Beautiful and booze-free: The non-alcoholic drinks 'changing the game'

Sophia Fleming  and Carla Uriarte enjoying non-alcoholic drinks at Cafe Freda's in Sydney.
Sophia Fleming and Carla Uriarte enjoying non-alcoholic drinks at Cafe Freda's in Sydney. Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

Australian drinking culture has shifted focus to quality over quantity, ushering in a new wave of non-alcoholic beverages for the sober-curious. 

Rather than trying to replicate flavours of beer or wine, these drinks challenge pre-existing notions of what adult beverages are by using innovative fermentation and carbonation techniques to deliver sophisticated and complex alternatives.

Jason and Andy Quin, founders of Mornington Peninsula-based Etch Sparkling, say their range of non-alcoholic drinks are "changing the game".

Monceau is a naturally fermented drink designed to pair well with food.
Monceau is a naturally fermented drink designed to pair well with food. Photo: Supplied

Etch uses native botanicals to create delicate and aromatic beverages that create a greater sense of "table pride" than a simple soft drink ever could. 

"We think adult drinking doesn't have to look, smell, or taste like booze to be good," Jason says.

He explains how his own alcohol dependency saw him step away from a 20-year career in the wine industry and opened his eyes to a gap in the market. 

When you're drinking artisanal drinks, people respect that a bit more.

Bridget Hassed

"I'm still a foodie, and I still love socialising, going out to restaurants and pairing drinks with my meals," he says. 

"There weren't enough options back in 2019, but here we are in 2022 and the category is evolving fast."

Twenty-seven-year-old Sydney comedian Bridget Hassed says the influx of "nice adult drinks" means she no longer has to stand around at the pub with a "schooner of orange juice", when the taste of non-alcoholic beer and wine make sobriety challenging. 

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"Drinking juice didn't really make sense so you'd have a lot of people coming up to you and asking questions," Hassed says.

"Whereas when you're drinking artisanal drinks, people respect that a bit more, it feels more appropriate."

While statistics show Australians of all ages are consuming significantly less alcohol, Gen Z are leading the charge.

T.I.N.A (This Is Not Alcohol) founders Christina Trabucco and Imogen Hayes.
T.I.N.A (This Is Not Alcohol) founders Christina Trabucco and Imogen Hayes. Photo: Supplied

Studies show up to 44 per cent of young Australians decreased their alcohol consumption during COVID, more than double the rate for any other generation. 

David Abram, owner of Darlinghurst cafe Freda's, says young customers are "a bit more savvy" about alcohol consumption, particularly post-lockdown. 

"People are drinking in a more measured and mature way," he says.

Monceau's Rowan McNaught and Alan Caras.
Monceau's Rowan McNaught and Alan Caras.  Photo: Justin McManus

"We're also seeing the introduction of some really interesting options that are tailored to drinking out without the hangover."

Freda's boasts a generous selection of non-alcoholic options, including Monceau (a "pet-nat kombucha" brewed in Brunswick), StrangeLove (a Byron Bay company with flavoured low-calorie sodas and sparkling waters) and Club Mate (a carbonated yerba mate-extract beverage made in Germany).

"Club Mate is our biggest selling drink across the board, aside from maybe a Tommy's margarita," Abram says.

Etch Sparkling 'pairs well with food, rather than overpowering it', says founders Jason and Andy Quin.
Etch Sparkling 'pairs well with food, rather than overpowering it', says founders Jason and Andy Quin.  Photo: Supplied

It's a far cry from the sales trends at non-alcoholic drinks superstore Sans Drinks, where founder Irene Falcone targets an older demographic looking to make healthier life choices.

"Those type of drinks make up just 5 per cent of my total sales," Falcone says.

"For us oldies, who have spent years enjoying a nice glass of wine after work, we miss the flavour. My customers want a direct copycat."

T.I.N.A (This Is Not Alcohol) combines Taiwanese oolong tea with botanicals such as lemon myrtle and rose.
T.I.N.A (This Is Not Alcohol) combines Taiwanese oolong tea with botanicals such as lemon myrtle and rose. Photo: Supplied

Monceau co-founders Alan Caras and Rowan McNaught have noticed a "massive shift" in the market since Monceau's launch in 2019, when it could be challenging to sell to traditional outlets.

"Suddenly, there are a large number of restaurants and bars and bottle shops coming to us," Caras says. 

Monceau presents a "singular, unique drinking option" by applying wine-making techniques to kombucha yeast culture.

McNaught says it fills a gap for discerning drinkers pursuing complete sobriety, and those who are simply cutting down alcohol consumption.

"People who really like the craft, the story, the processes and the connection to the ingredients you see in natural wine-making and craft alcoholic beverages look to Monceau as a nice alternative," he says. 

The market shift has encouraged breweries to get on board. Head brewer at Tribe, Roland Thiemann, says the "whole category is exploding". 

In May, Tribe released Wilde Guru, a sparkling water that is "dry-hopped", or steeped in hops for several days to create a drink that is neither "as sweet as a soft drink, nor as boring as water".

"We looked at what we do best, which is brewing, and applied that learning to water," Thiemann explains.

"This trend is exciting, and it's definitely not going away."

Top three to try

T.I.N.A is a tea-based non-alcoholic beverage created using high quality and seasonal ingredients.

T.I.N.A is a tea-based non-alcoholic beverage created using high quality and seasonal ingredients. Photo: Supplied

T.I.N.A (This Is Not Alcohol)

Cousins Chrissie Trabucco, from Melbourne, and Imogen Hayes, from Sydney, have created a "delicious, craft-driven drink that can sit alongside wine or beer on a table". T.I.N.A combines high mountain Taiwanese oolong tea with botanicals such as lemon myrtle and rose. "We are very focused on flavour, so we use aroma, acid and tannins to build a drink with a delicate complexity to it," Hayes says.

tinadrinks.com

Monceau applies winemaking techniques to kombucha to create new non-alcoholic alternatives.

Monceau applies winemaking techniques to kombucha to create new non-alcoholic alternatives. Photo: Supplied

Monceau pet-nat kombucha

Monceau is a low-intervention, naturally fermented drink available in flavours such as mandarin, fuji pear and blood orange. It's refreshing, lightly carbonated and designed to pair well with food. "There are no preservatives or pasteurisation, so it definitely has a salubrious quality," co-founder Alan Caras says.

monceau.com.au

Etch Sparkling

Etch Sparkling "pairs well with food, rather than overpowering it", say founders Jason and Andy Quin. Photo: Supplied

Etch sparkling

Jason and Andy Quin worked with local Indigenous elders to gain a greater understanding of the native Australian fruits and herbs used in Etch. Their sparkling beverages come in flavours such as ZST (finger lime, lemon myrtle and rosemary) and PLM (Davidson plum, riberry and strawberry gum), aiming to "celebrate these plants unencumbered by pre-existing notions of what an adult drink is".

etchsparkling.com.au