Four myths about alcohol-free drinks that will change the way you see them

Non-alcoholic beers, spirits and wines are enjoying a boom in demand in Australia.
Non-alcoholic beers, spirits and wines are enjoying a boom in demand in Australia. Photo: Supplied

There's no doubt alcohol-free drinks are having a bit of a moment. With an ever-expanding range of premium booze-free wines, beers and spirits hitting the shelves, there has never been a better time to be a non-drinker.

Despite this flourishing market, there are plenty of misconceptions about non-alcohol drinks. Here are four common myths. 

Mark Livings, co-founder, Lyre's
Lyre's pink gin fizz
Supplied

Spirit company Lyre's enjoyed record sales in January. Photo: Supplied

Myth 1: Alcohol-free drinks aren't popular

Online shop Sans Drinks, which sells more than 100 alcohol-free products, has been doing a strong trade in recent months, with founder Irene Falcone saying business growth over the past year has been phenomenal.

"I went from 10 orders a week to over 200 a day in five months and [will] have an estimated turnover of $10 million by July 2022," she says.

Andy Miller, a founding partner of alcohol-free beer Heaps Normal, agrees demand for non-alcoholic beer has "gone through the roof" since launching the label in July last year. "We're now in the fridges of almost 600 venues nationally and it feels like we're only just beginning," he says.

Spirit company Lyre's, which sells a non-alcoholic Dry London Spirit and Italian Spritz, has also enjoyed a sales boom.

"We recently delivered record sales in January, underpinning the importance of 'dry' months as a way for drinkers [to test out] the non-alcoholic spirits category," says co-founder Mark Livings.

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"Delivering a Dry January 1000 per cent larger in revenue terms than last year tells us we're really on the right track."

Andy Miller, Ben Holdstock and Peter Brennan are the founders of Heaps Normal.

Andy Miller says Heaps Normal has about half the energy of a traditional beer. Photo: Supplied

Myth 2: Alcohol-free drinks are full of sugar

The founder of alcohol-free wine Newblood, Steve Saffioti, says it's easy to see where this myth came from. "Some of the initial non-alcoholic wines were grape juice, which is very high in sugar," he says. 

However, non-alcoholic wines have evolved since then, he says. "We remove the alcohol using a gentle distillation process," he says. "We don't add any bad stuff or nasties to our product."

As a comparison, Newblood chardonnay is only 60 kilojoules per 100 millilitres compared with 375 kilojoules per 100ml for a standard alcoholic white wine.

Likewise, Heaps Normal has about half the energy of a traditional beer. "Like most well-made beers, it's also very low in sugar [less than 2 per cent]," Miller says. "It's exactly what it says on the tin – beer without the downsides."

Apart from being low in sugar, many alcohol-free drinks have additional health benefits, Falcone says. "Wildlife botanicals is a good example – it's basically a non-alc wine-based beauty elixir in a champagne bottle," she says. "It's vegan, low-calorie – less than 35 per glass [145 kilojoules] – and vitamin-rich.".

She also notes that many of the alcohol-free beers have health-giving properties. "The Erdinger non-alcoholic wheat beer contains vitamins b12 and folic acid, as well as polyphenols. It has isotonic properties and is drink of choice for German athletes as a sports re-hydrater."

Mark Livings, co-founder, Lyre's
Lyre's pink gin fizz
Supplied

Making a non-alcoholic spirit is expensive, says Mark Livings of Lyre's. Photo: Supplied

Myth 3: Alcohol-free drinks are too expensive

One of the biggest myths that crops up around alcohol-free drinks is that they are too expensive. While it's true many sell at a similar price to their boozy equivalents, Saffioti says the cost is a reflection of the production process, which tends to be more complex than that of soft drink. 

"Newblood is made by taking specially produced alcoholic wine and adding a process to remove the alcohol," he says.

"This process involves cutting-edge distillation technology, which isn't cheap to purchase and operate. We also lose litres of wine in the de-alcoholisation process, which all makes the production more expensive than standard wine."

Similarly, when it comes to price points, beer is largely a game of scale. "Smaller, independent brewers will almost always be slightly more expensive than their bigger brothers and sisters," Miller says.

Then there is the cost of ingredients. "Heaps Normal would contain higher quantities of hops [the most expensive ingredient] than your average XPA to ensure the flavour is carried through without the alcohol," Miller says.

But surely without the tax that alcohol attracts, booze-free drinks should still be cheaper? Not true, Livings says – the reality is that making a non-alcoholic spirit is expensive.

"The development of Lyre's has taken years to perfect and that's a good reason why no one is even close to the quality we have in our liquid to deliver that true-to-taste experience," he says. 

"So, whilst there is no excise, our scale is not yet comparable to the prices you may pay for a mass-produced gin or bourbon." 

Irene Falcone of Sans Drinks

Irene Falcone of Sans Drinks will open Sydney's first non-alcoholic bottle shop this year. Photo: Supplied

Myth 4: Alcohol-free drinks are totally harmless

While alcohol-free drinks are a boon for many non-drinkers, they could have some downsides.

Their aroma and flavour may be triggering for people living with alcohol dependency, for example, while the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education in Canberra also raised concerns in a recent report that the availability of alcohol-free drinks in supermarkets could normalise alcohol use.

"When zero-alcohol products are branded the same as large well-known alcohol companies and sold in the same aisle as other grocery products, it contributes to increased brand awareness and is a form of marketing," says chief executive officer Caterina Giorgi.

Falcone acknowledges this concern and agrees that supermarkets, known for soft drink and juices, are not the right place for non-alcoholic products.

However, she believes bottle shops are not the right place to sell these drinks either. She will open Sydney's first bricks-and-mortar non-alcoholic bottle shop later this year.

"Many people wanting to avoid alcohol do not want to shop in an environment promoting the very thing they are trying to avoid," she says.