The ‘Dry January’ campaign started in 2013 as an initiative to highlight the health and well-being benefits associated with giving up alcohol, even for as little as a month. Around 4,000 people signed up to the initiative in the first year. This number had increased to 130,000 by 2022, and numbers are expected to be even higher in 2023.
Research conducted by the University of Sussex has found that, six months after Dry January, more than two thirds of people who used Alcohol Change UK's Try Dry app or coaching emails were still drinking more healthily. Taking part in Dry January is thought to help break the link between drinking and having fun, relaxing and socialising.
The popularity of Dry January may have risen in recent years because of the increased availability of low- and no-alcohol versions of alcoholic drinks. Sales in this sector have nearly doubled in the past five years and are up nearly ten-fold since 2013. A significant factor driving this growth is the improvement and refinement of processes for producing low- and no- alcohol drinks, which have improved their quality. However, the problem of how to produce palatable low- and no-alcohol drinks is a long-standing one. A search for “low alcohol” in the Patentscope database identifies a number of patents that are over 100 years old.
Brewing Low-Alcohol Beer – United Kingdom Patent No. 102470
United Kingdom Patent No. 102470 (“Improvements in or relating to the brewing of beer”) from 1913 proposes a dilution-based approach of mixing a double-hopped fermented beer with an unfermented mixture containing a low amount of sugar in order to produce a low-alcohol beer.
Removing alcohol during fermentation – US Patent No. 977603
United States Patent No. 977603 (“Process of brewing beer of low alcoholic contents”) from 1910 proposes a process of introducing oxygen to a closed fermentation vessel (A) and continuously removing “alcoholic vapours and carbonic acid gas” that are produced by the fermentation process.
Removing alcohol by evaporation – US 1151979
An early apparatus for dealcoholizing beer by evaporation is proposed in US 1551979 (“Process and apparatus for making beer of low alcoholic content”) from 1925. The apparatus simultaneously heats the air above the beer via a heating coil whilst cooling the beer itself via a cooling coil to heat the surface of the beer whilst keeping the body of the beer cool. Thus, “the evaporation of the alcohol is obtained without subjecting the body of the beer to any temperature that would deleteriously affect its taste”.
More recently, biotechnological developments have been used to develop yeast strains for use in brewing low- or no-alcohol beverages. WO 2021/038048 (“Yeast for preparing beverages without phenolic off-flavours”) provided yeast strains which have knockouts of various genes associated with metabolic pathways that produce undesirable flavour characteristics during fermentation of low-alcohol beverages. WO 2014/170330 (“Yeast alleles involved in maximal alcohol accumulation capacity and tolerance to high alcohol levels”) described whole genome sequencing of yeast strains with high tolerance to alcohol. It identified a number of genes associated with alcohol tolerance and production, which allowed the provision of low alcohol producing yeasts by stacking negative alleles of these genes.
Treating or preventing hangovers
If the prospect of Dry January still isn’t appealing, there are also patents which suggest ways to treat or prevent hangovers. GB 2113995 (“Hang-over treatment”) from 1983 proposes inhaling a volatile aldehyde such as formaldehyde to cure a hangover. US 4593020 (“Therapeutic methods for the treatment of a hangover”) proposes the use of betaine (trimethylglycine) to treat the symptoms of a hangover or even reduce the level of alcohol in the blood.
More recently, we see WO 2022/166978 (“Genetically engineered bacterium for hangover and liver disease prevention and/or treatment”), which suggests that bacteria engineered to express acetaldehyde dehydrogenase can treat and/or prevent hangover and liver disease. It may even be possible to avoid the hangover entirely. WO 2022/185083 (“Hangover-free alcohol and process for producing same”) alleges that polyphenolic compounds can be used to bind to acetaldehyde formed during the metabolism of alcohol in the liver, helping to eliminate it from the body. This is said to result in “hangover-free” alcohol.