & Flower in Vail. At Root & Flower, a variety of zero-proof drinks are available, including Biszantz’s favorite, the Sueño con Sandia. Consisting of watermelon cordial, soda water, lime juice, and mint, the mocktail provides a refreshing twist for summer drinking. “It’s the most delicious thing [you’ll have] all summer!” Biszantz shares. With many of their cocktails having a non-alcoholic option, Root & Flower treats both mocktails and cocktails equally. “I hope [this] makes our [non-alcoholic] guests feel like they are getting the same experience as anyone else.”

free spirits

Photos by Brent and Barb Bingham.

Another space cultivating sober drinking experiences for the valley is Free Spirit, a non-alcoholic spirits and dry goods boutique in Edwards. Kathy and Kate Manley, a mother-daughter duo, opened the non-alcoholic bottle shop to provide Eagle County locals and visitors alike with a place to connect, have fun and enjoy unique, alcohol-free drinks. “I had a passion for creating a community-focused space,” shares Kate Manley. “The purpose of the boutique is to offer people an alternative but an equally creative, fun and thoughtful drinking experience for their day-to-day life and occasions, just without the alcohol.” She says the space can act as an area of safety and inclusivity for people to celebrate life, uplift one another and share their stories.

Manley decided to leave alcohol behind her in her late teens. “Toward the end of my freshman year of college, I started thinking about who I wanted to be, the lifestyle I wanted to have, how I wanted to feel on a daily basis, and it became very clear alcohol was not a part of that vision,” Manley explains. “I’ve been alcohol-free ever since. Before I could even legally be drinking.”

free spiritThis change proved to be the right move for Manley, who has felt great benefits to her happiness and health since. “People are always shocked that I could be going out having fun without drinking,” she mentions. This understanding of alcohol as a necessity to have fun on a night out is all too common and further exemplifies the unrealistic expectation people place onto alcohol. The “sober curious” movement hopes to shift these ideas to focus on supporting honest, authentic connections regardless of what one is, or isn’t, drinking.

While Manley’s transition to an alcohol-free lifestyle progressed relatively smoothly, not all follow the same path as her.

Rob Shearon, founder of the Reconnected Foundation, faced his own struggles with substances, addiction disorders and mental health challenges. “I struggled with [my] mental health starting in middle school and began using substances when I was 16 years old,” Shearon explains. His college years were overshadowed by both his mental and physical health concerns. “I found recovery in 2013 during my last year of college through a campus resource called the Collegiate Recovery Center at CU Boulder. I was a founding member of that program.” Following his graduation from CU, Shearon continued his work with the Collegiate Recovery program to provide students with support and guidance through these difficult journeys.

Currently, Shearon’s work revolves around Reconnected, a start-up nonprofit organization invested in helping people in recovery, defined as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives and strive to reach their full potential. Understandably, this pathway appears differently for each individual as healing can be so uniquely specific. “Recovery is not synonymous with sobriety; however, abstinence from drugs and alcohol is a pathway to recovery that some individuals chose,” explains Shearon. “We’re led to believe recovery should look a certain way for everybody and that’s just not true, it’s not possible.”

Within the Vail Valley, Reconnected offers a collection of community-building events, including groups runs and yoga classes, alternative happy hours and more. Similarly, Free Spirit hopes to continue expanding to more individuals, event spaces and connective gatherings with fun recipes, high-end non-alcoholic spirits and unique shoppable items in store.

“The path to a healthy, sustainable lifestyle is not linear or one size fits all,” explains Manley. “Our motto is drink differently, live fully. We want to meet people where they’re at, whether [they’re] completely sober or just trying to find a way to consume less alcohol for a variety of reasons, we’re here to provide that solution.”

After all, everyone’s drink can and should look differently, perfectly tailored for oneself to express their most genuine, authentic selves.

For a sneak peak of recipe ideas from Free Spirit, check out the Zen Hotty Toddy — the ideal nightcap any time of year, but especially as we move toward the fall and winter seasons.

Zen Hot Toddy

The Nightcap functional spirit from the brand Three Spirit contains naturally relaxing lemon balm, valerian and hops to soothe the mind, adaptogenic Ashwagandha to combat stress and white willow bark to comfort.



2 OZ Nightcap

0.25 OZ Maple syrup

5 OZ Boiling water

Big lemon wheel studded with 8 cloves

Star anise

Optional dash of whiskey for a low ABV drink


Stud a whole lemon with lots and lots of cloves before cutting into slices. To stud, pierce holes into the lemon zest with a fork then push cloves in.

Warm your cup with hot water first. Once warm, empty out the water.

Pour the Three Spirit Nightcap followed by the remaining ingredients. Stir briefly to combine and add a dash of whiskey for those that want.

Serve piping hot.