Spring is as hopeful, optimistic and vibrant a time as the calendar affords. The past few days put the best of what makes Spring such an incredible time of year forward, especially here in the Northeastern US.
Spring is about revival, growth, vibrancy; an emergence from what was … well, winter.
Spring is a celebration which explains why it’s greeted with festivals. In Thailand, it’s Songkran, a multi-day water festival, whose name originates in Sanskrit meaning “to move forward”. In Mexico, there’s the celebration of the Spring Equinox at the Teotihuacan Pyramid, where people wear white to soak up the energy of the sun while climbing the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.
In India there’s Holi, which at its most fundamental spirit, celebrates the arrival of Spring and all the beauty and color it brings.
We celebrate Holi by stuffing ourselves with indulgent treats and showering everyone with a wild assortment of colored powders. Think of the world’s largest pillow fight where everyone is armed with a stunning array of colored baby powders with a shared purpose: to cover as many people and as much earth with that powder as possible.
To participate or observe is to feel the best one can feel. True happiness, hope, optimism. It’s the food. It’s the color. It’s the energy. And it’s the bright smiles peeking through those powder dusted faces of all ages.
Walking away from Holi feeling hopeful for what follows is a promise. (It’s also an amazing life lesson: no matter what the world throws at you, throw color back.)
Which is why I’m choosing this moment, at the seasonal, philosophical and physical start of Spring, to share that I’m leaving my “partnership” at Boldr, and am hopeful and optimistic for what’s next.
Boldr is the Best Work I’ve Ever Been a Part of
I joined Boldr when I met the company’s founder 5 years ago at a conference. His mission and goal of building a world-class, purpose-driven outsourcing company was hard not to love. David’s story was wonderful, and love it I did.
I joined his Board immediately. And over the course of the next 5 years I worked as a coach, as an advisor, and slowly found myself unable to resist doing more and more to support the mission, to support the people, and to support the companies and organizations who chose to invest in Boldr.
As the company worked through some trying times, many of which many small or emerging businesses would understand (losing its largest client, struggling to balance cash flows, balancing employee health with client need), I was invited and I agreed to join full-time as President and Board Chair. The timing was fascinating as it coincided with the emergence of COVID-19 which we started feeling first-hand in the Philippines in late 2019, and which nearly leveled the business (the world?) in 2020.
We found our way through it together by prioritizing our team members and our clients. We proved that by doing the right thing, over and over again, you’d ultimately get to the right outcomes. When a crisis hits you don’t start from the outcomes you desire and work back – you don’t have that luxury – you start from the moment you’re in, respond like hell, and work forward.
I’m proud of what Boldr has become during my time there, especially the last two years.
The company has been celebrated and rewarded with a strong pipeline and clarity for what’s ahead. More importantly, we built the next generation of leaders for Boldr and they have the brains, the shoulders, and the hearts (compassion, empathy, love for themselves and one another) to carry Boldr forward.
To the Team who Made me Feel Like I was at my Best
The thing about teams is that you can fail as a leader all by yourself; but you can only succeed as a leader with your team. I’ve done both. This was the latter. The team I inherited, collected, built and worked with directly at Boldr (that’s every single one of the 1,050+ of you on the commercial side of the business at our peak in December) took me from Winter to Spring. You delivered Boldr and me your competence, your confidence, your capabilities, and in so many ways, your trust and friendship – and I indulged, like the greatest desserts Holi has to offer.
Anyone reading this can now understand why the hardest part for me of resigning in January was knowing that I would no longer meet with these Team Members with any consistency anymore. The last two months have both been and felt like winter.
To our team, thank you. I love you. And in such a short time, I already miss you.
The Worst Goodbye is the One That’s Never Said
My time at Boldr helped me get closer to working on the areas where I’ve received my best feedback: working with people and setting them up for their success. Sometimes that means they stay on the team, sometimes that means they pursue a new role, and sometimes that means I encourage them to say goodbye.
See, I’ve never felt hurt by the people who want to say goodbye and do.
For the past few months I struggled about my place at Boldr. As we looked at the best way forward for Boldr, I realized that there was no better time for me to say goodbye.
2021 was an exceptional growth year. Our next generation of leaders were primed and ready for what was next. The pipeline we’d built for 2022 was delivering even better than our historical growth rates would have assumed. And after the company’s incredible growth of the past few years, Boldr was embarking upon another cycle and iteration (sparked also by that B-Corp certification!)
Looking Forward and Building on What Spring Brings
I ran through my personal favorite exercise on agile self-reflection, “Happy, Proud, and Not Yet Satisfied”, and found myself with an abundance of things I want to do next (if you have 20 minutes, I encourage you to do this exercise yourself).
I’ve got a lot of things on my mind and much still to reconcile, but professionally, I’m leaning into three projects all at varying levels of success and maturity.
People have consistently turned to me when there’s something they want to synthesize and articulate. I also love hearing people’s stories and helping them find the passion, truth, and confidence to tell that story with greater power and conviction. On my birthday in 2021, I launched My Authentic Story, a unique approach to helping people and organizations unearth, frame and share their authentic stories. I have 6 clients right now and I love every moment of every one of those interactions.
