Feb Fast quenchers: Australia's best non-alcoholic drinks for grown-ups

Complex, flavourful and not sickly sweet, the Australian zero-alcohol drinks scene is going from strength to strength

Plus Minus, Lyre’s and several other sans-alcohol, adult drinks
Plus Minus, Lyre’s and several other sans alcohol adult drinks. Photograph: Killjoy Drinks
Plus Minus, Lyre’s and several other sans alcohol adult drinks. Photograph: Killjoy Drinks

First published on Tue 15 Dec 2020 11.30 EST

There must be something in the water, because at the moment it seems like a new sans alcoholic beverage, with adults in mind, gets released in Australia on a weekly basis. And many of them are very good.

Industry professionals are also recognising the growing demands for thoughtful alcohol-free drinks lists (there’s even a category dedicated to best non-alcoholic list in the National Wine List awards) that aren’t just a catalogue of ubiquitous soft drinks. Websites such as Killjoy Drinks, AlcoFree and Craft Zero are offering extensively curated selections that ship Australia-wide, alongside a growing non-alcoholic sections in local bottle shops.

All of which makes for a far more varied Feb Fast than even one year ago. Even if you don’t plan to go completely teetotal in February, these drinks are still worth trying. Unlike the Seinfeld scene, they’re even acceptable to bring to a dinner party too.

Beer

From the craft brewers using native Australian ingredients to refreshing lagers and ales that would be ideal poolside – the beers in the sans alcohol range are the most complex that anyone has seen to date. Keep an eye on this space. It’s only going to get more exciting and flavoursome.

Heaps Normal XPA
Heaps Normal XPA. Photograph: Heaps Normal

Heaps Normal Quiet XPA $16/four-pack

If there was a standout winner in the non-alcoholic beers of 2020 it would be this extra pale ale. It’s got a refreshing citrus tang with a quintessential malty beer finish. The “sessional beer” has taken on a new normal.

Sobah Beverages Boab Wild Ginger Lager
Sobah Beverages Boab and Wild Ginger Lager. Photograph: Sobah Beverages

Sobah ‘Special Release’ Boab and Wild Ginger Lager – $25/four-pack

This is a lager/ginger beer hybrid – with a native twist. Brewed in Burleigh Heads by Gamilaroi man Clinton Schultz, it uses the boab nut pulp to give it a slightly syrupy texture and a light citrusy taste. The striking Australian boab tree is rich in vitamin C and found only in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

Nort refreshing ale
Nort Refreshing Ale. Photograph: Nort Beer

Modus Operandi Nort Refreshing Ale – $49/24-case

A low-calorie, plant-based beer that’s Australian owned and operated? That ticks a lot of boxes. It’s also an ale that’s golden in colour and packed full of fruity citrus and hoppy flavours, so it’ll satisfy regular beer drinkers too.

Upflow Stout
Upflow Stout. Photograph: Upflow Brewing

Upflow Stout – $4.50

Because sometimes you need all the flavour with none of the alcohol, enter Upflow Brewing’s Stout, which the brewers say has been selling out almost faster than they can brew it. Bittersweet chocolate meets hints of espresso and those heavenly malted notes for a mouth-filling beer (that would also make a perfect addition to a chocolate cake recipe).

The Hills Cider Company Virgin apple cider
The Hills Cider Company Virgin Apple Cider. Photograph: Hills Cider

The Hills Cider Company Virgin Apple Cider$17.99/six-case

The Hills Cider Company launched in 2010 with the intention of being involved with every step of the apple-crushing process. Its virgin cider uses 100% Adelaide Hills-grown apples, and the same recipe as its alcoholic range. The result is a bright, zesty (almost lemony sherbet) drop, that’s perfect for drinking and also cooking.

Wine or wine-adjacent

There are two main processes when making non-alcoholic wine, and both start with traditionally made alcoholic wine, then either through reverse osmosis or vacuum distillation the alcohol is removed.

There is a lot to be wary of in this category of drinks (unlike its beer and spirit counterparts) – the trick is starting with delicious quality wine to begin with – because the lack of alcohol won’t hide poor flavours or excess sugar.

Plus Minus blanc de blancs with other zero alcohol drinks
Plus Minus Blanc de Blancs with other zero-alcohol drinks Photograph: Kill Joy Drinks

Plus and Minus Blanc de Blancs$14.99

Everyone’s got a “one too many Bellinis at the wedding” story; this is where the Plus and Minus has your back. Made using premium South Australian chardonnay grapes, it has the sweet tropical fruits and hint of floral citrus that will remind you of a good prosecco. Perfect for summer punches and spritzes.

