Top tipple steers clear of trouble

Sophie Williamson with her company’s alcohol-free ‘‘gin’’. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Sophie Williamson with her company’s alcohol-free ‘‘gin’’. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
It’s been a sobering experience moving into the world of beverages for Sophie Williamson.


Most Australians can sing a line or two from Slim Dusty’s iconic song, A Pub With No Beer.

The bar-room anthem told of a stockman’s despair after he had travelled many miles to a bar, only to find it was dry.

But 64 years later, there is a growing movement towards alcohol-free beverages and Sophie Williamson is at its forefront.

Miss Williamson helped set up Australia’s first alcohol-free bar in May this year and reckons New Zealand will eventually follow suit — it just might take longer because of our smaller population.

The former Alexandra woman was living in the UK last year when a friend sent her his alcohol-free, gin-inspired beverage to try. He and his five neighbours in Melbourne got together at weekends, creating different gin blends and pairing them with food, she explains.

Then, due to a pregnancy and an upcoming marathon, some in the group could no longer drink alcohol.

‘‘It became apparent they would be quite left out of the focus of the night ... so that pushed the idea to create something they could still share in ...’’

The venture started as a ‘‘typical in-your-garage set-up’’. But their gin alternative soon found its way into the hands of friends, demand grew and they eventually opened a distillery called Brunswick Aces in trendy Brunswick East.

The attached bar has more than 100 drinks to choose from, including beers, wines and cocktails. The only alcoholic option is their regular gin, which has the same botanical profile as their alcohol-free versions.

While a bar with (almost) no booze might seem a big step for Australians, the response has been ‘‘really good’’, says Miss Williamson, who has shares in the firm and is its business development executive.

‘‘I think people were definitely intrigued by the idea and there is demand for it.’’

The trend of millennials cutting back on alcohol has been well documented but it’s not just a generational fad and the market for low-or no-alcohol beverages has expanded rapidly.

The ‘‘moderation movement’’ is reportedly driven by people wanting to lead healthier lifestyles. Whether they are pregnant, driving, dieting or training, those people still want to socialise and are looking for a more complex, ‘‘grown-up’’ drink than a juice or a coke.

Brunswick Aces produces two alcohol-free ‘‘sapiirs’’, says Miss Williamson, a former top-level cyclist who received an Otago Daily Times Class Act award in 2011. One has notes of cassia bark, ginger, star anise and Australian wattleseed while the other features

lemon myrtle, green cardamom and Tasmanian pepperberry. Each botanical is distilled individually before they are blended together.

Now based in our biggest city, the 27-year-old has been successful in having the gin alternatives stocked in about 30 Auckland bars and liquor stores and is in discussions with supermarkets. They are also exported to the UK and the Middle East, she says.

‘‘It’s a growing trend and it’s a really exciting space to be part of.’’

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