Drinking in Optimist

Drinking in Optimist

My name is: Lisa Farr Johnstone.

I’m known for being: Co-founder and head of mission for LA-based non-alcoholic beverage company, Optimist Drinks, and also writer and researcher for our podcast, Optimist In Progress (weekly conversations with frontline optimists from all walks of life.)

I'm talking about: Our first product range, Optimist Botanicals—three “spirit” bases, with complex flavor profiles, to enjoy as a mixed low alcohol or non-alcoholic drink when you are trying to drink a little less or avoid alcohol altogether.

You can find it at: Erewhon markets across LA, in select liquor stores, bars, restaurants, private members clubs (in LA and NYC) and, of course, online at optimistdrinks.com.

Before I created this line, I was: Surfing a lot more?! Raising a young family, volunteering for various educational non-profit organizations and political campaigns and reflecting on the intersection between alcohol consumption, mental health and social justice. Prior to that, I worked for Bono’s (RED) organization, raising funds for HIV/AIDS programs across Africa, and I had a glorious stint teaching scuba in Zanzibar.

What inspired me to launch it was: An increasing awareness that I wanted to drink less alcohol for my physical and mental well-being, but didn’t want to miss out on the social connection that comes with going out for drinks and dinners, or sharing a glass with someone. I realized I wasn’t alone in that desire, and the options were extremely limited and rather underwhelming. We wanted to make not drinking alcohol socially acceptable.

How it works is: Pop off the beautiful glass closure, pour an oz or two into your favorite ice-filled glass, add your preferred mixer (Topo Chico for a spritz, tonic if that’s your jam), garnish at will and sip at leisure. The spirits also work in myriad non-alcoholic cocktails (see our Insta for inspo). For a low alcoholic option (think superior spritz/hard seltzer), you can spike it with a shot of vodka, gin or tequila. If you’re out, make every other drink an Optimist so you’re not compromising on flavor and quality, but also drinking more mindfully. (We call it “zebra striping.”)

What makes it special is: We created our drinks with a master distiller in Downtown LA. Each flavor profile features 10-15 botanicals, inspired by our diverse city and its remarkable landscapes. We don’t use alcohol at any point in the process, nor do we use any sugar, gums or additives. We aren’t trying to mimic the taste of alcohol, rather offer up an alternative with complex flavors, which pairs well with food and festivities. You bring your own buzz, whatever that may be.

One thing you can’t miss is: The fact that you can still feel very much a part of any occasion, keep your ritual of cocktail making, and still get good sleep and wake feeling fantastic and ready for dawn patrol, morning meditation or dealing with your day, whatever it holds.

My favorite secret detail is: The botanical illustrations that decorate the inside of the label feature each ingredient in a layout suggestive of Rorschach tests; a nod to the mental well-being, our broader mission—everyone sees something different. And the interior base of the bottle is deliberately slanted and imperfect—we are all imperfect, optimists in progress, if you will (which inspired the name of our weekly podcast, co-hosted with a UCLA professor of psychology, Dr Dream Letamendi.)

For me, what it means to create a product with purpose is: Not even a choice; it is a necessity. We all need to do whatever we can to improve the situation for people and planet. Mental illness, isolation and loneliness are on the rise, especially amongst young people. We want to encourage social connection, conversation and good vibes, whilst also being mindful of people’s health and giving people a real choice. Creating products that were environmentally friendly, throughout the process, was also a given, and so we committed to work towards B Corps status to hold ourselves to the highest ethical and environmental standards. Beyond this, we redirect two-percent of sales to non-profit organizations who offer access to mental wellness services for underserved youth, so the benefits of Optimist can be spread more widely. We all need to become more conscious consumers.  

One ritual you can practice with this is: Mindful consumption. Stop everything, make yourself a drink (alone or, even better, with friends) and really savor the moment, the flavors, the conversation, the surroundings. Take the time to reflect on what really gives you a buzz. (I used to think it was the alcohol; now, I realize it is mostly the social connection, the conversations, the laughter—all the love!)

It can help you live your process because: Meaningful connection is essential to our happiness and our existence, as individuals and as a collective. We need to come together to be creative, to work out solutions, to build bridges, to make change happen, to work towards a better future for all. Being physically and mentally healthy is also fundamental to this. We talk about ourselves as creators of “tools for optimists.”

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