Non Number 5
Non Number 5. Photograph: Non

Non Number 5 Lemon Marmalade and Hibiscus $30

There’s a reason why the Non range always graces best non-alcoholic drinks lists: flavours and quality are incomparable to anything else on the market. These aren’t non-alcoholic wines; rather they’re custom-blended drinks made by ex-Noma chef William Wade that are blended to have the same complexity of flavour as wine, and the technique differs blend to blend. This latest, made in collaboration with Assembly Coffee, is for the lovers of all things floral. A little fizz gives those lemon verbena and Earl Grey tea sensory top notes a bit of pizazz as it slides over your tastebuds.

Spirits

While the non-alcoholic spirit category may upset your local bartender, the spirits craftsmanship has come leaps and bounds since the early days. It is only if you try them side-by-side with hard spirits that you notice the distinct lack of heat on the palate that only alcohol can bring. But these come with the ability to drive home after imbibing – not a bad trade-off.

Wilfred’s Spritz Pack
Wilfred’s Spritz Pack. Photograph: Killjoy Drinks

Wilfreds Spritz Pack $62

This has all the pleasant bitterness of a Campari soda, with none of the booze. Killjoy Drinks sells a spritz pack, featuring a bottle of the Wilfred’s Aperitivo, a four-pack of Strange Love tonic and a jar of Mary Valley dried orange slices, that makes an ideal party offering. Just add ice and you’ve got a lazy afternoon of spritzes ahead of you (hangover not included).

Monday Distillery Paloma
Monday Distillery Paloma. Photograph: Monday Distillery

Monday Distillery Non-Alcoholic Paloma$50/8-pack

When you thought you had sworn off tequila for life, Monday Distillery comes around with its version of a paloma that has all the refreshment of pink grapefruit, that citrusy herbaceous twang of tequila, minus the weekend hangover or morning-after regret on a Monday.

Lyre’s London Dry
Lyre’s Dry London Spirit. Photograph: Lyre's Spirits

Lyre’s Dry London Non-Alcoholic Spirit – $45

This drink is intended to capture the essence of a classic dry London gin, and while it might not be able to replicate the mouthfeel that alcohol gives a spirit, it’s spot on with the flavours. A perfect substitute drink for your next backyard game of cricket where you’ve got to keep your wits about you.

Softies

As fun as all these alcohol-free beers and spirits are, sometimes you just want a delicious carbonated beverage. But leave the mass-produced cola and cavity-inducing lemonade on the shelf and try one of these small-batch, lower-sugar sodas. Some are even experimenting with native Australian botanicals for extra complexity.

Ume Burger house-made natural sodas
Ume Burger house-made natural sodas. Photograph: Ume Burger

Ume Burger Passionfruit and Ginger Soda$62/12-pack

Due to the popularity of their house-made sodas, Sydney favourite burger joint Ume has released take-home packs. The bite of ginger with the sweetness of passionfruit pulp and a refreshing spritz makes for a perfect combo. Blends are available seasonally, with the Japanese plum also worth a taste.

PS Soda Wattle Cola
PS Soda Wattle Cola. Photograph: PS Soda

PS Wattle Cola $90/18-pack

This drink emulates the flavour of a classic cola but with a native twist from toasted wattleseed, which provides that coffee and hazelnut characteristic. The addition of cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg and other earthy spices round out the mouthfeel with vanilla, kola nut and cane sugar, giving you that hint of sweetness without saturating your tastebuds. If you want to go on a soda exploration, try out a PS ‘Mystery Box’ with a mixed box of classics and a seasonal sodas.

Capi Blood Orange Soda
Capi Blood Orange Soda. Photograph: Capi

Capi Blood Orange Soda $2

Made with high-quality Sicilian blood oranges, the soda dances a fine line between bitter and an almost peach-like sweetness. With a hint of rosemary extract in the blend and a refreshing tang, this is set to become your new fridge staple.

Kombu raspberry and thyme kombucha
Kombu raspberry and thyme kombucha. Photograph: Kombu

Kombu Raspberry and Thyme Kombucha$48/12-pack

Boasting unique flavours such as watermelon; strawberry and rose, and ginger and lemon myrtle, Kombu kombucha is following a “good for you, good for the planet” business model. For every case sold, a tree is planted in Australia. The use of Tasmanian raspberries and thyme complements the natural acidity from the kombucha’s fermentation process. It’s packaged in a handy 250ml can, making it perfect as an on-the-go bouch.

  • This piece was updated on 29 January 2021 to include a new introduction, several new drinks and remove a cider and cocktail recipe. The original piece was published on 16 December 2020.