Our History Is Your Story

Spanning nearly two decades, our story is interwoven with the lives of those who sought to change their relationship with alcohol.
It's a story shared and shaped by everyone we've served, worked with, learned from, influenced and been inspired by.
Those who have given up alcohol because alcohol was crushing their ambitions.
Those who've given up their favourite tipple due to illness.
Those who've given up when booze was wrecking their lives.
Those who've been pregnant and wanted the best for their baby.
Those who've had the responsibility to stay sober at the driving wheel.
Those who just wanted to be fit, more alert, more mindful and live better lives with those they love.
Every one of you has been, and continues to be, part of our story.

In the beginning ...

John Risby
John Risby
It all started when our co-founder, John Risby, stopped drinking in 2004.
Having taken that first, incredibly hard step to transform his life, his enthusiasm for a sober future was tainted by the lack of choice in what to drink.
That Christmas, bored with warm fruit juice, cola, and the rare, and always dusty, can of Kaliber at the bar, he came up with the idea of an online shop dedicated to all things alcohol-free.
He knew this was something people would want – although most people, including his own family, were sceptical. The only way to prove the theory was to do it.
After a year of research and planning, The Alcohol-Free Shop was launched in 2006.What could have just been quickly-forgotten talk back in his drinking days became reality – and the world of non-alcoholic drinks was never the same again.
We brought alcohol-free wines, beers, cocktails and spirits to the UK for the first time from across Europe and the USA and, because alcohol is used in many other products too, we offered alcohol-free alternatives to boozy liquor chocolates, beauty products and toiletries.
Over time The Alcohol-Free Shop came to focus on alcohol-free drinks to meet the ever-increasing demand for adult alternatives to alcohol. And we continue to serve customers across the UK.

"A Harmless crank"

As pioneers, it was an upward climb with no maps to guide us and an often inhospitable climate.
Not long after The Alcohol-Free Shop was launched, one journalist – who owed a fair chunk of his income to the alcohol industry – wrote an article about our business.
He mocked us, ridiculed the concept and painted us as some sort of subversives.
Back in 2006, nobody was selling alcohol-free cocktails in Soho.
He branded John "a harmless crank" and dismissed the whole idea in an effort to make us a laughing stock.
But he wasn't just laughing at us – he was laughing at our customers and the choices they were making.
Looking back, we guess he was nervous. He was trying to protect his industry that was already in decline. And if he had hoped to stop us, unfortunately for him, his comments only helped fuel our passion for change!

It takes a thick skin to stand outside of the crowd

We faced open hostility from alcoholic drinks producers and the wider hospitality industry including their charitable and self-regulatory organisations which purported to support responsible drinking.
Representatives of some leading breweries literally laughed in our faces at trade shows when we suggested there may be room for alcohol-free versions of their famed brands.
Despite such encounters, we persevered, driven by our vision for healthier lifestyle choices. Forward-thinking non-alcoholic wine and non-alcoholic beer reps were meeting with us in our lowly lockup, laptop perched on an upturned beer crate under the light of a single desk lamp as we bootstrapped our vision.
A couple of years down the line and these brewers – even the ones who laughed at us – were beginning to experiment with alcohol-free alternatives to their potent brews.
Fast-forward to today, and there are new versions of old favourites in alcohol-free form and dedicated non-alcoholic drinks producers hitting the market almost weekly.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

We've told the story of how we launched The Alcohol-Free Shop many times over the years.
If John's story sounds familiar, it's probably because you've read similar a few times since.
Seeing our growth, others – totally understandably – launched their own online stores.
As each new website launched, all of them claimed they started because there was nowhere else to buy alcohol-free drinks from... even when most of them had been buying from us until then!
But we're not looking for sympathy, and we don't want to sound bitter. Imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery.
Our aim was always to make alcohol-free drinks more accepted and more accessible, so "competition" was always something we expected and welcomed. If no one else had entered the market, it would have just proved there was no demand. Not only did we know there was a demand, but it was growing year-on-year. Society had started a permanent shift.

