Australia Bar selling non-alcoholic drinks opens in Melbourne as new data finds demand doubling
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Sales of alcohol-free beer, wine, and spirits at major alcohol retailers have doubled in the past 12 months, according to new sales data.
The data from the Endeavour Group, the company that runs BWS and Dan Murphy's, shows a 100 per cent increase in sales in the sector in the last year.
In response to growing demand, a new bar in Melbourne specialising in non-alcoholic drinks has just opened.
Of the nearly 100 drinks on the menu at Brunswick Aces, just one contains alcohol.
Bar co-founder Stephen Lawrence hopes consumers won't be able to tell the difference between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
"The beers and wines have been produced in a very similar way to their alcoholic cousins," he said.
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"You can have the same social attitude and same social experience you would with an alcohol product."
Speaking at the launch, the entrepreneur said he believed bars were as much about socialising as they were about consuming alcohol.
"Most of the people I know that go out and drink go out to be sociable, and you can do all that and more here," he said.
Non-alcoholic beermaker can't keep up with demand
Producers of alcohol-free drinks say they can't keep up with a spike in demand for their products.
Andy Miller is the co-founder of a non-alcoholic beer company and says the business is upscaling quickly to capitalise on the new trend.
"We have been doubling production almost every month, so about every other month we increase production, and we're still selling all of that stock just through consumer demand," he said.
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"We can't make this stuff fast enough to keep up with the demand," he said.
Mr Miller's alcohol-free beer retails for around $65 per carton of 24 beers.
He says the price reflects the fact that he needs to buy more expensive ingredients to counteract the fact there is no alcohol in the beer.
"Alcohol carries a lot of the flavour, so we have to really work hard to balance the recipe," he said.
"That's part of the reason why the cost is still not quite as cheap as some people would like it to be."
Mr Miller and his business partners are part of a small but growing community of craft non-alcoholic beer brewers trying to change the way consumers think about non-alcoholic drinks.
"Our end goal really is to have a positive impact on Australian drinking culture," he said.
"It's not about trying to prescribe sobriety or tell people how much they should or shouldn't drink.
"It's really just about having another option that you can wave into whatever your lifestyle is."
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Dan Murphy's wine merchant Gabriella Rush said while the bulk of sales were still in alcoholic drinks, the demand for non-alcoholic products was soaring.
"It's enthusiasm for beers, spirits and wine… but there's an intention for looking at quality over quantity," Ms Rush said, noting a trend towards local and craft products.
"Many are looking for craft and more bespoke products. We've seen that people like to support local and shop smaller."
To keep up with surging demand, the retailer has had to redesign its stores to create more shelf space for their non-alcoholic offerings.
"We've had to reformat the store dramatically," Ms Rush said.
"There are a lot of bays we've had to rededicate to non-alcoholic options."
Ex-drinkers a growing movement
Author and journalist Jill Stark stopped drinking nearly two years ago and had documented her journey with alcohol in the book High Sobriety.
She believes the non-alcoholic trend shows Australia is catching up to the rest of the world.
"In bars in Europe for many, many years, you can get non-alcoholic beer on tap. It's just standard," Stark said.
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"The European drinking culture is different to Australia where we drink to get drunk, whereas the drinking there is kind of incidental."
Stark said when she stopped drinking, she was accused of being un-Australian, untrustworthy and boring.
"That very big drinking culture, where we use alcohol to celebrate, to commiserate, to commemorate and everything in between. When you choose to opt out, it can be quite alienating," she said.
"That is the last kind of stigma that we need to break down, that somehow people who don't drink are boring or can't have fun."
The writer said the surge in non-alcoholic options and bars like Brunswick Aces allowed her to partake in the social aspects of drinking, without the negative side effects.
"I really miss the ritual and the ceremony and the occasion of having a drink at the end of the day," she said.
"And I can do that with a non-alcoholic champagne, or I can have a cold beer on a hot day."
She is part of a growing cohort of people in the community that the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare label "ex-drinkers."
In the eyes of the federal government health body, an ex-drinker is someone who has not consumed a drop of alcohol in the last 12 months.
Between the years 2016 and 2019, the proportion of ex-drinkers increased from 7.6 per cent in 2016 to 8.9 per cent in 2019.
Stark said the pandemic had led many people to reconsider their relationship with alcohol.
"I think it's a trend that will continue to build, I can see it in my own social circles," she said.
"We're going to see more of it as people become more conscious of their health and realise that alcohol is probably not the best friend or therapist when you're going through tough times."
For Stark, her breakup with alcohol is not a decision she regrets.
"I just feel like I'm a much better version of myself when I'm not drinking. I'm happier, I'm calmer," she said.
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