Sydney bars, restaurants and drink-makers taking non-alcoholic tipples to the next level

Anthony Colangelo
Bar staff at Sydney's Quay restaurant serve up some of their non-alcoholic cocktails.
Bar staff at Sydney's Quay restaurant serve up some of their non-alcoholic cocktails.  Photo: Yianni Aspradakis

It used to be that Claytons was the 'drink you'd have when you weren't having a drink' but these days teetotalers have a lot more to choose from. 

Restaurants and bars such as Quay and PS40 and local brands like Lyre's non-alcoholic spirits and Brunswick Aces "gin" are taking the alcohol-free tipple past the tired, sweet, fruit juice-heavy "mocktails" you might be used to and into a world where, they hope, it'll be more fashionable to ditch booze.

Recent Roy Morgan research found that the amount of Australians who drank alcohol once over a four-week period dropped from 70.1 per cent to 67.9 per cent between 2013 to 2018, while in 2018 the Australian Bureau of Statistics declared that alcohol consumption in Australia had dropped to a 50-year low.

Mark Livings, founder of Sydney-based Lyre's non-alcoholic spirits, describes the shift in drinking habits as moving at an "erratic cadence" rather than a "gentle downwards trend", based on the research he sees through his marketing job. 

"I'm 38, and what's really interesting about my generation is we stop consuming alcohol temporarily. We do things like Dry July, or Ocsober or FebFast," Livings says. 

"What's also changed is how we are exercising. CrossFit and F45 tell people to do an eight- or 12-week body challenge and people don't touch alcohol for that time.

PS40's 'Burning Man' non-alcoholic cocktail, which is made with Seedlip Garden, rosemary smoked pea and burnt honey.
PS40's 'Burning Man' non-alcoholic cocktail, which is made with Seedlip Garden, rosemary smoked pea and burnt honey. Photo: Supplied

"[Baby] boomers drink less for health reasons and then Millennials aren't getting into alcohol to begin with as much.

"The leading theory is health and mindfulness. But the other is that growing up in an age of social media where everything is consistently recorded and posted online, the social anxiety around behaving like an absolute pork chop and having your personal reputation ruined online." 

Unlike most non-alcoholic spirits, which remove the alcohol after production, Lyre's spirits are completely alcohol-free.

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Livings enlisted his mate, sommelier David Murphy, to perfect Lyre's spirits, which are made by extracting flavours from natural ingredients before mixing them with water. 

"For example our Dry Vermouth, which is our most complex drink, has 31 different flavour notes," he says. 

When added to a mixer, Lyre's non-alcoholic spirits mimic the aroma and mouth-feel of the boozy variety, says Livings. 

Lyre's spirits are made using flavours extracted from natural ingredients.
Lyre's spirits are made using flavours extracted from natural ingredients.  Photo: Supplied

Quay's bar manager Taka Shino says the restaurant offered 10 alcoholic cocktails and 10 non-alcoholic cocktails for those who were health conscious, pregnant, not drinking due to religious reasons or just curious. 

"There is equal demand for both, but popularity for the non-alcoholic food and drink matching is slightly higher than the alcoholic one.

"It is quite a challenge for us and that challenge is a great driving factor for us. It keeps us on our toes ... We knew Quay's refurbishment would be world class, with a world-class offering so we thought that we needed world-class variety, quality and creativity." 

Shino is most proud of Quay's non-alcoholic gin martini, made with Seedlip garden, dried tonic and elderflower reduction and Granny Smith apple slices and also loves the non-alcoholic highball made with carrot juice, homemade ginger soda and yuzu curd.

"We juice the carrots ourselves using special Australian carrot varieties only available to Quay," he says. 

PS40 bar and PS Soda co-founder and "director of bubbles" Thor Bergquist says offering properly thought out non-alcoholic drinks was about being "all inclusive". 

"Most hospitality businesses in the past have looked after the lowest common denominator, which is the majority. Slowly, due to choice and information and awareness, that majority has splintered into large groups calling for various things like vegan options or gluten free or non-alcoholic drinks."

PS40 has five non-alcoholic cocktails on the menu, with the All Hallows Eve - made with ALTD Silver princess non-alcoholic spirit, rectified pumpkin juice (pumpkin juice reduced with sugar and spices) and toffee apple shrub - one of his favourites. 

The PS Soda side of the business makes and distributes handmade sodas, including cola with wattle, smoked lemonade, a myrtle soda and bush tonic with native lemongrass. 

"They're the foundation for many of our non-alcoholic drinks that the bar serves at night. We put equal emphasis in serving both kinds of drink." 

Five non-alcoholic drinks to try in Sydney

Lyre's Highland Malt – non-alcoholic "scotch".

Seedlip Grove 42 – non-alcoholic citrus spirit.

Brunswick Aces – non-alcoholic botanical spirit, like gin, called "sapiir".

PS40 La Tomatina – ALTD Green grocer non-alcoholic spirit, tomato and cumin beer, cherry tomato shrub, roasted tomato and grape syrup, pickled tomato garnish.

Quay non-alcoholic highball – carrot juice, homemade ginger soda, homemade yuzu curd.