Dry January or not, non-alcoholic drinks options are officially here to stay. While there are many bottles to choose from now, one of the most popular (and delicious) NA apéritifs out there is Ghia, a fresh and bracingly bitter drink that’s great on its own or as a mixer.
Mélanie Masarin, the founder and CEO of the company, is a native of France. She created Ghia as a sophisticated way to opt out of the influence while coming together with friends. “I like gathering and I like celebrating and all these things. What I don't like is believing alcohol is the life of the party,” she explains. But when the company launched in 2020, right at the start of the pandemic, they had to quickly pivot away from the socialization aspect of their brand. Instead, Ghia launched on the premise of drinking to get away. While the market has traditionally focused on alcohol to fill this role, Ghia stepped in as an alternative. Mélanie’s love of Campari and childhood summers near the Mediterranean inspired this unique drink that's intended to take you away, without the stigma and negative after-effects.
I chatted with Mélanie about her journey to an alcohol-free lifestyle and why so many mocktail options are terrible.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
How is Ghia different from other non-alcoholic options, like mocktails or juices and sodas?
I think mocktails can be a bit of an oversight on restaurant menus. They are often juice based, and as a result you don’t get a lot of complexity. There’s usually a lot of sugar, or they’re fruity which directly competes with whatever you’re eating. A mocktail doesn't always complement the food.
Think of ordering a white wine for instance. Do you want something dry, maybe something that is minerally, or something that really travels through your palate as you drink it? That’s what I really wanted to create—something that would have more than a one note taste. Something that perhaps is different on the third sip than the first one. Something that would really feel like a grown-up drink.
You grew up in France and moved to the US to go college. How was the transition into US culture, especially with the emphasis on drinking in social situations?
A few years after graduating college, I started paying a lot more attention to food systems and what I was putting into my body. And I started to realize there's such a big divide between how much we care about food and how we never question what we drink. It’s an indulgence that we've been conditioned to think we need almost daily.
France has a very celebratory drinking culture. It doesn't mean that it's all good, but it's harder to question because it’s about celebration. In the US, it’s the reverse of that—it’s drinking as a coping mechanism. It often goes unsaid that alcohol is highly addictive, it’s very much a depressant. But it’s never branded like that. If you have three glasses of wine, you will feel it the next day. I think if it was framed like that, we wouldn’t think of a glass of wine as a ritual or a routine.
I like gathering and I like celebrating and all these things. What I don't like is believing alcohol is the life of the party. I want to bring the focus to the people. So I stopped drinking, but I was always questioned about my choice. I thought: maybe if there were better non-alcoholic options out there, others would want to opt out. And that’s how Ghia came to be. I wanted another option.
What does routine look like in your life when thinking about balancing health. Is it all or nothing for you?
I don't drink alcohol because I feel like it's just easier than wondering every night if I will. And I just feel so much better without it. But if someone has an incredible glass of wine, I'll have a taste because I still want my palate to know different flavors and I love to kind of explore and try different things.
I would say to me wellness is actually just having a few routines that I really stick to. I don't have this 36 step skincare routine. I don't work out every day, but I am very consistent four times a week. 80% of my meals are homemade and very healthy. That’s sort of my approach. I have to make concessions because I work a lot and travel a lot, but I try to have a few things that I stick to. Just moving my body a few times a week, even if it’s just going on a long walk somewhere where I'm working.
It seems so obvious to not drink because you feel better when you don’t. But the idea of abstaining and being sober has this definite negative connotation to it.
Sobriety implies that you have a problem. There are now new terms like “sober curious” that hopefully are helping people have an explanation for what they’re doing without being questioned too much. It’s like a card you can sort of use. It’s why people do dry January. It's an explanation for why you are behaving in a way that's against the norm. It's an opportunity for people to explore without the social conditioning of having to drink.
Are there any things that you think are helpful to sticking to an alcohol-free lifestyle, either for a month or for the long haul?
I think it's important to have a replacement when trying to change a habit. So whether it's Ghia or like making your own shrub, just finding an alternative for the ritual of making a drink is great. Just have something on hand.
It's really about taking the step and deciding to do it. It can be for a limited period of time to try it. You can have certain rules, like not drinking during the week and only drinking on weekends. And that's one way to start feeling the effects, but I really encourage people to try not drinking for three to six months. You can really see the long term impacts on sleep and your mood. That feeling of having more time to live your life is really, really precious and it's something that I would say only happened to me after four or five months of not drinking.
"I don't drink alcohol because I feel like it's just easier than wondering every night if I will. "
How do you navigate getting back out into your social life after making a shift in your alcohol consumption? Being at home is one thing, but it’s different when you’re out.
I hear people say, “I don't want to eat out because I don't want to drink,” and it's not necessarily mandatory anymore. Even as a one year old company, Ghia is on over 100 menus in America. It just speaks to this overall trend of offering alternatives for people.
Something that I noticed as I started opting out of not drinking at dinners, someone else would say, “Oh you’re not drinking? I’m not going to either.” It’s creating this invitation for people to be in a safe space. It’s hard to be the first one to do that. It can be really hard not to feel pressure. But that’s getting a little bit easier, because we've gotten a better understanding in the past few years that health is wealth.
I’m not here to say people should never have alcohol—just to really understand the consequences, and do things with intention.