Australia's first alcohol-free bottleshop opened last week in the northern Sydney beach suburb of Freshwater. Sans Drinks owner Irene Falcone says she chose its location, opposite a Vintage Cellars store, "to make a statement".
Some early comments from locals weren't too positive. "People were saying, 'Who's the idiot doing that?'," Falcone says. "But now we are open they use both."
Indeed, on Saturday it seemed people were shopping at Sans Drinks a lot more than the liquor chain across the road.
"People were lining up out our door," Falcone says. "Customers were coming from Bondi, Wetherill Park, all over Sydney."
Falcone has filled her store with a range of no-alcohol beer, wine and spirits with a focus on Australian labels. She is aware of only one other zero-proof bottleshop in the world – New York City's Spirited Away.
Now the business owner is confident enough to predict another 15 booze-free bottle-os across the nation. After cutting her teeth peddling non-alcoholic drinks online before investing in bricks and mortar, Falcone says she has a good grasp of her clientele.
"Seventy per cent are women, mostly over 30. Men are all ages but skew a little younger. Women come in groups and love tastings, men are in and out."
She says almost all of Sans Drinks customers also drink alcohol, they just want to drink less of it.
"They'll start their night with an alcoholic drink and later move on to something softer. Many people also tell me they've switched to non-alcoholic drinks during the week, but will still have alcohol on the weekend.
"There has been a real shift in drinking culture. New customers are saying things such as 'a mate of mine stopped drinking last year and they have never looked better', or 'all my friends have stopped drinking and I'm the only one left – what have you got for me?'. Peer pressure has gone the other way."
Women will often buy alcohol-free wine, while men favour beer, Falcone says.
"People are especially loving the shiraz from [Australian brand] New Blood. Edenvale's Premium Reserve sparkling shiraz is a winner too. No one has tried it and not bought it – even Edenvale is surprised by how much I'm selling."
French label Le Petit Chavin is especially popular for its booze-free rosé, while German import Noughty is big in the fizz category. "It's certified organic and halal, so Islamic women are buying it, excited there is now a sparkling wine they can drink."
Almost every bloke coming into the store is walking away with beer from Canberra-based brewers Heaps Normal, says Falcone.
"Big Drop's Paradiso IPA is my second biggest beer seller. We're also moving a lot more Sobah beer in store compared to online. I think that's because we give people the opportunity to sample Sobah's Australian bush flavours such as lemon aspen and pepperberry in the shop. For someone who hasn't tried those ingredients before, it can be a risk to buy a beer using them without it trying first."
Mon-Sat 10am-5.30pm; Sun 10am-4pm.
28 Lawrence Street, Freshwater, sansdrinks.com.au