Food & Drink

Hopscotch Bottle Shop Owner Says Popularity of N/A Drinks is a Change, Not a Trend

Darryl Collins—the brains behind Maryland's first zero-proof spirits shop in Fells Point—discusses the nonalcoholic revolution.
—Photography by Scott Suchman

As a government attorney with a stressful job, Darryl Collins noticed that his alcohol intake had been increasing through the years. So, several years ago, he decided to decrease his drinking by consuming booze-free Athletic beer. He liked it well enough, but was hoping to add a little variety to his beverage life.

To learn about options beyond non-alcoholic (n/a) beer, he attended the Mindful Drinking Fest in D.C., the largest n/a event in the country.

“I came across all the options that were out there,” says Collins, “and I was blown away. While I was there, I spoke with this person who owned a pop-up zero-proof bottle shop in Alexandria, VA, and they said they couldn’t keep up with the demand. Very rarely in the business world do you have someone who says, ‘Please open the same business I have, I can’t keep up.’”

So last August, that’s exactly what Collins did when he opened Fells Point’s Hopscotch, the first n/a bottle shop in the state of Maryland.

“I named it Hopscotch because, like the game, some people have one foot in, one foot out—those are the sober curious,” he explains “And then you have people who have two feet in—those are the people who don’t drink any alcohol, but at the end of the day, it’s all about maintaining balance and having fun, whatever that looks like to you.”

Tell me what’s on the shelves at Hopscotch.
We carry over 200 products ranging from beer to spirits to canned cocktails to wine—and when I say wine, we have Rieslings and Chardonnays and Cabs and Syrahs from all over the world, though there are no local breweries making n/a beer and I wish there were. Our spirits include tequila, whiskey, rum, and gin, so almost anything you can find with alcohol we have the n/a version.

How do you help people figure out what to buy?
Our tag line is, “The first drink’s on us.” I specifically created a tasting counter so people can come in and taste things. As a consumer myself, I don’t want to spend $20 to $40 on something I’ve never tried. Then I’ll buy it and if I don’t like it, I’m totally turned off. Most of what’s in the store, people can try before they buy.

Would you call the sudden interest in n/a beverages a trend?
I wouldn’t call it a trend; I’d call it a change. When people use the word “trend,” they are expecting things to go back to the way things have been, but it’s not that. When we look at last year’s Super Bowl, for instance, Heineken spent millions of dollars to advertise Heineken 0.0, so when you look at this billion-dollar company that did the research and saw where the market was going and used their 30 seconds and millions of dollars to advertise their n/a beer, it’s more than a trend—it’s a change.

How do you explain the n/a revolution?
We drink because of taste, and the n/a beverages have just gotten so much better. Also, the legalization of cannabis has something to do with it—many people who consume cannabis don’t want to consume alcohol at the same time—there’s a term for it called California sober. The other part of it is that as a country, we are more aware of our physical and mental health, and so understanding that alcohol can deteriorate our health; more people are shying away from it and trying n/a beverages.