By Pip Courtney
Updated 15 Feb 2020, 11:51am
The trend to cut or quit alcohol is growing in popularity, with the rise of the sober curious — and small distillers are experimenting with styles and flavour to meet demand.
Demand for zero alcohol and low alcohol spirits is growing
Small distilleries are experimenting with flavours and styles
No-alcohol spirits would not attract excise tax
Low and no-alcohol beer and wine have been around for a long time, but spirits options have been rare until the UK company Seedlip launched the world's first distilled non-alcoholic spirits in 2015.
Last year the startup cashed in when the alcohol giant Diageo, which owns Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Baileys, Tanqueray and Guinness, bought a majority share.
Zeroing in on a new market
After seeing Seedlip's huge success, Rockhampton gin and rum distillers Catie and Warren Brewer, of Saleyards Distillery, developed Australia's first range of three zero-proof clear spirits.
The brand, named Clovendoe, makes concentrates reminiscent of the flavours in gin.
It comes in three varieties: Seed, Sprout and Stem.
Ms Brewer said Seed was like an Australian native kind of "inspired lavender rosemary smell of your nanna's backyard with lemon myrtle".
"Sprout is very Middle Eastern — inspired by the whole spice trail with cardamom, cinnamon, rose and grapefruit, and Stem is Asian-inspired with lemongrass, mint and kaffir lime leaf," Ms Brewer said.
The inspiration came after being bored by her drink options during two pregnancies.
"I felt like a little child," Ms Brewer said.
"I'd get sweet mocktails or juice with an umbrella on it, or soda water from the post-mix machine with a bit of lemon."
She said she wanted to create "something sophisticated, something different, something unique for teetotallers".
"[It's] for people who didn't want to wake up with a hangover with small children the next day, or for people who couldn't drink, designated drivers having a night off drinking, diabetics and people who wanted to lose weight," Ms Brewer said.
A change in taste and wants
After many hours of experimenting with a baby still, while her own babies slept, the effort looks like paying off, with several large retailers interested in stocking the range.
"The market's really changing dramatically there's a big market now for low alcohol or no alcohol, and it's growing," Mr Brewer said.
The Brewers also produce a triple-distilled low-alcohol vodka.
Regular vodka is 40 per cent alcohol but can go as high as 95 per cent alcohol.
"It still tastes like a full-bodied rounded spirit but it's just that lower in alcohol at 30 per cent," Ms Brewer said.
Even though, in 2017–18 alcohol consumption in Australia was the lowest since 1974, consumption of spirits was on the rise.
Zero-proof market potential
At Tumbulgum in northern New South Wales, the Messenger family's Husk distillery is well known for its blue gin and Caribbean-style rums.
Paul Messenger is considering making a zero-proof spirit.
"It's a new novel approach and there's potentially a pretty big market as people drive to our destination in the country, and some visitors are the designated driver or a non-drinker."
Excise tax is a job killer
Mr Messenger said an upside of no-alcohol spirits would be not having to pay excise tax.
"The tax is disproportionately high for spirits compared to beer and wine, and the biggest problem we have is indexation — every six months it goes up."
"It's a regional job killer," he said.
He said what they were doing was a good thing and should be encouraged.
"The taxation is holding people back."
While the Messengers ponder a move into the growing new drinks category, Catie Brewer is not stopping at three zero-proof botanical blends.
"A local organic market garden is a plot for inspiration because there are a lot of Australian natives hidden away, so I can come in here and inspire new infusions."