This should have been a cute lil guide to nailing your hot vaxxed summer without a hangover and with some non-alcoholic drinks. Instead, we’ve been tipped into another existential crisis wherein simply leaving the house feels like taking a risk. It’s no wonder our collective booze intake has spiked. So much so, Australia has ranked as the world’s drunkest country in a global drug survey for the last two years running. Yay us! Reality sucks and we have collectively embraced being wasted.
Initially I participated enthusiastically in this trend. But as lockdowns dragged on (*waves from Melbourne*), stress relief felt more like dependence. Bringing with it a creeping anxiety and a deluge of unnecessary online shopping.
So I quit.
Then a new challenge arose — how to navigate the frivolities of our blessed freedom with the added awkwardness of sobriety. I didn’t want to give up the good bits of boozing just because I’d become a good girl teetotaller — like gigs, parties, end of day bevs and nice drinks in fancy glasses. Thankfully, with a boom in alco-free alternatives, I didn’t have to.
While the choice is wide, there are plenty that reach for the stars and don’t quite make it. Having necked a lot and tipped even more down the sink, let me share some of my faves. Whether you are cutting down, going dry for a spell, surfing your mid-week urges or are just tonight’s desi driver, there is sure to be a bev or two here for you.
The 0% beer market has exploded. Locally, we owe thanks to Heaps Normal who opened the floodgates when they brewed their Quiet XPA to drink like a regular beer. Now, we are spoilt for choice. In my books, you can’t beat Free Time. Full bodied, a little punchy, a little bitter: it tastes like a regular pale ale should.
If you want a brew that’s light, crisp and citrusy (AKA if you weren’t previously much of a beer drinker) this is your guy.
Wine lovers, let’s be real. Most alcohol-free wine tastes like sock juice and simply makes you yearn for the real thing. Better to fill your glass with Appletiser and be done with it. But this smashing bottle of bubbles proves the exception. It has a nice little fizz on it and absolutely looks, tastes and feels like a crisp, dry sparkling. At around $15 a bottle, it’s a life saver at big sesh summer events.
I’ve never been a real spirit drinker, and I’ve tended to avoid the big bottle alt-spirits designed to emulate booze. They can be spenno and a bit hit and miss. Seedlip (the UK pioneer in non-alcoholic distilled spirits) rewards with its complex mix of savoury botanicals. It’s a nice little something-something to add to your favourite mixer and sip slowly.
Lyres locally do a range of big bottle faux spirits as well as ready to drink (RTD) cans that are ideal for park life. Their G&T wouldn’t be out of place with a bag of pretzels mid-flight. And the Lyres Classico (Prosseco-lite) is a perfectly drinkable beach buddy.
A lot of fake G&T’s are so heavy on the quinine they could cure malaria. This straight tonic is soft and floral, giving you the vibe of a G&T without burning your face off trying to make gin happen.
A delicious combo of pear, tea and botanicals that falls into a category I’m going to call sophisticated sodas. Sparkling drinks with savoury notes that don’t try to emulate booze but are far from soft drinks. Two Yuzus I’m a fan of also fit the bill — one from Naked Life and the other from Strange Love. And a slightly odd Guava Sparkling Water, also from Strange Love.
This little RTD can of deliciousness bills itself as a sparkling rosé but thankfully tastes like nothing of the sort. A savoury botanical number with a hint of rose, it really hits the spot for picnicking.
NON are a chefy range of ‘wines’ that don’t try to taste like wine and are therefore acceptable to a wine drinker’s palette. Some of their flavours are a little out-there, combining ingredients like beetroot, coffee and tomato water. And at $30 a pop they aren’t for everyday quaffing. But definitely worth a crack for a special occasion.
The great thing about choosing this fucked up time in history not to drink is that we are riding a wave of options for everyone in our consumerist times. A lot of this stuff is now readily available at Woolies and bottle shops. Dedicated alco-free online stores like Craft Zero and Sans Drinks also offer tasting boxes. Making cutting back accessible for a night, a month or forever. If you’re in Melbourne or Sydney’s Northern Beaches, you can even get a delivery from Sans Drinks via DoorDash when the urge to party without getting off chops arises: no hangover and you avoid drunkenly sharing hot breath with a stranger shedding their viral load. Win win.
Jess Lilley is a writer, creative director and broadcaster at rrr.org.au.