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Alcohol-free booze is a thing, and we road tested the best local brews

Image by Twylamae
Words by Hannah Cole

Sobriety is in.

Consider this mildly confronting question: Can you socialise without an alcoholic beverage in hand? Maybe the issue is not so much ‘can you’ as opposed to ‘would you’?

I have written before about the trends in gourmet drinking and viticulture, but the concept of alcohol-free booze had never occurred to me as a new space within which to innovate along these similar lines. 

In the name of health, I’ll frequently pre-plan a day away from alcohol (particularly after a red wine-heavy winter) but go back on my word in an instant.

It’s not that I need alcohol to fuel conversation or enjoyment – I just don’t want any of the non-alcoholic options on offer. I would opt for a sober day, week, or month, but I also want what I drink to taste good.

Contrary to consistent claims about Australia’s binge-drinking culture, it turns out there is a growing trend towards sobriety. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, we are consuming less alcohol and at a less frequent rate as we were five years ago.

Generation Z appears to be leading the way and steering us toward the *cleaner* life. A study in the US shows the youngest generation is drinking less alcohol, driven by myriad health concerns, peer judgment and a diminishing ‘cool’ factor.

For the sober curious there are only so many lemon, lime and bitters one can consume before utter boredom hits.

But then I came across the burgeoning scene of non-alcoholic spirits and alternatives. The era of interesting, inventive and genuinely exciting alco-free beverages awaits.

At the moment, the options fall into one of three categories: those that are essentially “faux” spirits, inventive soda-based varietals, and fruity concoctions that are far more than store-bought juice.

The OG booze-free spirit, Seedlip, hails from the UK and has quite literally taken the world by storm. Not only has its presence driven a movement towards more “adult” non-alcoholic beverages, but it also has a habit of selling out notoriously fast. During Seedlip’s 2015 launch, the first batch sold out within only three weeks, and subsequent shipments even quicker. If it’s good enough for our beer-happy English mates, it has to be good enough for us.

The spirit closely resembles gin, bearing similarly floral and fresh flavours. Now three varietals are on offer: Spice 94 (cardamom and citrus), Garden 108 (herb-y) and Grove 42 (ultra citrus). Either purchase a bottle yourself and give it a test run or head to one of these local joints that are gladly serving the drop. (Trust me, you will not regret it).

Along the same vein, there is Brunswick Aces. Based in Melbourne, the label aims to offer “interesting, adult tasting mixed drinks,” minus the alcohol. These makers have also realised another potential in their spirit: why not simply lower the alcohol content of your favourite drink? *Wellness* and busy schedules shouldn’t mean disregarding alcohol on the whole – some days call for it. So, mix with a little of your regular gin to get the buzz without the burden.

My preferred soda-based option hails from Sydney’s PS Soda; they’re re-inventing soft drink as you know it. Each bottle is ridiculously cute (worthy of re-use), and the flavours are uniquely Australian by using a range of local and native ingredients. Try the Green Ant Soda – if you dare – or the Smoke Lemonade – using Murray River salt, zests, juices and more. For a real treat, why not visit the soda’s factory/bar, PS40, and indulge in a Soda Degustation? A booze-free night out never sounded so appealing.

Die-hard wine lovers can also rejoice; NON has developed what might be the most pleasing alternative for a night off. Also based in Melbourne, these bottles look very similar to a pét-nat (*natural wine buzzword*). They’re cloudy and capped, and the beholders of some complex flavours: Caramelised Pear & Kombu, Toasted Cinnamon & Yuzu, Salted Raspberry & Chamomile, Roast Beetroot & Sansho. Designed to be served in a wineglass, NON is our solution for those evenings when we want to feel a little fancy sans the booze.

Current offerings aside, there is so much more to come.

Keep your eyes peeled for Kin. Although only available in the US (for now), I am stinging for a taster. Truthfully, even if we are going alcohol-free, we still want to feel that buzz – a little bit “euphoric”. Kin is targeting the health-conscious with a guilt-free offering combining adaptogens, nootropics and botanics in one sexy little drink. With claims to lift the mind and relax the body, it’s the ideal combination of wellness, fun and freedom. The label encourages a night of spontaneity and whim without the morning after dread.

Non-alcohol pairings are also becoming a ~thing~ in the culinary world.  Renowned restaurants are clambering on board, including locals Biota Dining and Lumé. As with the rise of natural wines, a menu of (inspired) non-alcoholic options is sure to filter into our local bars and eateries in a matter of time.

It’s hard to say if non-alcoholic options will help us live longer, reduce alcohol-related cancers and improve other health problems. But with delicious booze-free offerings, we will at least be one step closer to reducing the risks. We’re more likely to spend some time away from the drop and give our bodies a break.

And hey, if it tastes good, feels good, and makes it a little easier to get to work tomorrow morning, I’m in.

Are you with me?

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