It’s a fact: many people want to drink less alcohol. The drivers behind this alcohol-reduction-revolution are varied –‘a trend’ is not of them – and include the sober and sober-curious; the health conscious; women; millennials; those who reflected during lockdown; and many others in-between.
Enter centre stage…non-alcoholic drinks. Or ‘non alc’ as they’re affectionately known. This category is the fastest growing within the worldwide beverages industry. Accordingly, non-alcoholic drinks are proliferating, with more and more innovative products and brands released every month. The UK is currently the lead market for the non-alcohol category: it is home of Seedlip, the non-alc Godfather, and has time-honoured distilleries now launching no-proof options. But Australia is catching up, with its fastest growing drinks category being non-alcoholic wine; 2020 saw more than $4.5 million in sales with an annual expansion of 800 per cent.
According to data from Endeavour Group, parent company of BWS and Dan Murphy’s, non-alcoholic sales have increased more than 83 per cent in the past year. The International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR) also revealed that 71 per cent of Australian consumers intend to increase or maintain their no- or low-alcohol consumption next year, and 65 per cent intend to discover new zero- or low-alcohol brands in 2021. Several large multinational alcohol manufacturers have committed to have 20–30 per cent of their portfolios as zero- or low-alcohol over the next few years.
Reason 1 Healthy lifestyle
Driven by a global interest in wellness, non-alc consumers aren’t necessarily teetotallers. They’re health conscious and interested in reducing alcohol consumption. In years past, drinking or not drinking were the only two options. Recent years have seen a rise of ‘mindful drinking’ and this has generated a buzz and celebration online with hashtags such as #alcoholfree #boozefree #soberweekend #sobercurious and #hangoverfree. Being sober is no longer a party pooper = #trendsetter.
Reason 2 Challenges
Abstinence challenges like Dry January, observed primarily in UK and Europe, are credited for ‘giving up drinking for a month’, and an increased awareness of excess drinking and the personal experience of going sans alcohol. In Australia, FebFast was established in 2007, Dry July in 2008, and Sober October started in 2010 (as ‘Ocsober’). These three campaigns, which neatly span the year, give people a worthwhile reason to stop drinking (to support a cause) and reflect on the how it different it makes them feel.
Reason 3 Medical or cultural
There have always been a percentage of the adult population that cannot or will not drink alcohol. People who are pregnant, have medical issues, on medication, are in training, follow a religious practice, or are recovering alcoholics.
Reason 4 Pandemic lockdown
Our drinking habits changed drastically over 2020. Many managed lockdowns by pouring a glass of wine or creating a new cocktail. But many others were reaching for non-alcoholic options.
People had months to think critically about why they drank and how it made them feel. Working and schooling from home also gave insight into the ‘blurred’ line between the home life and social life. COVID-19 fast-tracked a change in people’s drinking habits, and once this realisation occurred people seldom reverted.
The science of food and wine pairing has evolved to include the discipline of pairing non-alcoholic drinks. Most foods pair beautifully with non-alcoholic drinks: think Pimento, the spicy ginger drink, with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes; sushi and green tea; cranberry drinks and chocolate; kombucha with South-East Asian, seafood and plant-based dishes; and the famous juice pairings at Noma in Denmark, Momofuku Seibo in Australia and Clove Club in London.
Alcohol-free bars have also been popping up across the globe. Beer-loving Germany saw its first alcohol-free bar open in 2020: Bar Zeroliq assuring a night out without a hangover. In the UK, Getaway Bar, Redemption Bar and Square Root Soda Bar have all flourished on the oxymoron of being a pub with no (alcoholic) beer. The Other Side, a sober bar in Crystal Lake, Illinois, caters to those in recovery, whereas Sans Bar, originating in heavy-drinking Texas, has now expanded to include pop-up franchises for parties and events. And contemporary Tokyo has just seen futuristic bar 0% open, with each of its 20 mocktails a work of art.
Even though Australia has been known for, and indeed brags about, its drinking culture, the notion of mindful drinking is gaining traction with younger generations. Numerous restaurants and bars now include low or zero alcohol options to cater for this growing demand.
Sans Drinks, Sydney’s first non-alcoholic bottle shop, located in Freshwater a trendy suburb on the northern beaches, opened online last year and a retail outlet this year. Creator and founder, Irene Falcone wants to disrupt the alcohol industry and deliberately chose a location across the road from a major alcohol franchise. Her website even signposts the location as ‘across the road from Vintage Cellars’.
Brunswick Aces is Australia’s first (and only) non-alcoholic bar, located in Brunswick, Melbourne. They have an extensive menu of over 100 non-alcoholic beers, wines, cocktails and mixed drinks. Brunswick Aces’ motto is to deliver a space where you enjoy drinks with no judgment, where there is a bar vibe, music, and no peer pressure of drinking, or being around others drinking.
A triumph for Australia and First Nations People is Sobah, the first Australian non-alcoholic craft beer company, made by Gamilaroi man Clinton Schultz and his wife Lozen. Sobah has three exciting features: it’s a First Nations business, in a world-first uses First Foods, finger lime and pepperberry; and a considerable amount of profit goes towards healing and mental health.
‘Best Non-Alcoholic List’ has long featured in the Australia’s Wine List of the Year Awards. This category covers still and sparkling waters; mocktails; soft drinks; teas; and increasingly juices and infusions. Judge, Mike Bennie noted that juices, kombuchas and bespoke soft drinks are often created in a sommelier-chef alliance. They steep, juice, pickle, cure and squeeze. To achieve depth, texture, flavour and aroma for each and every non-alc creation.
The Drink Easy Awards launched in 2019 are a celebration of Australian drinks and their brewing, distilling, and fermenting. But from the beginning the awards firmly included a Non-Alcoholic category and nine sub-categories within.
Hospitality venues and restaurants have a vital role to play in the further uptake and future demand of zero- and low alcohol drinks. Sommeliers and restaurateurs have a responsibility to meet this thirst, and wield great influence within the industry to ask for even more sophisticated alcohol-free drink brands. Hopefully the addition of more non-alcoholic beverages and outlets will emphasise that alcohol is not a prerequisite for having a good time nor required to enhance the food experience.