It’s finally February, a moment of celebration for those who stuck to “Dry January” all month.

But Maryland’s alcohol-free beverage market continues to explode.

Keep an eye out for Bennu, a forthcoming line of nonalcoholic beverages from the owner of John Brown General & Butchery. (But be advised: Drink enough of Bennu’s Unwind and you will still feel drunk.)

Hampden’s Wine Source has also been growing its nonalcoholic offerings, including their own line of “hopped water” released in collaboration with UNION Craft Brewing.

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And have you heard? The Wine Source is planning to knock down a duplex across the street to make way for parking.

Just up The Avenue, Hampden will get a new outdoor restaurant this spring.

Meanwhile, Baltimore is losing a ramen spot.

Wine Source manager Phil Romero has an entire section of nonalcoholic beverages in his Hampden store. (Paul Newson/Paul Newson)

John Brown General & Butchery owner to launch alcohol-free beverage line

Robert Voss — owner of John Brown General & Butchery in Cockeysville, and JBGB’s in Remington — is working on a nonalcoholic beverage line called Bennu, which he says are “everyday functional beverages” that will be manufactured in Edison, New Jersey, starting this year.

Voss said he became interested in the question of why we drink alcohol and when after his wife quit drinking. He came to two conclusions: socialization and relaxation. He started looking for a beverage that would achieve that “two-glass territory” of a light buzz without the negative effects.

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The resulting drinks, Uplift and Unwind, will be sold direct to consumers and possibly at his own stores and restaurants.

Uplift is a “functional replacement for an energy drink” that is caffeine free, Voss said, while Unwind includes dried kava, which “has a real disorienting functionality.” “If you drink enough of it, you’ll actually feel drunk,” but without the hangover or adverse liver and kidney issues that can come with alcohol, Voss said.

The growth of Dry January as well as a drop in drinking across the board has Baltimore-area restaurants and breweries rushing to add “zero-proof” and nonalcoholic alternatives to their menus and offerings.

From the business’ perspective, “You don’t want to lose a potential customer because they’re making a lifestyle choice or a health decision,” said Jim Bauckman, a spokesman for the Brewers Association of Maryland, Maryland Distillers Guild and Maryland Wineries Association, three groups severely affected by the Dry January phenomenon.

Guinness, which has a brewery in Halethorpe, unveiled “Guinness 0,” a version of their signature draught with less than 0.5% alcohol by volume. Flying Dog also has a nonalcoholic India Pale Ale called Deepfake. More restaurants are expanding their mocktail menus, and other businesses are exploring innovative new alternatives to alcohol.

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Some of the nonalcoholic offerings at The Wine Source. (Paul Newson/Paul Newson)

In the past two years, Hampden liquor store The Wine Source, one of the only city liquor stores to be open on Sunday, has gone from offering a few nonalcoholic choices — such as O’Doul’s beer and Sutter Home’s Fre wine — to “dozens in each category,” manager Phil Romero wrote in an email.

“Over the last two years, we’ve seen our non-alcoholic offerings expand at a staggering pace,” he said.

While the store carries nonalcoholic spirits and other beverages, the top seller is nonalcoholic beer, particularly from Athletic Brewing Co., a business that Romero said has been a “game changer.”

Recently, he’s seen growing interest in “hopped waters,” which he compares to a cross between a LaCroix and an IPA, but alcohol-free. Together with UNION Craft Brewing, The Wine Source has teamed up to create a zero-calorie, nonalcoholic drink called Hopwater Springs.

According to a description, the beverage is inspired by a secret oasis along the Jones Falls that’s home to “wild hop vines that drape into a natural spring.”

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Hopwater Springs is a zero-calorie, nonalcoholic drink. (Paul Newson/Paul Newson)

The Wine Source will knock down duplex, add parking lot

In other Wine Source news, the liquor store is hoping to add a new parking lot across the street.

“If we’ve heard one thing repeatedly in the 21 years since we’ve been here, it’s ‘your parking is terrible,” owner David Wells said. “Parking is a challenge all over Hampden and it’s been exacerbated by the Wine Source being here. I felt bad about it.”

Wells purchased the properties at 3618-3620 Elm Ave. and plans to demolish them before the summer begins. The houses, which are connected, will make way for a lot that will fit eight to 10 cars and sit next to another parking lot the Wine Source leases across the street.

The total price tag for the project, including the cost of the buildings, is $1 million, Wells said.

“The neighborhood’s been good to me and I’ve tried to respond in kind,” he added.

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Even though the project has approval from the Hampden Community Council and Hampden Village Merchants Association, Wells said he’s heard from Wine Source staff about opposition to the demolition on social media. “People are going to talk and that’s their prerogative,” he said, but should neighbors have questions, “I’m in the store six days a week.” The city’s planning commission will take up the matter at a meeting on Feb. 9.

New outdoor restaurant coming to Hampden

An all-outdoor restaurant is planned for a space on the 3600 block of Hickory Ave., just off Hampden’s Avenue, according to an application submitted to the city’s zoning board. The property sits on what was a preacher’s quarters next to a former church at 1014 W. 36th Street, now Co-Balt Workspace.

Owner Tim Conder has faced some hurdles to a planned April 1 launch date.

Conder told the zoning board at a Dec. 20 hearing of the board of municipal and zoning appeals that he spent around $300,000 on the all-outdoor project before receiving word that the property was not actually zoned for such a concept.

An all-outdoor restaurant will sit next to a former parsonage in Hampden. (Christina Tkacik)

The initial permit Conder received from the city was revoked, much to his irritation, he told The Baltimore Banner. Months later, zoning officials were still divided on whether the property was zoned for the project.

Ultimately, the appeals board approved his plans at the December hearing.

When it opens, the place will use a liquor license that previously belonged to De Kleine Duivel, the Belgian beer hall across the street that shut down last year.

Conder said during the hearing that the original concept was a beer garden, but the space will now become a restaurant after neighbors voiced objections. The concept will be open spring through fall.

Mi & Yu Noodle Bar closes Fed Hill location

Fed Hill residents will soon be down a ramen spot. Mi & Yu Noodle Bar is closing down its location at 1016 South Charles St. “by end of Feb or when supplies are gone,” according to an Instagram post.

It comes less than two years after the shutdown of Mi & Yu’s location at Mount Vernon Marketplace.

Mi & Yu’s location in Hampden’s Rotunda reopened in December under new ownership.

The closure of the Federal Hill restaurant comes as owners of Toki Underground are making headway on their new location on Greenmount Avenue. “Permits on lock now we’re putting a roof on this bad boy,” the restaurant’s Twitter account posted in January. “Hello Baltimore.”

This article has been updated with the correct block number for an all-outdoor restaurant coming to Hampden.

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