Always expect the unexpected

We continued to grow year on year employing more staff, introducing new drinks, moving to bigger premises, raising our profile, collaborating with some of the biggest drinks companies in the world – and launching the UK's first bricks-and-mortar shop dedicated to alcohol-free drinks.
We were still a small independent retailer riding a wave.
Then we were hit by a perfect storm.
as the mindful drinking movement gained momentum, competition increased.
We needed investment to continue to grow and compete – but something big was on the horizon that no one expected.

Overcoming Obstacles: Brexit and Beyond

The UK unexpectedly announced the Brexit referendum. The then-Prime Minister decided the best way to deal with the ever-present discussions of the EU once and for all was to put it to a vote. When the country decided to remain - as was the widely perceived outcome - the issue, which had dogged British politics for so long, would be laid to rest. The best laid plans of mice and men...
Whatever your personal views on the Brexit vote, which are all valid, those of us working on the ground in a market that relied on importing from the EU were faced with a lot of disruptions.
The value of the British pound against other major currencies plummeted, imports from Europe immediately cost us much more, consumer confidence and spending-power dropped – and uncertainty stalled investment and growth. And that was before the vote even happened.
The eventual Brexit vote further hit EU imports, transport costs and timescales, and killed continental sales. We suffered a cash flow problem and had to make difficult decisions.
We held the support of most of our suppliers to carry on, but our plans were disrupted by the Covid pandemic.
Sadly our physical shop had to close and we downsized the online operation but this gave us the opportunity to take a step back and refocus. It's fair to say we'd hardly had a chance to take a breath for over 10 years before that.

Always more than just a shop – a growing community

We've always dedicated a lot of time to helping our shop customers who needed advice and support in improving their health and lifestyle choices.
We developed friendships with our regular customers online and in the physical shop. Some would travel for hours to visit our store and chat about their lives.
A sense of community developed.
When the Covid pandemic overwhelmed us all in 2019 we began to build on that community as we saw an increased need for people to connect.
We expanded our community activities and took it to a deeper level by building a supportive group on Facebook dedicated to helping people re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol.
This group became the Alcohol-Free Community which warmly welcomes - without judgement - anyone wanting to stop drinking completely, moderate their drinking, or stay sober.
Feedback from this group showed a need for a broader range of support and services for our members.
You can see some comments from members in our testimonials but one that stands out is Debra from Yorkshire.
“At my lowest, this group became a lifeline. My binge drinking had spiralled, and finding balance was a daunting task. Today, I stand proud at almost a year alcohol-free. The unwavering camaraderie and profound insights of this community were my guiding lights — I owe my triumph to them.”
While we're delighted by any part we played in her triumph, she has done the hard work herself! Well done Debra!

Take the Next step with us

We're taking that work – and building on it with alcoholfree.com!
Our slogan – Transform Your Drinking Thinking – sums up what alcoholfree.com is about. Whatever your aims, we hope to be able to provide you with the help, advice, and support you need.
Yes, you can still buy your alcohol-free drinks from us, but you can also talk to others for support on your mindful-drinking journey.
And with our ever-growing resource library of articles, podcasts, videos and educational material, you can read, listen, watch, and learn how to navigate your own personal path.
We've been busy making this website just right and we welcome your feedback on what you like, or don't like, and what you'd like to see developed.
You can also join our lovely, private, group on Facebook for free and connect with people with shared goals.
We look forward to growing alcoholfree.com and providing the services and support you're looking for and welcoming new people to the fold.
Join us at alcoholfree.com as we continue our mission. Whether you're seeking support or looking to transform your relationship with alcohol, our resources are designed to help you Transform Your Drinking Thinking.
Whatever your aims, good luck. If you set your mind to it, you can achieve it.
Please let us know what we can do to help you help yourself. We're not here to lecture you, we're here to walk with you on your journey.
Most importantly, please never forget – no matter how you may feel sometimes, you are never, ever, alone.