If you’ve heard me talk or read something I’ve written in the past few years, you’ll know I believe that the organizations that succeed over the next decade and beyond will be those who put their full energy toward supporting, equipping and unleashing the talent and potential of their people. I have two consulting projects with incredible organizations allowing me to explore whether I enter via the People organization or as a leader and partner on the Executive side who operates as a strong ally to the People organization. My talk and my experiences at HR Transform last week still have me spinning in the best of ways.
If your organization is looking to explore bringing an employee success strategy to life in a way that transforms your culture while sparking commercial success, let’s talk.
I’ve published three kids books on social issues over the past 12 years and I’m incredibly proud of each. I’ve had a fourth in the queue for the past year and let it stagnate; I’m eager to pick that story up and bring it to life while hopefully creating ongoing momentum for the premise itself. It’s amazing what a kids book can capture and convey (global water crisis, sustainability, interdependence, bullying, childhood cancer). I’m excited to write more.
To Spring, and to the friends and family who joined us in that small Holi celebration in our yard yesterday, thank you for bringing it all back, full circle. You helped inspire this post and how I wanted to handle sharing this message.
This past weekend, this past week, felt like Spring again for me personally and professionally. I needed it. It was a perfect transition of seasons.
This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time. My drafts folder has been littered with attempts at this for a while. I always end up deleting what I start. My hope is that I won’t tonight.
The world has been through so much the past two years. More than we deserve (I believe this) but also, exactly what we deserve (I also believe this).
Like any traumatic situation (pandemic, quarantine, recessions, etc), what follows can be seen as obvious and logical or transformative and illuminating. I love the concept of “Post-Traumatic Growth”.
I know that some people find this blog when they’re trying to understand me. As a potential hire. As a potential partner. As someone in a meeting with them. Period.
But I write this blog because I know that in my family, most men are always fighting with our genetics and our history on sustainability. I write this blog as a way to make sure that my kids know me. And hopefully as they get older, whether I’m whispering in their ear directly, or if they’re pulling me into their conscience deliberately, there’s a representation of my POV. For them. As their Buhboo (read: Dad).
As we hit the apex of the holiday season, I want to share something that’s the hardest for me to share. So hard. Because I spent a lifetime doing it.
Anaiya and Jaanu, please, don’t chase love.
I don’t want you to chase it. I don’t want you to feel like you have to chase it. I don’t want you to feel like you need, or should, or have to chase it.
Please. Don’t. Chase. Love.
Instead? Do something I’ve failed at until now. Frankly, until you.
Create space for it.
Realize you’re loved. And therefore, let love in, and let love thrive. Just don’t feel like you need to find it. Pursue it.
I write this because you two made me realize that I don’t need to chase love, instead, I need to acknowledge it. I need to make space for the love that exists, to thrive.
You two make me realize the best edges of my potential.
Anaiya: The way you block out the world for what is right. The way you care. The way you troubleshoot. The way you commit. The way you consume (information, wow do you read!) The way you ignore the crowd and love what you love. The way you sense how people feel and make sure to include. You are the best extrapolation of some modest instincts I have on that front. And wow, the way you make me feel cared for, heard and loved.
Jaanu: The way you love. The way you forgive and forget. The way you keep your circle and cycle close. The way you release emotions without fear of judgement because you know, holding it in is way worse long-term than sharing and working through it together. And man, the way you make me feel meaningful, important, and loved.
I’m writing this post now because I want you to know that you two never have to chase love.
Don’t seek it. Don’t pursue it.
Just be you. Your incredible best and amazing selves
And as a subset of that, create space for love.
Let the world love you as you are because I assure you, it will. Don’t spend time chasing love, instead, spend time creating an environment around you where the love for you thrives. I’ll tell you, kids, I missed that mark badly.
As we enter 2022, I am so immensely proud of you two. Knowing that even with my social fragility, I’ve played a role in what you are today. And I hope with posts like this that we create an environment that celebrates you as archetypes for what should follow.
I love you. I’m proud of you. You’re incredible.
Don’t make my mistakes (that I’m fixing!) Don’t chase any form of love. Instead, be you; and make space for love to come to you.
In doing so, the right love will inevitably come to you.
FWIW, I’m already there. In whatever space exists. Because you deserve it.
Create space. Find space. Pursue space.
But homies. Please. Learn from my mistakes and don’t chase. Just allow. Allowing, is inevitably more powerful than … chasing.
Someone I love reached out a few weeks ago to ask me how to navigate a complex personal situation. Out of respect, I’ll anonymize and abstract the situation here; in essence, the person who reached out to me found themselves in the midst of a pattern and repeated interaction that to them, seemed to be creating stress and also had a simple solution that involved the individual they were interacting with to “let go” of doing this one thing. It seemed so simple. And if the individual let it go, the person who reached out to me was convinced that everyone’s life would be easier and nothing negative would come of it.
For the first time, I shared a deeply personal approach to these situations with someone else: stop thinking of this situation as a problem you can solve, and start acknowledging this as a condition you will have to live with and find a way forward with.
This may be controversial; but I believe strongly that treating some challenges as conditions is a tactic you can use to put concepts like “choose your battles” into practice. Everyone knows they have to choose their battles; but nobody tells you what to do with the battles you choose…not to choose. And without a deliberate plan for those unchosen battles, they end up lingering, they end up resurfacing, and you end up having to revisit them as decisions as a result of them remaining unsettled as well as unchosen.
What do I mean when I say “condition”?
