I wrote the following article for SoVino, the in-house magazine of the Independent Liquor Retailers group, in late 2021. Since then, non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks have continued to increase in popularity. And industry research suggests the category will keep growing.
Getting the low down
Low and no-alcohol versions of your favourite booze are definitely on the up, and not just with non-drinkers.
Since Australia reached “peak beer” in 1975, our per capita consumption of alcohol has been steadily declining. Now one of the fastest-growing categories on the shelves of liquor stores is low and no-alcohol beers, wines and spirits. Events like Febfast, Dry July and Ocsober are encouraging us to take a pause from alcohol. It doesn’t mean participants can’t join the party though. Chances are there’s a non-alcoholic version of your favourite tipple that tastes like the real thing.
All about options
According to Craig Hazelton of Independent Liquor Retailers, the last three years have seen a significant trend towards non-alcoholic drinks through liquor stores. Retailers are divided on whether it’s best to have a “low or no” section in the store or to stock the beers, wines and spirits alongside their alcoholic counterparts. “It’s about giving people options,” Craig says. “It’s not all or nothing – often people will have a couple of alcoholic drinks then switch to a non-alcoholic version for the rest of the night.” Consumer research has found that more than half (58%) of no/low consumers report that they choose to switch between no/low and full-strength alcohol products on the same occasion.
It began with beer
Mid-strength beers have been around for decades and Coopers in South Australia has had a 0.5% alcohol beer since the mid-1970s. But the category really exploded after CUB launched Zero in 2018. Other local brewers and international names like Heineken, Peroni and Corona all have their no-alcohol alternatives, as do many Aussie craft breweries. With improved technology, the taste of these offerings has improved out of sight. And it’s no longer considered uncool to opt for them.
How do they make it?
No-alcohol beer starts out as full-strength beer, then the alcohol is removed, either by steam distillation or by a process called reverse osmosis. The distillation takes place in a vacuum, which lowers the temperature required for the alcohol to evaporate, leaving all the flavour behind. Reverse osmosis is more complex and involves separating out the flavour molecules which are added back in once the alcohol is removed.
And what about wine?
Compared to beer, the low/no wine market has been slower to take off. However, there are now a number of makers in Australia and New Zealand embracing the trend. McGuigan is perhaps at the forefront, with a range of varietals including Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a rosé and a sparkling. Some well-known imported sparklings have also gone the no-alcohol route, including Spain’s Freixenet and Germany’s Henkell.
Non-alcoholic versions of your favourite spirits let you quaff cocktails all night long, without paying the price in the morning. The Australian firm Lyre boasts a vast range of taste-alike “spirits”. “Practically every cocktail known to man can be faithfully recreated and enjoyed in a non-alcoholic fashion,” they crow.
You can buy these spirits straight or in a range of pre-mixes. The labelling has obviously been something of a challenge as, by law, drinks like gin, whisky and rum must have a certain minimum alcohol content. This leads to names like “Non-Alcoholic Dry London Spirit” (gin) or “Non Alcoholic Spiced Cane Spirit” (rum). Other makers take a blunter approach, naming their product “Not gin”, “Not Rum” and “Not Vodka”. Of course Gordon’s can just rely on its brand, labelling its non-gin just 0.0.
If you’re entertaining these days, it’s common to plan a menu with options suitable for vegetarian or vegan guests. In the same way, providing some interesting no or low-alcohol choices is a great way to include non-drinkers in the fun. After all, how much lemon, lime and bitters can a person drink in one night? Even those who start off with a full-strength drink might be happy to party on with a sophisticated drink that makes them feel part of the action – and still allows them to drive safely home.