If you don’t drink, navigating nightlife, bars and even eating out can be an exercise in frustration. Non-alcoholic options are popping up everywhere, but for every neighborhood haunt with a booze-free beer, there are ten spots where you’ll be left high and dry — usually with a flat soda water plus sad lime in hand.
BuzzCutt, a new app out of Portland, Oregon, might not change that overnight, but it does aim to shepherd non-drinkers, mindful drinkers and the sober-curious toward their best local options. The app, available nationwide now for iOS and Android, collects local hotspots with non-alcoholic options, all in a sunny, egg yolk yellow map-based interface that’s easy to use.
BuzzCutt was created by Olivia and Sarah Sears, a queer married couple who started pining for more robust non-alcoholic options after the pandemic prompted some soul searching around their relationship with alcohol. Both Olivia and Sarah work full-time jobs in ad tech and launched the app together — their first — to create a tool they knew would be really useful for a lot of people.
Americans are drinking less than ever (prohibition notwithstanding) for reasons ranging from health and wellness to a more open dialogue around addiction to broader society-wide shifts in social habits. More people are becoming sober now, but a lot more people are either reducing their alcohol consumption or just becoming more thoughtful about how and when they drink. BuzzCutt is designed to capture the full spectrum of that experience.
“What has been really important to us from the beginning of the brand is like, we haven’t used language that exclusively implies ‘you have to be sober to do this,’” Olivia Sears told TechCrunch in an interview. “We like to think of it as like ‘access points’ for people; BuzzCutt is an access point to choosing non alcoholic drinks for whatever reason.”
Those reasons have converged in recent years to prompt a parallel explosion in non-alcoholic drink options, with fancy bitters, canned mocktails, NA liquor and alcohol-free beer popping up everywhere. And by now, mercifully, a lot of it is getting pretty good.
BuzzCutt relies on all of those products to map out local non-alcoholic options, a trick it pulls off by sifting through distribution data and tracking what bars, restaurants, groceries and venues are stocking prominent N/A brands. This method sweeps quite a few options into the app’s directory, but wouldn’t catch a bar that specializes in bespoke mocktails, for example, if that spot doesn’t also stock a popular N/A brand like Athletic beer, Wilderton spirits or something else in BuzzCutt’s data flow.
The app launched this week with its core functionality, but BuzzCutt’s endgame is more involved. As it stands, an enthusiastic user could flag a missing entry from the app’s directory, like in the case of the database-eluding legendary mocktail menu, but the app generally plans to add a lot more community features across the board.
“Right now, it is pretty bare bones; we wanted to make sure that we got a really solid tool framework out there for people to have in the palm of their hand,” Sears said.
BuzzCutt users can also rate different locations collected in the app and leave tips. The team initially planned to pull in external reviews for the listings it indexes but quickly realized that someone who doesn’t drink would have a “totally different” lens on a bar or restaurant’s selection. Now, the app only collects reviews from BuzzCutt’s own community — a smart way to build trust and avoid diluting its much-needed utility.
“[A local bar] might be really cool, but for somebody who isn’t comfortable being around like a giant wall of fucking whiskey, that might not be the vibe,” Sears said. “And that could be captured in user generated reports about the place.”
As funding allows, BuzzCutt plans to add user profiles and other social features as well as news and deals that would be of interest to sober and sober-adjacent users, who are increasingly building community around a no-alcohol or low-alcohol lifestyle.
“Community is huge, especially for sober, sober-curious [and] mindful drinkers — you know, like having sources and support in that way,” Sears told TechCrunch. “So that’s definitely our next phase.”
Within BuzzCutt, users can filter local results by category (sports bars, wine bars, etc.), beverage type (spirits, bitters, canned mocktails and the like) and popular N/A brands, which they’ve been working closely with. The brand filter option in particular is useful since not all N/A options are created equal and sober people, this author included, will go to great lengths to find their favorites.
Personally, I’d drive halfway across the state if it meant I could enjoy my favorite alcohol-free wine by the glass out in a restaurant rather than in my kitchen. The luxury of abundant, good drink options is one that I definitely took for granted before I quit drinking years ago and it’s something that a surprising amount of social rituals are tied up in when you really get down to it.
Due to a relative dearth of alcohol-free options, sober and sober-ish people are often very motivated and enthusiastic when it comes to finding products they like and reestablishing social rituals that they may have been missing out on (happy hour, pre-gaming, wine tastings…. it’s a big list!).
That same passion, and the desire to unlock more non-alcoholic options — and thus more activities that people can enjoy without drinking – drives the BuzzCutt team, and ultimately the community it plans to serve.
“That kind of stuff is so powerful to us,” Sears said. “I definitely want to ride the wave of people getting curious and thinking about it as an exploration.”