Launching a beer isn’t the most obvious thing to do after embracing sobriety. Especially when you work as a psychologist in drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation. But giving up the drink was the catalyst for Clinton Schultz to start his range of Sobah brews with wife Lozen Schultz. A punchy use of native ingredients such as finger lime, pepperberry and lemon aspen is one reason their pilsners, IPAs and cervezas have ended up in Eskies and fridges, but drinkers are also attracted to the Gold Coast brand for another reason: Sobah is entirely booze-free.
“Clinton quit drinking in 2014, which he found relatively easy, but the social side of things was a challenge,” says Lozen. “There was a stigma around him not drinking, his mates didn’t cope with it very well and he found that there were no decent non-alcoholic drinks.” This is why they launched Sobah two years ago, as an alternative for non-drinkers. Clinton was inspired by the quality of zero-alcohol craft beers in Europe, while the zesty brightness of finger lime and lemon aspen, and the spicy crackle of pepperberry not only gives the drinks a unique flavour profile, but also connects him to his Indigenous roots.
“We’re ahead of the market here in Australia, having launched a year before CUB’s Carlton Zero and, more recently, Heineken Zero,” says Lozen.
It’s a sign, though, that the sober-drinking momentum is growing – and not just with teetotallers, either. Sure, designated drivers and pregnant women will skip the current round of beers, but the trend of “sober-curious” people that are on a fitness challenge, becoming more socially discerning or raising money for Dry July (or Ocsober or Feb Fast) is on the rise.
“We’ve heard that millennials are drinking less because they care about their appearance on social media, are more health-conscious and want to stay in control of their behaviour,” says Lozen. And more people are joining Clinton in giving up booze altogether. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics backs this up: our alcohol consumption is the lowest it’s been in 50 years, and our enthusiasm for avoiding hangovers has been growing since 2008. Plus recent research published in medical journal The Lancet, indicating that even small volumes of alcohol are damaging enough to outweigh any potential health benefits, has been sobering enough to make people reconsider that next glass of wine.
With this growing trend (and the fact that 20 per cent of the population doesn’t drink at all, for a variety of religious, cultural, philosophical or health reasons), there’s been a corresponding spike in creative booze-free options that go beyond soda water and lemonade.
Like Sobah’s craft beer, Non is a zero-alcohol wine alternative that’s being poured at top restaurants including Adelaide’s Africola
and Sydney’s Alberto’s Lounge
. The Melbourne label is run by Aaron Trotman and William Wade, with Wade drawing on his experiences as a chef (and his time working on the non-alcoholic pairing at Copenhagen’s Noma) to develop the flavours and replicate the complexity of alcohol.
It took Wade 40 hours in the kitchen to fine-tune their Salted Raspberry and Chamomile drink. Ditto the Caramelised Pear and Kombu. The Toasted Cinnamon and Yuzu brew, though, was an instant hit. “We have our Lemon Marmalade and Hibiscus coming in December. The beverage is very bright and floral – it’s perfect for summer,” says Trotman. “Our Wild Fennel and Apple is probably my favourite – but it’s quite polarising.” He wanted to offer it at Non’s launch in May this year, “but we decided it might scare people away”. It’s quite “funky”, he warns.
Non isn’t just stocked at good restaurants – they’re also collaborating with them. A beetroot and sansho drink was a result of teaming up with Melbourne’s Ides. Next up is something special with Melbourne’s O.My, and perhaps a custom beverage with Ballarat’s Underbar. The interest in Non’s selection has matched the momentum for drinking booze-free, so does Trotman know why abstinence is on the rise? “Similar to tobacco, alcohol is facing a downward turn,” says Trotman. “People are sick of being sick.”
It’s also why drinkers are turning to Seedlip, the pioneering non-alcoholic spirit, to fuel their cocktails. The brand was the first of its kind when it launched in the UK in 2015, and has had a blockbuster response since it became available in Australia two years later. In the past year, Seedlip has had a 125 per cent rise in Australian sales, and is frequently mixed by bartenders at top establishments such as Fred’s
in Sydney and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
In Australia, the amount of Seedlip consumed in 2019 will be equivalent to nearly one million (non-alcoholic) standard drinks. It can form the basis of a Nogroni or Minosa, and at Sydney’s Quay, bar manager Taka Shino serves it with an elderflower and tonic reduction. “It’s our non-alcoholic version of the classic Gin Martini,” he says. The restaurant also offers a Temperance Menu as an alternative to a wine-matching option, an approach that first originated with Sydney’s Momofuku Seiobo, which launched a non-alcoholic pairing in 2012. Today, Momofuku Seiobo’s drinks menu is a collaboration between sommelier Max Gurtler and assistant manager Nance Liong, who have come up with inventive drinks such as a spiced macadamia-milk punch and bay-leaf kombucha with cucumber. “It’s great to see so many other venues offering non-alcoholic drinks, too,” says Momofuku Seiobo general manager Kylie Javier Ashton.
Over at Adelaide’s Orana
, Kyle Poole is creating beverages with Indigenous ingredients. “We use native finger limes for acidity and brightness, native lemongrass for flavouring and herbal notes, or quandongs for astringency, which, in turn, gives us some really complex flavours,” he says.
And at Melbourne’s Attica
, sommelier and Vignette
author Jane Lopes is serving a menu where she smokes Granny Smith apple juice or turns salted melons into something you’d want to drink. This inventiveness, powered by the surge of Seedlip, is giving people more choice when drinking socially, says Javier Ashton. “Personally, I think our drinking culture is becoming more refined because of it – we think about flavour in drinks the same was as we do food, which is really exciting.”
“As I get older, I’ve started to really pay attention to what my body wants, and a lot of times it isn’t an alcoholic drink,” Lopes adds. “A lot of people still want that added level of engagement when they come to the restaurant – and just because they don’t (or don’t want to) drink alcohol, they shouldn’t be left out of the fun.”
Non-alcoholic options for the home bar
Reach for these at the bottle shop when you’re skipping the booze.
The non-alcoholic beers that Clinton Schultz tried abroad in Europe inspired Sobah, as did the Indigenous flavours of the food truck he ran with wife Lozen when they first began experimenting with their brews. sobah.com.au
You’ll find Non at top venues such as Sunda and Supernormal. The Toasted Cinnamon and Yuzu flavour is exceptional. non.world
As a marathon runner, co-founder Doug Cook often skipped the booze. This non-alcoholic botanical spirit (distilled in Melbourne’s north) was inspired by that experience. brunswickaces.com
Made in Sydney, this range draws on native ingredients (such as bush-lemon peel, strawberry gum and cinnamon myrtle), with a portion of the proceeds going to the Jimmy Little Foundation to support Indigenous health programs. altdspirits.com
This non-alcoholic spirit changed the game for virgin cocktails by turning them into a serious proposition. It can be found in quality bars and restaurants the world over. Look out for its sister brand of booze-free drinks, Æcorn Aperitifs, which will be launching in Australia in the near future. seedlipdrinks.com