Have you noticed the rise in non-alcoholic ready-to-drink cans at your local boutique bottle-o? We sure have.
With the trending Heaps Normal Quiet XPA, a casual Seedlip and tonic on many a menu and countless chic alcohol-free seltzers stocked at almost every bottle shop and bar, it’s actually pretty cool to be at .0 these days.
Australia has always been well known for its drinking culture. A ‘good day out’ almost always involves drinks with friends, which can be pretty hard to stand against, even if you don’t feel like drinking. With specific “Aussie” drinks like beer and wine as such a staple in our everyday consumption, they’ve become part of the framework that helps us socialise and connect with our peers.
Despite this, Australia is fast becoming a leader in the non-alcoholic realm, with our first permanent alcohol-free bar set to open this year. The bar will be opened and operated by industry leaders Brunswick Aces, who started making their beloved non-alcoholic Sapiir (a gin replacement) back in 2017.
Founded by a group of neighbours who enjoyed sharing their homemade food with each other, the idea for a non-alcoholic gin replacement arose for the guys at Brunswick Aces when someone from the group fell pregnant and another took up the challenge of a triathlon. Within the group was a scientist and engineer, so they put their creativity and skills together to build a bespoke still, which allowed them to create a gin replacement without alcohol, but still extracting the same incredible taste and aroma of a traditional gin, especially when mixed with soda.
Since then, Brunswick Aces has grown rapidly, now selling Sapiir nationwide as well as in New Zealand, Singapore, Dubai and soon to be in the UK and US.
Like many other alcohol-free booze, inspiration to create the product has been drawn from personal experience and has then been welcomed by wider audiences. But why has it taken so long for us to embrace zero-alcohol beverages and bars?
“Like with anything, the time has to be right to capture the attention of the right people,” says Brunswick Aces brand director, Stuart Henshall. “There are only a handful of non-alcoholic bars around the world, so the fact Australia is getting one now shows that we are leading the trend rather than following it.
“Australia is one of the top 10 countries globally leading the moderation trend, alongside Japan and South Africa, so even though we have a reputation of being heavy drinkers, it’s a stereotype that isn’t true for all Aussies. It also comes down to what is available on the market. A few years ago you would only find a handful of non-alcoholic drinks, now there are hundreds. It’s variety that brings people into a venue to make it viable, which is why now is the time for us to open the bar.”
During COVID lockdowns last year, people experienced more stress, anxiety and boredom than ever before, which led to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Now don’t get us wrong, we love a solo bev sometimes, but drinking alone is not compatible with moderation and some people found that the activity only made them feel worse, both mentally and physically.
Without physical socialising at its normal high, there’s been a huge shift in conversations around choice when choosing the lifestyle that makes us happy and healthy, regardless of what others think. These changes can include things like moving out of the city and closer to nature, being upfront at work if you’re struggling with mental health and drinking mindfully.
So, is it time to normalise moderate drinking in Australia?
“Moderate drinking should be the norm. One day you may want a beer, the next you may want a non-alcoholic wine, yet there is a stigma attached to not drinking in social situations,” says Henshall.
“We are exposed to messaging from a young age via TV, film, culture, advertising, and more, that you need to drink alcohol to have a good time or be more confident to be yourself. It’s nonsense and it can be damaging. A social experience is about who you are with and where you are, not if you’re drinking alcohol.”
The best thing about brands like Brunswick Aces that embrace alcohol-free ‘booze’, is that they are simply showcasing their acceptance of a diverse culture, with diverse needs. They understand that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ mentality when it comes to people’s choices, whether it be in booze and bars or just in the world generally.
“Brunswick Aces was created on the idea of everyone being welcome, we don’t just make 0% alcohol Sapiir, we also make 40% gin in the same botanical flavour profiles. This allows you to enjoy the same drink in both options, or offer guests the same drink so you can share the same experience. Normalising moderation is our ultimate goal.
“Moderators or abstainers (from booze) will actively avoid places they can’t get a decent non-alcoholic drink, so it becomes the battle of venues saying ‘no one is asking for it so we’re not going to stock it’ and customers saying ‘I’m not going there because they don’t have the drinks I want’. Someone has to make the first move, which is why we are opening the bar to show other bars and pubs that there is a demand if only they would take a chance and stock decent products.”
This mentality is something that is slowly on the rise within Australia and around the world. Take the fashion industry, for example. Women of sizes 12 – 14 make up the majority of the population, and we’re starting to see that representation in ‘plus-sized’ models. Brands should be appealing to as many people as possible, not only for their brand values and the sake of diversity, but for the success of their business. In this case, stocking and showcasing alcohol-free drinks with the same hype as alcoholic drinks, would be beneficial for our diverse needs in Australia.
The Brunswick Aces bar is to be at their distillery premises in Brunswick East, as decided during the first Melbourne lockdown back at the start of 2020.
“The intention was for the space just to act as our distillery and admin base, but looking at the drinking data coming out of lockdown, people were drinking a lot more alcohol than before, but at the same time the non-alc category was also rising. We figured that there are two groups of people wanting somewhere to socialise as we move into the new normal, abstainers looking to go out to a place that caters to them.
“We had the space available so decided to roll the dice and open Australia’s first non-alcoholic cocktail bar. We will be serving a range of beers, wines, and curated cocktails, something to please all tastes.”
With the alcohol-free movement on the rise and an ever-growing selection of non-alcoholic drinks to choose from, it’s likely we’ll be seeing more alcohol-free bars open in the coming years.
“There are a few factors fuelling the rise of moderation,” Hensall explains. “People are becoming more aware of what they are putting in their bodies, so overall it is to do with health and taking control. Be that for physical or mental health, or taking control so the effects of a hangover don’t impact work or other focuses and goals.”
But why now?
“The quality wasn’t really there before, many non-alcs like our Brunswick Aces Sapiir have been designed with an adult palate in mind, and go well in any setting. The beers we’ll be serving in the bar still taste like beer; you wouldn’t know they were alcohol-free if no one told you. The investment that has been made to allow non-alcs to stand up against their alcoholic counterparts in terms of flavour, is also driving appeal.”
Brunswick Ace’s, Australia’s first non-alcoholic bar, is opening on Saturday May 1.