First, let’s define “condition”. Personally, I’m not the healthiest. I’ve had 10 surgeries in my life: a corneal transplant in my right eye, both ACLs, one meniscus, a compound rotator cuff and posterior bankart repair, wrist, jaw, abdominal hernia, and two topographic laser corrections to my left eye. I also have at least 4 more procedures ready to go when I’m ready, not to mention a near certain tear of my left shoulder (which I won’t repair), and up to 60% hearing loss in both ears (which has affected my ability to and desire to socialize).
Those are conditions. I don’t wake up every day complaining about my eyesight and my degenerative eye condition because there’s nothing I can do about it. I find a way forward. I am not going to have shoulder surgery on my left shoulder (the juice is not worth the squeeze at my age) so instead, I switched my tennis backhand from a two hander to a one hander. I can do very little about my hearing loss so I’m now enjoying more time with my thoughts and with experiences where sound is less important (I read more than watch or listen, for example).
Let’s be clear: we all have conditions we live with. When they are things that happen to us, our bodies, our minds, our experiences, we find ways to accommodate them. However, when they are imposed upon us, or brought into our lives, by external parties (family, friends, co-workers) we don’t allow them, or ourselves, the same grace and space, to treat them as conditions. We struggle, we engage, we battle, we debate, we try and fix … but I for one (I’ll stop saying we, as that’s not fair) can do a better job thinking about the challenges people bring to me not as disruptions but as conditions.
In doing so, the path forward is less about finding an answer, and more about simply finding a way. Sometimes, finding a way is the only way.
Taking this approach also fits what I hope and what I see as my world view more and more. It makes me realize I am more a part of the system than an individual of matter. It places pressure on me to be empathetic to an extreme.
Because there’s more to this approach than just us. When we look for solutions we do see a path froward. But in seeing the path forward, we don’t always see the other person. For who they are. For their context.
It’s always easy to solve someone else’s problem.
I’ve spent the past year, and very aggressively, the past 6 months, focused on becoming a holistically healthier human being. The amount of pressure I allowed myself to feel was unhealthy. And the number of excuses I made for myself to remain unhealthy, to make unhealthy choices, was exceptionally problematic.
One of the biggest changes I’ve started making for myself is to pull back from finding solutions unless I’m asked, or unless it’s an absolutely critical part of moving forward. This is important at work. This is also important at home, most importantly with my kids, where I’m not yet ready to treat their quirks as conditions…c’mon folks, they’re only 7 and 5. They’re human experiments, testing boundaries; they don’t have hard coded conditions yet. So it is important in that context that I work through their thinking with them. But outside of my kids, in most cases, thinking in terms of conditions is a healthy mindset.
Thinking in terms of conditions also allows me to remove steam from the pressure cooker. If I know I have a plan for dealing with a battle not chosen, then I’m more likely to pick and choose fewer battles.
I had an intense work conversation recently; and I realized that not only was I not being heard, I was very unlikely to be heard. I hadn’t and haven’t been heard. But it very truly isn’t my fault or my problem to fix. It’s a pattern I can’t change. Instead of allowing myself to be continually frustrated by it, I decided to take my own advice.
And treat certain dynamics as conditions. Since that very poignant moment and realization, I find myself liberated, positive, and energized again at work.
I’ve always said that “why” is an important question, but for all intents and purposes, “how” is the most powerful one. Embracing the mindset at critical moments requires that you shift away from “why” (which in many cases, can be asking a question the answer to which changes nothing, which are questions I often choose to ignore) and lean into “how”.
And for that step, for Kenny Rogers playing in the background while I figure out what condition my condition is in, #iamgrateful and #iamthankful. Here’s to being healthier with every day.
This is a hard one to write. But I’m writing it. Because if I don’t, I will miss the opportunity to bring the accountability I’ve brought to the rest of my life to the most important people in my life: my kids.
This post isn’t for anyone else; this post is for me to read and reference over the course of the next 12 months as I hold myself accountable to continuing to grow, improve, evolve, get better, as a Father.
Today was an exceptionally tough Father’s Day. The range of emotions I continue to work through, balancing the day-to-day effort I make and the perception of that effort is … dissonant. I haven’t found a way to reconcile the reality of it all but I know it won’t be for a lack of effort or self-awareness.
In a sense, it parallels the experiences I find myself in across my personal and professional interactions. Which in some senses, makes it easier to therefore find healthy ways forward. 2021 in many ways, has been my healthiest year on this planet. Not my easiest; but in many ways, my healthiest (honestly, I think with each year, you gain more perspective, more responsibility, increased expectations, and as a result, in some senses, with each year, it all gets heavier to carry; the question is whether that weight is harder, which is a separate discussion for a separate day).
Juxtaposed with that weight associated with growth, is this increasing sense of responsibility.
See, Anaiya and Jaanu, you grow and transform at such an extraordinary pace on a daily basis. It’s impossible to keep up with your progress. And what I think really resonated with me over the past year was the fact that to keep up with you, my growth as a Father needs to keep up with your growth and evolution as a human being.
It’s 10:51 pm and I entered today fully expecting to take another step forward as a Father. One way I planned to do that was to ask my children to tell me what it was they wanted me to do better in this upcoming year.
It’s always hard to hear; what you can do better. But this evening, before the kids went to bed, it wasn’t harder, it was simply a bit more clarifying.
