How to cut down on alcohol (and still have your daily cocktail)
A boom in alcohol-free drinks means it's easier than ever to cut back on your daily tipple.
While many were mastering the art of the perfect sourdough in 2020, or learning Italian or bingeing on jigsaw puzzles, it turns out a lot of us were drinking.
Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows supermarkets, bottle shops and other retailers turned over a record $15.6 billion in alcohol sales in 2020. That’s an increase of 26.7 per cent or $3.3 billion more than in 2019.
At the same time, according to research conducted last year by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), 20 per cent of Australian households admitted to buying “more alcohol than usual” since the COVID-19 outbreak and, of these, 34 per cent say they are now drinking alcohol daily.
Alcohol-free cocktails are on the rise. Photo: Jana Langhorst.
The sober-drinking drink
If you think it might be time to cut back, the good news is that non-alcoholic drinks have come a long way since the ’70s, when Claytons – “The drink you have when you’re not having a drink” – became the byword for anything that’s a poor substitute for the real thing.
In the past few years, no and low-alcohol drinks have shrugged off their daggy reputation, with a slew of sophisticated offerings that have inspired the rise of alcohol-free bars in London, Dublin and the US, and found their way onto upmarket restaurant menus. Dan Murphy’s recorded double-digit year-on-year growth in non-alcoholic beverage sales in 2019, while the inaugural Melbourne Cocktail Festival in February presented a masterclass focused on mocktails as refined as their cocktail cousins.
Next time you reach for a drink, consider these new-breed no- and low-alcohol options available from liquor retailers. Online stores dedicated to this growing market, such as Alcofree and Sans Drinks, offer even more choices.
Non-alcoholic spirits have been driving the booze-free bandwagon since Seedlip launched in the UK in 2015. Its three products are distilled with different blends of herbs, spices and citrus. Other internationals include Ceder’s, a juniper-based distillate from Sweden, and South Africa’s pre-mixed ‘gin’ and tonic, The Duchess.
Brunswick Aces produces Melbourne’s own gin alternative, while Sydney-based Lyre’s launched last year with 13 products that closely mimic spirits including whisky, absinthe and orange liqueur. Unlike other alt-spirits, Lyre’s potions aren’t distilled. They are cunning blends of ingredients arrived at after genuine spirits’ flavour profiles were scientifically deconstructed – right down to alcohol’s ‘burn’, which is replicated with pepper, ginger and menthol.
Although they may not quite cut it drunk neat, when blended with mixers as part of more complex cocktails, the new non-alcoholic spirits have sophisticated flavour profiles that leave Claytons in the dust.
Non-alcoholic wine is produced in two ways: grape juice is fermented and matured like wine, then the alcohol is removed (a trace 0.5 per cent usually remains); or grape juice is simply mixed with water and perhaps other ingredients then carbonated. A well-established, refreshing example of the latter is the gingery sparkler made by Victoria’s Robinvale Wines, whose non-alcoholic range also includes Muscat Moscato and Sparkling Passion. Similarly, verjuice gives an acidic zing to celebrity chef Maggie Beer’s alcohol-free sparkling chardonnay and cabernet juice.
Dedicated to non-alcoholic wines, Australian company Edenvale uses both methods to create a generous range including shiraz, sparkling rose and riesling. The Lindeman’s and McGuigan wineries make de-alcoholised sparkling wines, while imports include Spain’s Natureo and Blue Nun from Germany.
Like non-alcoholic wine, beer with zero (or near-zero) per cent alcohol has been on the shelves for years. Made like regular beer, it’s usually heated to remove alcohol, but this tends to adversely affect flavour. More recently, new methods such as vacuum distillation (which enables alcohol to evaporate at a lower temperature) and reverse osmosis have delivered better results.
Major brands including Carlton, Cooper’s, Peroni and Heineken produce beers with little or no alcohol, but Queensland-based Sobah is generating the most excitement. This craft brewery dedicated to booze-free beer is led by Gamilaroi man and psychologist Clinton Schultz, and sells brews spiked with native ingredients such as finger lime, Davidson plum and pepperberry.
More options for less alcohol
Herbaceous Norfolk Punch and Rochester Ginger mixed with soda water have long been favourites among teetotallers, but more recently tea and kombucha have become go-to base ingredients for non-alcoholic cocktails.
Last year, newcomer Non charged to the front of this alternative pack. Created by a Melbourne chef whose CV includes time at Copenhagen’s acclaimed culinary temple Noma, this five-strong range is made by infusing dried fruits, herbs and spices in hot water. It’s so good it’s turning up on the menus of leading restaurants, including Melbourne’s Supernormal.
RACV Goldfields Resort restaurant's Blueberry and Rosemary Smash.
DIY alcohol-free cocktails at home
On the menu
RACV Goldfields Resort restaurant and bars manager Cindy Volkmann has poured her fair share of alcoholic fizz. This is her go-to alcohol-free cocktail recipe. This deliciously sip-worthy Rosemary and Blueberry Smash is a tangy treat, perfect for lazy afternoons.
Rosemary Blueberry smash
- 7 or 8 blueberries
- 1 rosemary sprig, stripped
- 30 millilitres honey syrup
- 30 millilitres fresh lemon juice, strained
- Sparkling mineral water, ice
Gently muddle blueberries, rosemary leaves and honey syrup in shaker. Add lemon juice and ice, cover and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Strain to tumbler over ice, top with sparkling water and stir. Garnish with rosemary sprig and skewered blueberries.