food / travel

Bottoms Up: Alcohol-Free Liquor Has A Good Shot At Success

A generation after alcohol-free beer surprised the beverage market, it may be time to go one step stronger.

What do you drink when you don’t feel like drinking?
What do you drink when you don’t feel like drinking?
Marie-Josée Cougard

PARIS — Pernod Ricard, the France-based global liquor giant, is launching "Ceder's." It is not, however, a new brand of booze, but alcohol-free gin. It will now be distributed in ten countries after initial testing on the UK market.

Another world leader in wines and spirits, Diageo paved the way for non-alcoholic liquors before the French group, as industry experts are unanimous that this is a new beverage trend with major potential.

We already know about the growth of alcohol-free beer. Now the market looks to be ready for alcohol-free liquors. When the two world leaders of alcohols and spirits get into this huge business, estimated around 878 billion euros, one can safely talk about a new market. Even tonic producers, like the utmost secular British company Franklin & Sons, adapted their products to this new generation of beverages.

Alcohol-free liquor has established itself in nightlife searching for original experiences. Experts all bet on an exponential growth. The movement started in the United States —"as always' commented Pernod Ricard. "It's the biggest market in wines and spirits. Trends always start there." The UK, known for its drinking excesses, followed. Now it's ready to spread worldwide.

After being very successful in the UK among wine sellers and bars, Pernod Ricard started to sell its Ceder's, an alcohol-free gin, in ten other countries including France. A few weeks earlier, they started to sell Celtic Soul, an alcohol-free whisky, on the British market. And in Australia, the French group tested Flight, a low-alcohol wine (2°) from its subsidiary Jacob's Creek.

As for Diageo, they took control last August of Seedlip, the first alcohol-free liquor to appear on the market, for an undisclosed amount. Seedlip is a gin invented back in 2015 by Ben Branson who aimed to answer the question, "What do you drink when you don't feel like drinking?"

The British heavyweight quickly took an interest in this newcomer by acquiring a minor participation in the company's capital as early as 2016. For Diaego, which has been in the alcohol business for more than 250 years, this choice speaks volumes. The alcohol-free beer market continues to expand, to the point where AB InBev, the world's leading brewer, projected to make 20% of its revenue from it by 2025, compared to 8% in 2019.

It may be a blessing in disguise for the industry.

Are we witnessing a fundamental change of direction? "Of course not," say industry heavyweights, unprepared as they are to face a different market. Yet the facts speak for themselves: Alcohol consumption is diminishing in many countries. The moderation tendency is indisputable, and the phenomenon involves every age group. In Russia, alcohol consumption dropped from 17 liters to 14 liters per year over the past decade, according to the World Health Organization. In France, it has dropped 30% over the past 20 years, to below 12 liters a year per person. In the UK, it fell 18% between 2014 and 2018. An estimated 25% of 16-24 years old do not drink alcohol.

It can be seen as a blessing in disguise for the industry, as alcohol-free is not under the weight of alcohol taxes — which vary between 60% and 80% depending on the country. Diageo's Seedlip sells for $52 per liter. The cocktail is $1. In 2015, they sold 1,000 flasks at Selfridges in London; three years later, the British leader was selling 30,000 bottles of its alcohol-free gin in 25 countries.

Alongside this "zero" trend, low-alcohol spirits are beginning to spread as well. In 2018, the group created two "ultra-low" gin & tonic (0.5°) under the brand Gordon. And Diageo just launched a sugar-free Smirnoff vodka with real fruits essences (23° and 87 calories). "Ideal for long summer nights," says the company.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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