When you ask a question, expect to hear the truth back. Otherwise, don’t ask the question.
For Anaiya, her ask was that I find more time to put her to bed during the week. There are so many reasons this has become a near impossibility, but when I look at them, in reality, they’re more excuses than reasons. I’m excited to look back on this past year in 2022 and see if Anaiya remembers what she asked me, and, see if she acknowledges any progess I’ve made. I’m excited for it.
For Jaanu, perhaps the most heartbreaking, was that he asked me to be more patient with him when he’s not listening. What’s hard is that since the last time I truly raised my voice at him, in January, I’ve made an active effort to be patient with him and talk him through calming him down. It tells you how fragile our children are; because for all that effort I think I’m making, he still remembers … the times I’m not.
I feel the weight of the world after these two conversations. Because I know that even here, I feel very little space to reason, to rationalize.
All I have are expectations.
And like everywhere else, when it comes to expectations, you can have them thrust upon you, or you can ask for them, seek them out, and make them a choice.
I want to be the best Father I can possibly be; which is why I promised myself that as hard as it was going to be to hear, and as many excuses and rationalizations as I could make about what I heard, the only thing that mattered was the honest answers to my questions.
Because in pursuit of being the best Father I can possibly be, I’m not looking for validation, I’m looking for motivation.
Anaiya and Jaanu, thank you. For relentlessly holding me to a higher standard.
Thanks for raising the bar on me, about me, for me.
At 11:53 pm on December 31, 2020 I finished the last sip of my Manhattan. Turned and celebrated New Year’s Eve and swinging into 2021 with Priya who then proceeded to turn away from the start of Pixar’s Soul and call it a night.
I stepped into the kitchen and made another Manhattan just after midnight. But instead of using my Woodford Reserve, I turned to a Zero Proof Whiskey Alternative I’d discovered at the start of the pandemic, Ritual. It was sweeter. It was lighter.
It was a start.
Having that Woodford Reserve still there on the counter was going to be too tempting; so I packed it up, along with all of the other liquor and beer we had upstairs (wine stayed for Priya) and took them down to the basement.
It was truly a start. My goal was to do a dry January and depending on how it went, I had mentally prepared myself to take a crack at a dry February as well.
It’s Father’s Day (2:03 am, Sunday, June 20, 2021) and I’m proud to say that the sip I took at 11:53 pm on December 31, 2020, is the last sip of what anyone would qualify as an alcoholic drink I’ve taken since; though it’s not the last I’ll ever take by any means (that’s an important point to make as well).
This post is not to sell you on the merits or value of a dry sprint. Rather, this post is to share what I’ve fallen in love with along the way and in my active quest to find things to sip, to savor, to indulge in even, things that scratch the itch to drink when I have it (say, a Hazy IPA, a rich Stout), that offset any social pressures when I socialize (a Gin and Tonic, a Cocktail), and that give me alternatives to the more sugary options we feel stuck in when we do give up alcohol (is sweet the only baseline flavor available to me now?)
Finally, I’ll update this list as time, tastes, and new experiences require. My first step today was to get this down to make it easier for me to support the people who’ve reached out to me about my approach to this experience.
In Pursuit of the Ideal “Time-to-Sip” or Ready Made vs Mixed, vs Crafted
There are many ways to organize this post; I ended up settling on how I think about drinks as someone with a fairly busy schedule: time-to-sip. In other words, I’ve organized this post by the effort required and time needed to get from thirst craving to first sip.
Ready Made –
The nonalcoholic, zero spirit industry is booming. The trend has some health driven catalysts, but as with all things, it’s also a byproduct of shifting generational tastes and the nature of generational reactionism (it doesn’t matter what you do when it comes to tastes and styles and indulgences, subsequent generations will naturally react and pivot more than copy). Nevertheless, the byproduct is an extraordinary assortment of now off-the-shelf, ready made alternatives to alcoholic beverages that I enjoy and even prefer.
I’m separating “mixed” from “crafted” for a reason: stirring is a hell of a lot easier than measuring, weighing, calibrating, tasting, and presenting. Think of the difference between a Jack and Coke and a truly exceptional Whiskey Sour. Mixing the right zero spirit beverage requires a creative palate and knowledge of your audience; understanding that some people may be more forgiving because it’s nonalcoholic, and some people are more forgiving when it’s alcoholic. Let that sink in, and then laugh about it.
There is one book and set of recipes that transformed my experience here. I’ve only had the chance to attempt two recipes from it, but, simply by reading through the recipes, I’ve also created and experimented with a third on my own that I’m extraordinarily happy with.
Non Alcoholic Beeror “Near Beer”
I’m not going to spend any time on Lagers / Pilsners. You can find these anywhere, and have been able to for decades.
What I was most surprised by, was the broad number of options available … that had depth and breadth of flavor. As someone with a well stocked beer selection, kicking back with a Heineken 0.0 wasn’t going to suffice.
Athletic Brewing Company – Run Wild IPA, Free Wave Hazy IPA, and All Out Stout. First and foremost, all three taste good (IPA), to great (Stout) to virtually indistinguishable (Hazy IPA). These are good drinks and objectively good beers. What makes them additionally worth referencing is they are all available on Amazon, so add them to your next Prime order, get them on a recurring delivery, and you’ll never be wanting. The cans also have a great feel and texture to them, a high quality finish. If you are trying to mask your sobriety (short or long-term) than these are excellent options as well as without deep inspection and attention, nobody will know the difference — in can form, or if poured into a glass.
