Sobriety & Harm Reduction Behind the Bar: Part One

Four plastic cups of beer sitting on a wooden table. A closeup shot.

Coffee pro Molly Flynn reflects on her journey to sobriety, and shares an original alcohol-free cocktail recipe with us.


Cover photo courtesy of Nastogadka via Unsplash

From the editor: While the February + March 2021 issue of Barista Magazine celebrates the camaraderie and craft of coffee cocktails, there are also many folks in the industry who choose to abstain from alcohol or limit their use. Through this three-part series, we’ll be exploring the topics of sobriety and harm reduction for baristas and industry workers. Talking to folks behind the bar, we’ll learn how they feel best supported in their choices around consumption, and what they wish the industry at large knew about sobriety.

The food and beverage industry is notorious for promoting a culture of drinking and substance use. Long shifts and low wages, not to mention the seemingly endless demand of emotional labor, creates an industry that is most at-risk for substance use and disorders, and the third most at-risk for heavy alcohol use. After working a busy, line-out-the-door weekend shift, the idea of grabbing drinks with friends and co-workers and swapping battle stories from the day sounds ideal. But what if an occasional drinking and/or substance-use session becomes the routine, or the only means of decompression?

In a mini-series on sobriety and harm reduction behind the bar, I’m talking with several folks in the coffee world about their journey with sobriety, harm reduction, and what they want the greater coffee world to know. As we’ll see, sobriety or modified use is a series of choices that can look different from person to person for many reasons. Some folks commit to abstaining from all alcohol and substances for all time. Others choose to do this for a period of time, and some adopt safer practices around consumption. For today’s first part, I had the honor of chatting with Molly Flynn (she/her) about her journey to sobriety, how she’s taken her passion for craft beverages to the world of non-alcoholic cocktails, and connecting with a growing community of young, proudly sober individuals on Instagram. 

Molly is a young white woman. She sips on a non-alcoholic coffee coocktail. She has short brown hair and is wearing a white knitted sweater and sitting on a blue couch.
Molly Flynn has been working in specialty coffee since she was 16. Approaching her fifth year of sobriety, her life is a lot different now than it was when she was drinking. Photo provided by Molly Flynn.

These days, Molly Flynn has an impressive array of roles for the Seattle-based Broadcast Coffee—project coordinator, social media manager, and service repair technician. As a musician, Molly also writes and records her own songs. Her life now is a lot different from when she first started in coffee at 16. 

“I found my way into drinking through coffee,” Molly says, noting that her co-workers were just as passionate about craft cocktails and craft beer as they were about the specialty-coffee drinks they slung during the day. She would often hang out with her co-workers and friends at bars after shifts. What started out as a fun and occasional pastime eventually turned into an unhealthy dependency. After a divorce and cross-country solo move, Molly’s drinking had escalated to the point where she was “drunk most of the time. I was drinking 10 drinks a day. There were a lot of consequences that came along with that,” she says. 

Molly was working at a company in the Bay Area when her work performance suffered, as she volleyed back and forth between intoxication and suffering from withdrawals. During this time, she kept her drinking a secret, terrified someone at work would call her out. Eventually her struggle became obvious, and her employers told her to see a doctor.  “When it became apparent that I was going through withdrawal, (the doctor) sent me to the ER and said basically, ‘If you don’t stop drinking, you’re going to die at an early age.’ That was the second time I had been to the ER for withdrawals from alcohol.”  

A coffee bag from Broadcast roasters sitting next to a cocktail glass full of liquid. It is on an orange and white background, and coffee beans are scattered on the table it is sitting on.
Through her Instagram account @mollymakesdrinks, Molly shares craft cocktail recipes with zero-proof spirits, including this non-alcoholic version of The Revolver coffee cocktail. Photo provided by Molly Flynn.

Through her work insurance, Molly was able to go to a three-month voluntary outpatient rehab program, and “it was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself,” she said, ending about a decade of heavy drinking. Last year, Molly funneled her passion for craft beverages into @mollymakesdrinks, an Instagram account where she shares recipes for cocktails featuring non-alcoholic spirits, including brands like Lyre’s and Dhos. “A year ago, the sober beverage industry started booming … all of a sudden I was able to make cocktails again, and I just started doing it all the time. I was taking pictures of them and wanted to share with everyone how they could make drinks.” Molly made connections with a growing Instagram community of young people who are “reclaiming the identity of a sober person to be something that’s beautiful, and healthy and joyful.”

Molly predicts that demands for specialty coffee to be more inclusive will eventually lead to more sober-inclusivity at coffee events, competitions, and throwdowns. When asked if she thinks there will ever be a Coffee In Good Spirits competition that includes non-alcoholic spirits, she says, “100% … one example that’s similar is the push to allow alternative milks in barista competitions … it’s important that we be accommodating to people who want to engage with coffee and the cocktail world, but why does ethanol make it special? Why is that the ingredient that makes it magical and acceptable when there are all of these other flavors out there in this world?”

Four bottles of ingredients to make The Revolver Cocktail.
The Revolver coffee cocktail uses the Black Lives Matter blend by Broadcast Coffee together with Lyre’s American Malt. Photo provided by Molly Flynn.

Now approaching five years of sobriety, Molly’s advice for others in the industry who are struggling with alcohol or other substances is that “they’re not alone … there are options, there are communities, there are resources.” If the idea of sobriety seems intimidating or unapproachable, Molly shares something that has taken the pressure off of her: “You don’t have to commit to be sober forever … all I have to focus on is being sober this month, this day, this minute, and the more I do that the happier I am.”

Stay tuned for part two of our miniseries of sobriety and harm reduction behind the bar.

The Revolver

2 oz. Lyre’s American Malt
1 oz. chilled coffee (brewed normal strength)
1/3 oz. Demerara 2:1 syrup
2 dashes orange bitters
Garnish with orange peel

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass filled with ice, and stir just until cold. Strain into a chilled coupe or glass of your choice and garnish. Enjoy!

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Mark Van Streefkerk
is Barista Magazine’s social media content developer and a frequent contributor. He is also a freelance writer, social media manager, and novelist based out of Seattle. If Mark isn’t writing, he’s probably biking to his favorite vegan restaurant. Find out more on his website.