Cocktail Star Turned Wellness Coach Derek Brown Is Hosting a Drinking Festival With No Alcohol

Sample 25 different non-alcoholic spirits, wines, and beers at DC's first Mindful Drinking Festival

Former Columbia Room owner Derek Brown will demonstrate how to make his "12th Night Cider" at the Mindful Drinking Festival. Photograph by Nole Garey.

There are endless festivals to get tipsy—or wasted—on everything from wine to whiskey to hard seltzer. DC’s first-ever Mindful Drinking Festival, however, will focus on something else entirely. The event, coming to H Street’s Craft Beer Cellar DC on Saturday, November 5, will serve up pours of at least 25 different zero-proof beers, wines, spirits, and ready-to-drink cocktails alongside a mulled cider-making demo and discussion around “mindful mixology.”

The festival is co-hosted by Derek Brown, the cocktail star who closed his acclaimed Shaw bar Columbia Room in February and has become a wellness coach and consultant focused on no- and low-alcohol cocktails. He’s joined by Erika Goedrich, owner of Craft Beer Cellar DC, which boasts a wide selection of zero-proof beverages. Spirit alternatives have flooded the market in recent years—many of which can cost as much as a nice bottle of gin or whiskey. Part of the goal of the event is to give people a chance to see which products they like without having to spend a lot on different bottles.

“Just like drinking gin, there’s lots of the bad gins, there’s lots of good gins. But it’s an expensive proposition to buy, right?,” Brown says. Tickets to the Mindful Drinking Festival are $20 and include unlimited samples, a tasting glass, and access to Brown’s cocktail demo and discussion of his book Mindful Mixology.

That’s not to say the festival is all about abstaining from alcohol. Here’s how Brown describes the idea of “mindful drinking:”

“What for one person is too much is not too much for another person. For some people, they don’t want to drink at all. And for some people, they feel comfortable having a couple of drinks. Mindful drinking is not saying, ‘here’s the line, don’t cross this line.’ What it’s saying is ‘do you know why you’re drinking?'”

Brown’s own relationship to alcohol has transformed greatly in recent years as he’s grappled with the fallout from his own heavy drinking and diagnosis of bipolar depression. He’s since gotten professional treatment and reinvented himself as a champion for no- and low-alcohol cocktails.

Since closing Columbia Room, Brown has finished a certificate in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He also started a company called Positive Damage Inc. Yes, a reference to the Metallica song “Damage Inc.” but also the kind of positive stress that comes from exercising or learning. In his new role, Brown is educating companies and organizations about mindful drinking and also helping bars and restaurants build out non-alcoholic cocktail menus. He’s planning to teach some “holidays without the hangover” cocktail classes via Zoom for home drinkers. He’s also doing some one-on-one coaching for people who want to change their relationship to alcohol, though he cautions that he doesn’t have the training to work with people in recovery from severe alcohol use disorders.

“It’s not a shouldn’t company, it’s a should company,” Brown says. “It’s not like you shouldn’t drink alcohol. It’s like you should be able to go out and have a great experience. You should be able to have complex adult drinks. You should be able to drink on your own terms and feel the way that you want to feel.”

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.