Bottom Line: ABC has the better stout. It’s richer and more complex.
Brewdog AF Series – Hazy AF IPA, Punk AF Robust IPA, Wakeup Call. These fit the same pattern as the Athletic Brewing Company. They tend to be deeply similar (Hazy AF), while also being lower calorically than Athletic Brewing (Punk AF is 37 calories vs 70-90 for ABC). Similarly available on Amazon and in a variety pack and at about the same price. The key reason I lean toward ABC is they have the Free Wave Hazy at my local liquor store otherwise, if I’d seen these first, I’m certain I’d have embraced Brewdog first and more often but if all things are even, I’d go with the Brewdog IPAs.
Bottom Line: Brewdog has the better IPAs. They’re bolder, more complex, and have fewer calories.
I also encourage you to connect with your local brewers to see who’s making great versions of local beers in low or non alcoholic options. There are some well reviewed stouts I can’t get my hands on in NJ but would do just about anything to find a way to get into my fridge. Wellbeing Brewing (great name) isn’t one I’ve had luck with as of yet
If it’s not clear, I objectively enjoy the taste of a great IPA and a smooth stout. It’s not the alcohol that makes them something I want to drink, it’s the flavor profile and how it complements times of day, foods, and moods. I’m thankful to the brewers who are bringing their profiles to the market in NA and LA forms.
HopTea – I’ve been a fan of HopTea for a couple of years now. I stumbled across the brand at my local WholeFoods as I was looking for low calorie, low sugar alternatives to coffee, that I could enjoy on a hot day. HopTea are carbonated, hop-infused, teas (green, white, chamomile, and recently, hibiscus, with zero calories and solid doses of caffeine and hop-forward flavors to carry you through. You can find many “Hop Water” type clones but from my experience, HopTea is the runaway best for those looking for caffeine, hop notes, and brisk alternatives.
“Zero” Cocktails (aka Mocktails, but wow, I hate that label)
Beckett’s Nonalcoholic Tonics – These are an absolute runaway favorite on the taste side of things. We’ve tried them all, the Stone Daisy Lime Margarita, the Flying Mule Moscow Mule, the Mystic Dove Paloma, and the Juniper Sky Gin and Tonic. Each nailed the flavor of their alcoholic sibling without being overly sweet to compensate for their lack of “spirit”. The downside is that they tend to skew a bit more expensive unless you buy in bulk (about $4/bottle if you do buy in bulk and include shipping) and what they win you over with by being low in calories (~30 calories per can/bottle) they likely get you with longer-term by using Stevia as the sweetening agent. For me, I can never have enough of these on hand or in the fridge, which is doubly troubling given that they appear to no longer be distributing through Amazon.
Of the nonalcoholic cocktails, Beckett’s was the only one I truly enjoyed in Ready Made form. I tried Spirity for example, and was deeply unimpressed; not because of the flavor, but because of the expectations of the label (if Spirity would have called their Negroni a “botanical, nonalcoholic beverage” I may have managed it differently).
Elixirs and Botanicals
As mentioned above, if Spirity recategorizes themselves, I’ll put them here. For now I’ll focus on the creators of nonalcoholic beverages who aren’t trying to recreate a cocktail but rather are trying to explore objectively great and satisfying flavors for complex beverages that also happen to be nonalcoholic.
Kin – Kin was the first creative, deliberately nonalcoholic cocktail I purchased. I was one of the first to try the High Rhode and I loved it as a novelty. It was expensive, but it felt like an exceptional investment (from the packaging all the way through). Kin kicked off a category branded “euphorics”, more often referred to a “nootropics” but these are effectively botanicals that also claim to have some mind altering/state altering/mood altering/brain boosting capabilities. I never felt that with High Rhode, but I did feel like I had a unique and tasty spirit in my hand — and no hangover the morning after. Since Kin’s release, the market has flooded and I find some of the alternatives, particularly Curious, to be a preferred alternative for me. That being said, I’m excited to try their new Lightwave flavor, which is focused on “calming” and features vanilla, saffron, and reishi.
Curious Elixirs – I loved my Curious Elixirs subscription. The care they take to introduce you to their perspective and approach on each of their 5 elixirs is great for someone taking their first step into complex nonalcoholic beverages. If you don’t like the subscription you will, at the least, walk away with a point-of-view and a way to explore additional options as a result of the initial sampler. These are also on the more expensive side. That being said, my recommendation is to sign up for the sampler and buy the additional order of Curious No. 5 (not included in the Sampler). You’ll find a range of booze free cocktails that are made to be poured into glasses, shaken/stirred with ice, and served garnished. If you wanted to make these a true cockatil alternative though, I believe you’d want to move these to the “Mixed” category and since they’re all sugar free, explore creative ways to add a sweetening agent (think simple syrups, honeys, etc). Curious No. 5 is my favorite; some people think it tastes like balsamic vinegar.
