What's new in alcohol-free spirits this summer

That's the (alcohol-free) spirit: Seedlip Grove 42, Lyre's Dry Vermouth and Brunswick Aces Spades.
That's the (alcohol-free) spirit: Seedlip Grove 42, Lyre's Dry Vermouth and Brunswick Aces Spades. Photo: Supplied

There is a plethora of reasons why you might not be interested in alcohol right now. Maybe you're still feeling the effects of Christmas or New Year's, you're the designated driver or you've got an early start in the morning. Whatever your motivation, there are a bunch of new drinks on the market that will help elevate your booze-free game without resorting to VB's beer-flavoured tea – thankfully that stroke of genius was only a limited-edition release.

Lance Friedman, category manager for non-alcohol at Dan Murphy's, has seen a double digit increase in non-alcoholic beverage sales on last year, with particular interest from customers in metro areas. 

The chain now stocks more than more than 40 products in its non-alcoholic range. Its latest acquisition is a pre-mixed "gin" and tonic called The Duchess, which comes via Cape Town and is made from juniper berries and infused with extracts of primrose, citrus blossoms, and honeybush, a botanical indigenous to South Africa. 

Although if you're adverse to sweeteners be sure to check the label: xylotol and stevia keep sugars at 2.4g per 100ml, compared to an average 250ml gin and tonic at 18g of sugar, potentially to tap into the burgeoning diet market. At any rate it's convenient: pour it over ice, chuck in a wedge of something citrusy and you're good to go. 

UK-based Seedlip, which is not an imitation gin because none of its products contain juniper, was the first to launch a range of non-alcoholic spirits in Australia, and at $50 a bottle, too. Why so expensive? It's a lot harder to make than cordial: each batch is a six-week process where the botanicals are individually macerated in neutral grain spirit then distilled before all the alcohol is removed. 

There are currently three flavours designed to be mixed with tonic or soda  – spicy, herbal, and citrussy –  with new releases coming soon. Seedlip in a can and a pre-batched "nOgroni" (an alcohol-free take on the popular negroni cocktail, traditionally made with gin, vermouth and Campari) have recently launched in the UK.

Lyre's co-founder Mark Livings.
Lyre's co-founder Mark Livings. Photo: Peter Braig

Mark Livings, founder of Sydney-based Lyre's, spent years working with a German tech company to develop a range of alcohol-free variants that rely on water, not alcohol, as a base.

"We took a beverage science route to figure out what makes bourbon bourbon, Aperol Aperol, and vermouth vermouth," he says. "The real trick for us was identifying the right flavours in the first place." 

Unlike other non-alcohol spirits, there's no distillation involved. It's more of a precise blending exercise, and all the ingredients are naturally derived with the exception of a preservative, which is common for all alcohol-free spirits.  

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At present, 790 different flavour elements are used across Lyre's 13 bottle range, which includes a new-release Italian Spritz, the Dry London Spirit (a nod to gin) and an American Malt (bourbon). Lyre's' attention to detail extends to mimicking the alcoholic "burn", courtesy of black pepper, white pepper, ginger and menthol.

Livings says the range is intended to be a complete toolkit for people to make all their favourite cocktails in an alcohol-free format or a lower-proof version by swapping one or two ingredients. "Ultimately we wanted to create a drink everyone can share, whether health, cultural or religious reasons are at play," he says.  

Shay Chamberlain, manager at award-winning Fitzroy bar Black Pearl, will launch a new menu in the new year featuring non-alcohol options made with local Melbourne brand, Brunswick Aces, due to increased customer demand. 

South Africa's The Duchess premixed alcohol-free gin and tonic has hit our shores.
South Africa's The Duchess premixed alcohol-free gin and tonic has hit our shores. Photo: Supplied

"We already make a lot of alcohol-free cocktails; people are more confident these days in asking for something more than soft drink or juice," she says.

And they're not just for drinkers who want to go 100 per cent alcohol-free. "Sometimes it's about pacing, we'll see customers who'll have a couple of cocktails then switch to a non-alcoholic option. Especially the younger generation, who seem to be more health conscious." 

She says that the growing range of non-alcoholic spirits has opened up the world of zero-proof cocktails.

"Before, you couldn't really make a decent virgin margarita because it was tequila that gave the cocktail body and structure."

Now, Chamberlain says she could spin just about any cocktail into an alcohol-free version: "It's about taking the identity of a specific drink and using it for inspiration to create something new."