Betera – Very similar to Curious, but with more of an emphasis on “bitterness” as an attribute. Where I found Curious to be spicier and bolder, I found Betera to be brighter and more bitter. The botanicals were more pronounced here and I enjoyed each flavor, drank them faster, but felt less satisfied after each. In the end, I felt like I was drinking an unsweetened fruit juice, and not necessarily in the best way. I see Betera as having a very distinct flavor profile and a very tight audience. That being said, as with all, I highly recommend getting an initial sampler to get you started and find out where on the spectrum of available nonalcoholic beverages you reside.
One thing I have learned is that nonalcoholic spirits I’ve tried do not work on their own. So though they may be positioned as spirits you can include in the Ready Made category above, it felt disingenuous to put them there. Actually, I’d even put Betera and some flavors of Curious in the Mixed Camp simply because making them enjoyable requires more than opening a can or a bottle and moving the container to your lips.
Time-to-sip in this category is a range, but it doesn’t require much foresight, much planning, a variety of utensils. It’s the difference between making cheese sauce for your macaroni and cheese the Kraft way, or the way that starts with “stir and whisk your choice of fat with the flour…” (the latter, is obviously, is Craft, and not Kraft).
Let’s start with assembling the spirits that change you from a person who serves non-alcoholic beverages to a person who has a non-alcoholic bar.
Nonalcoholic Spirits – Replicants
Ritual Zero Proof – Ritual makes a range of spirits. Their Rum is their best option, though I found their Whisky to be solid when mixed thoughtfully. I don’t use Gin in my cocktails so I saw no need to make that purchase. And as someone who tends to struggle mightily with Tequila (thanks again to the guys at my bachelor party), I’ve avoided Ritual’s Tequila. I use their Rum in fruit juices, I use their Rum in teas, I use their rum in seltzers and sodas. As nonalcoholic spirts go, it’s a top notch option, and if you’re getting the Rum for the first time … just go ahead and get their Sampler Pack (Whisky, Gin, Tequila). Thanks again to Amazon for equipping us all to live a healthier, more booze free life.
Lyre’s – As a brand, Lyre’s is a pioneer. They create entire environments around the concept of the “sober bar”. It’s only recently that I found their Spiced Rum. It’s different than Ritual’s approach to rum and I believe the goal for Lyre’s is to substitute for Spiced Rum more literally than Ritual proclaims. Lyre’s is not a spirit I would have on its own on the rocks, but with a splash of anything that augments the flavor profile (ginger ales, pineapple juices, seltzers and sodas) it’s a great way to go. As the summer is upon us, I just refreshed my Lyre’s and if I’m using my own behavior as a signal of interest, I purchased Lyre’s Spiced Cane Rum instead of Rituals — though part of me believes it’s because I’ve had more Ritual than Lyre’s and I’m still formalizing my choices. Note: As the weather opens us up to in-person gatherings, I’m eager to attend Listen Bar.
Free Spirits – I have not tried these but I’m excited to. The way they describe the bourbon is what has me intrigued even though the reviews are challenging to get past.
The above represent the best options for spirits replicated in nonalcoholic forms. That being said, I am starting to believe that similar to excellent vegan and vegetarian food where focusing on “mock meats” (seitans, impossible and beyond burgers) is inevitably short-sighted and a limiting factor. What I’ve started finding true excitement in is with booze free, nonalcoholic beverages that are deliberately and unabashedly nonalcoholic. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it may not lead you to achieve your own greatest potential. In the end, the above are the best karaoke singers of the nonalcoholic world; sometimes though, you want to taste originals.
Non-alcoholic Spirits – True Alternatives
Seedlip – For many, Seedlip is where the bar starts and ends. I’ve found them to be solid, botanical mixers — but prohibitively expensive for the end result. I recommend a Seedlip sampler if for no other reason than the beautiful bottles and the universe of beverages crafted around the experience. They’re a great way to take your first step into a nonalcoholic bar. If you’re like me though, I think with some experimentation you’ll find that a better way to get the Seedlip type experience in a wider array of options and in a much more affordable investment, is through the next option on this list…
Bitters – Yup. Bitters. The assortment available on Bitters is truly incredible. And in a side-by-side comparison of Seedlip and Tonic vs Soda, Bitters, and Tonic, I was effectively able to recreate the general Seedlip taste without the cost. The proof is in the usage; my Seedlip Spice 94 is hovering near 1/2 used, while I’ve torn through several bottles of Bitters in the same amount of time (and to be clear, any usage of Seedlip has been forced and deliberate as opposed to instinctive and a default). Aztec Chocolate Bitters. Angostura Bitters. Orange Bitters.Branded Bitters. Smoked Herb Bitters. The best part about Bitters is that a 3-4 dashes (instead of 1-2 in spirited cocktails) can push the flavor profile far; and Bitters double as an excellent way to bring grilled fruits and vegetables to life (don’t sleep on cooking with Bitters folks).
In addition to the Ready Made items above, I see some assortment of Seedlip and Bitters as a necessary shelf in any truly well stocked nonalcoholic bar with any hope of providing your guests with exciting options that make them forget (or at least embrace skipping) the traditional boozy cocktail.
The list of items you can use to mix with the above is exhaustive; I’d say long and distinguished but that would take me down a Top Gun rabbit hole few of us have time for. That being said, there are a few core mixers I recommend having on hand that give you an excellent set of beverage aids to augment and extend the items above.
Sodastream – Simple. ‘Nuff said. Get a Sodastream. Carbonation brings nearly all of the above items to life and a near infinite stream of soda water means you never run short. The syrups are on you; go for it if you want. I’ve never used them. But the Sodastream is steady flowing in our household so much so that it owns a place on our counter, near our sink, second only to hand and dish soap. Also, if you’re looking for ROI, the Sodastream we have is about 18 years old. When I was 18 I dressed terribly, had ragged hair, rarely shaved, and wore crappy cologne — all this to say, Sodastream is in way better shape at 18 than I was.
Cherries – Get. Good. Cherries. I found these Fabbri Amarena Cherries at Whole Foods has a really great stock on hand which has been a game changer; but any liquor store worth its margarita salt will have at least a few for you to choose from, none of which will disappoint. The cherries and the syrup will put you in position to transform the look, texture, and taste of all the spirits above, but you’ll find their utility expand dramatically as you look to enhance the botanicals and elixirs without losing the essence and philosophy behind why they were made.
Cocktail Crate – There are tons of mixers, but I am set on Cocktail Crate as my go to. I love everything about them. The breadth of flavors and syrups is outstanding. They’re available at my local grocery stores. And the bottles have a shape and form that help them fit perfectly in a bar, or in a cabinet — not too tall, not too wide, not too deep (part of stocking a bar is being able to stock it, and it’s these mixers and aids we’ve outlined here that take spirits and give them range). I don’t have a strong, comparatively informed opinion here. If you find better mixers with the range, convenience, and stocking/storing function, comment back. My two favorites from Cocktail Crate are the Old Fashioned and the Ginger Bee but you can’t go wrong.
Simple Syrups – I can’t overstate the value of a rich selection of simple syrups. Cardamom is my knock ’em down, drag ’em out favorite, but it barely wins in a Fight Club battle with Rose. For many, the simple syrups will be the best way to make the botanicals sessionable vs simply sippable. They’re also something you can have a lot of fun with on your own (making homemade simple syrups and infusing vodkas are two simple, highly effective ways to personalize beverages — high ROI for little risk and investment.) Please, if you can, avoid Torani. And a second please, don’t hesitate to use that cardamom and/or rose syrup in your cold brew coffee.
Teas – Finally, don’t underestimate the power of Teas to color, to flavor, to augment the beverages you’re creating. Teas come packed with flavor, with aromatics, with caffeine, and with antioxidants, making them an excellent partner and aid to your bar. One that more bartenders, alcoholic or not, should incorporate into their arsenal.
I’m still learning here; but outside of experimenting on the above, if you’re interested in crafting nonalcoholic cocktails the single best and most comprehensive investment you can make will be this book from the team at Alinea, Zero: A New Approach to Non-Alcoholic Drinks (if you’re here, get the Reserve Edition, it’s stunning).
When you shift to Crafted, the list of ingredients is extraordinary. I spent $150 on utensils and ingredients just to make the breakfast stout. 90 minutes later, after realizing how much I’d messed up, I was left with … a really solid nonalcoholic beer and tons of lessons and inspirations on how to improve the recipe going forward. I simply can’t recommend the book enough as more than anything, it will transform your thinking around what’s possible in the non-alcoholic beverage arena.
Paying it Forward
I spent the past 6 months trying to avoid telling a sober story, and wanting to tell a story of creativity, exploration, and what to me still felt indulgent. I didn’t get there right away, but I’m right there today.
At 5:20pm ET on Father’s Day, the sun is blaring, the Suns / Clippers game is on in the background.
And I’ve got a bright, crisp, nonalcoholic espresso stout in my hands.
The Ready Made, nonalcoholic beers made me rethink what was possible in this category.
The Mixed, helped me understand how to bring flavors together.
The Crafted, equipped me with the materials and some of the technical know how to believe that I could make this one myself.
That’s right, the espresso stout I’m drinking right now is my own. Powered by Decaffeinated coffee, Barley, Cacao Nibs, and Hop Pellets … and some powerful carbonation from that Sodastream.
The past six months, I don’t miss the alcohol. I’ve found a universe of flavors where “missing” isn’t the feeling. I’m more in a position where I want those flavors at times too. And with a healthier foundation around what I consume, I do look forward to returning to the drinks I want. And to having less of a binary decision-making process when “What would you like to drink?” is the question coming my way.
People have to wonder if you’re scripted. There’s no other answer.
How is it, for a boy of 4, when granted any wish for his birthday, almost as if given a genie in a lamp, turns quickly to his parents and without batting an eye and without missing a beat, responds with more confidence than an honest man on trial:
“I want the whole family together.”
Except with you, there’s no cliffhanger.
There’s no clause to follow. There’s no extension of the ask. There’s no “I want the whole family together, so I can get more gifts.”
There’s just you.
Expressing your incredibly kind, warm, loving soul, in the most authentic of ways.
When we got the family together, and when the house we rented tortured us into leaving after 18 hours, you know what made everything ok: knowing that you would be more than ok.
I realized that the house, was for us. The pool was for us. The game room was for us. The weekend plans were for us.
The “us” was for you, and the “us” was all you needed.
As much as you find excitement in new things; gifts, toys, foods, experiences. What’s so magical about you is that consistently the simplest things make you happiest. And nothing makes you happier than time with the people (family and friends) you love.
You remind me of what’s important every morning and every night. You teach me what the world sometimes makes me unlearn.
And it is undeniably the thing that makes me proudest of you.
At age 4, going into age 5, you make me proud because your greatest and most authentic happiness comes from the people and in the ways that the entire world is taking courses, setting reminds, seeing coaches and actively seeking to get back to.
Time. Attention. To and for. The people we love.
I am proudest of what you love, of the way you love, and how simply, easily and clearly you’re showing the world, what love means to you.
I made today a numbers day. I woke up with a feeling. It’s been an intense week. Honestly, it’s been intense for way longer but the past week I’ve taken strides toward fixing my state of mind, my mental approach, my framework for thinking, processing, reacting.
It’s been an intense week.
Just like anything else, it’s amazing what a few deliberate, committed steps can do around creating momentum and accelerating you into progress. Try going vegan for a week. Try not drinking for a week. Try breathing before every response for a week. Try no TV for a week. Try reading every day for a week.
It’s amazing what a week can do.
It’s been an intense week. In the best possible way. And today I woke up with a feeling. So I leaned into that feeling.
I knew today was a day I was going to lock in what made me Happy, what made me Proud, and set the stage for tomorrow, thinking about where I’m Not Yet Satisfied so I can find new achievements, states of mind, I want to pursue.
Sometimes what I’m happy about and what I’m proud of, are feelings.
Today, they are digits.
It wasn’t today, but of all the numbers, “1” and “first” are where things should begin. I became a Kaka for the first time. To the child of the boy who was the first human being I know from day one. There’s something powerful; about seeing the first child I remember holding in my arms, holding his first child in his arms. That I’ll never shake. There’s no digit more important than this digit. But there are more digits.
I’m excited about the progress I’m making on my storytelling project. Helping people unearth, frame and share their authentic stories. Yesterday, I posted my second testimonial; my second bit of evidence about the approach I’ve taken to help people gain confidence and bring their stories to life. It was humbling.
I woke up and in my first work meeting I found out we hit $1mm in monthly revenue in April. That’s 3x growth in the past year. That’s a little under double from December. It’s incredible. Given what we’ve faced the past year I view this, plain and simple, as one of my best efforts at work. I find tremendous happiness, and take tremendous pride in knowing the role I played in organizing, aligning, motivating, inspiring, and compelling our team to make this happen.
Today I started reading book 30 for the year. I’ve read 29 books in 2021. Of all sorts, sizes, shapes, lengths, formats, genres. Today, I started reading book 30. I picked The Razor’s Edge because 25 years ago almost to the day, a friend and then roommate to be told me that in Maugham’s book, he saw me reflected in the main character. To this day, I still don’t know how to process that feedback. I’ve read the book once, at his first reference. I’m reading it again now as I turn the page on 45 and the past year — the healthiest of my life in so many ways — because I’m eager to see if this still holds up. Or if that insight into me 25 years ago was prophetic, showed a deeper understanding of me then than I have even now. Book 30.
Miles. That’s a marathon. I’ve tried to prep for 5ks, 10ks, 1/2 marathons a few times over. Every time I try, I get hurt. Plantar fasciitis. ACLs. MCLs. Groins. You name it. The past 6 months I haven’t walked with a number in mind, I’ve walked with a spirit in mind: get healthier. The most I’ve done in a day is 18 miles and that happened because I couldn’t sleep so I watched a movie and walked starting at 2am.
Today wasn’t that. Today, I started walking with my first call at 8:30am. And then, I just didn’t stop. It was 10:30am and I was at 10.5 miles. Then I spoke it into existence.
I said out loud to the person I was on the phone with “I think I want to walk 26.2 miles today. I want to do my first marathon.”
And then, I kept repeating it. It wasn’t a straight through walk. Life, work, forced some pauses. But with the kids asleep at 8:15pm I had 9 miles left to go. So I hopped on the treadmill, work documents ready to go, got after it.
At a 5-5.5 MPH pace, I finished at 9:40pm ET. My first “marathon”. And I’m confident I’m one of the only people to pull off 26.2 miles in one day, while working. (Note: I did watch 45 minutes of Point Break for the end of that walk.)
It’s coming around. 46 is two weeks away. I used to wait for important days to lock in milestones.
“I’ll make that resolution on January 1st.”
“I’ll change that behavior on my birthday.”
Today I realized that I would walk a marathon for no other reason than it was Thursday.
And I f*cking wanted to.
#iamgrateful and #iamthankful for digits. For numbers. For happiness and pride providing fuel that made yesterday one of the most accomplished days of my life, holistically.
#iamgrateful and #iamthankful that I remembered to write it down and to lock it in.
#iamgrateful and #iamthankful for my framework; for my mantra around being “Happy. Proud. Not Yet Satisfied.” because it’s a reminder to remember what’s important (happy), it’s a reminder to remember what we’ve achieved (proud), and it’s a reminder to remember — I ain’t through (Not Yet Satisfied).
Few things more fun than taking on Bill Bradley in a fun solo game of hoops. I love that we got this hoop up. And I love the days when I drop the kids off and get 20 minutes to just shoot around on a quiet morning.
#iamgrateful and #iamthankful especially for the walkers and neighbors who all have a joke to crack about my old @ss shooting hoops!
First shot was rough. Rim was generous. Ended up playing three games agains Bill and winning 2-1. If you don’t know the game, lmk. Takes shooting hoops by yourself to the next level (fun, challenging, exercise).