Exploring the Evolving World of Low and No-Alcohol Drinks

, from Issue #107. May 15, 2023
Photography by Josh Griggs.
Exploring the Evolving World of Low and No-Alcohol Drinks

If I hear one more person say “What’s the point of no alcohol?”, my eyes will roll so far into the back of my skull, I’ll be able to see my own occipital lobe. These days, brewers, distillers and winemakers all around the world have the technology to craft something that actually looks like a drink, tastes pretty decent and doesn’t pack a boozy punch. Something that also gets those annoying people off your back. You know the type. The ones that start with tiresome “What are ya? One drink won’t kill ya. Are you pregnant?” chatter when they clock you cradling a cola or sipping an orange juice. It’s not only annoying and exhausting, for a country battling a long-standing reputation for having a binge-drinking culture – it’s just embarrassing. We’ve all met those people, and if you haven’t met those people, then, just quietly, perhaps you ARE those people. 

Which is why the inclusivity aspect of zero- alcohol products is awesome. No matter whether it’s at the supermarket or liquor store, or in restaurants, having adult, non-alcoholic options is an excellent way of catering for everyone. That includes those drying out a bit, people on medication, expectant mothers, designated drivers or sober folk who simply like having a drink in hand. Much of the chat in social and traditional media in recent years also indicates lots of people aren’t looking to totally banish booze from their lives, they’re just paying closer attention to how much they’re consuming and having a decent crack at managing it. 

And boy, are they managing it. In a movement now categorised as ‘NoLo’ (no or low-alcohol), industry studies have revealed that in the last five years, global sales of NoLo beer alone are up around 1,100 percent! That’s right. All. Those. Zeroes. When it comes to NoLo wine consumption in Australia, 14 percent of millennials and 17 percent of the older generation (42-54 years) reported drinking low-alcohol wines, while 40 percent of the population claimed to have stopped drinking or switched to alcohol-free wine. While we’ve had ‘alcohol- free’ wines in New Zealand since the early 1990s, those old examples were also pretty much ‘taste-free’. Yet new generations of sober-curious drinkers have become ferociously focused on wellness and quality, so the quality of zero-alcohol drinks has HAD to evolve too. New technologies were called in, new products were developed, new KPIs in terms of taste expectations were installed and holy moly, the zero-alcohol shelves in supermarkets and bottle stores soon began creaking under the weight of new products. Products worth spending decent money on. Products that look, smell and taste like the real deal. 

The Sciencey Part 

The widely accepted definition of ‘alcohol- free’ or ‘non-alcoholic’ is for a beverage to be under 0.5% ABV (alcohol by volume). Alcohol can be removed in different ways. In the bad old days, that usually meant via heat (boiling it off), which affected the taste of what was left behind. These days, techniques like water vapour and gas stripping or reverse osmosis are used as well as methods like vacuum distillation (which heats liquid under low pressure, making the alcohol and water evaporate at a lower temperature so they can be separated), and sophisticated technologies such as spinning cone column systems, which separate the flavour compounds from the distilled alcohol, then add them back into the de-alcoholised drink. 


The Flavour Part 

Alcohol carries flavours and textures. It’s what gives a drink its warmth and generosity, so the challenge is how to maintain those things when it’s removed. 

Pioneering alcohol-free brand Seedlip developed a bespoke six-week maceration, distillation, filtration and blending process, where individual botanical ingredients are distilled separately, before blending. This process results in a liquid devoid of alcohol and sugar, which they’ve used to craft stylish, dry, sophisticated, adult options for non- drinkers that’ve become globally famous. 

Australian brand Plus & Minus boost their 0% flavours with antioxidant-rich, grape seed extract (GSE). GSEs are proven to help reduce blood pressure, blood flow, oxidative damage and coronary tissue stress and may improve collagen levels and bone strength and support brain health. These GSEs also add to the overall flavours in their wines, particularly their pinot noir and shiraz, while their rosé is possibly the best-tasting example of its type on the market. So it’s a case of alcohol out – antioxidants in. 

Local zero-alcohol colossus AF Drinks boosts the mouthfeel of all its products with AfterglowTM. AfterglowTM is a 100 percent natural botanical extract that mimics the attractive warmth of alcohol – without the alcohol. Hawke’s Bay’s Terps & Co harness the elevating properties of terpenes to bring sensory satisfaction to their non-alcoholic gin, whisky, tequila and vodka. Terpenes are the natural organic compounds found in herbs, flowers, and fruit which give them their unique scent and flavour. Smells are proven to have positive health benefits because your sense of smell is associated with areas of the brain that influence your mood. But scientists now believe that terpenes act directly on brain cells by binding to receptors and neurotransmitters and imitating natural compounds in your body, which regulate emotions, essentially giving you a ‘buzz’ without the booze. 


Manage Your Expectations 

Aromatic white wines like sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot gris and sparkling wines wear the zero-alcohol treatment really well. Reds are a slightly a different story because so much of their appeal lies in that saucy, sexy warmth, weight and dryness, which is hard to replicate with other things. So understand that your zero reds may be a little more fruity and a touch lighter than a honking 14% example.

I recommend keeping an open mind and appreciating the differences. Expecting a bargain? Aint gonna happen, sorry. Quality non-alcoholic drinks often cost the same, if not slightly more, than their full-strength sisters, because they’re expensive to make. 


What to Try

Steinlager Zero 0% 330ml ($22 x 12pk)

Stressing about the alcohol content and carbon footprint of your refreshments? Fret not. Steinlager is the country’s first large-scale beer brand to be Toitū carbon zero-certified, and being non-alcoholic, it’s also New Zealand’s first double-zero beer. Widely available 


Seedlip Grove 42 700ml ($32) 

A stylish smash-up of lemon peel, orange, lemongrass, ginger and all sorts of botanicals, this is a treat mixed with ginger ale, lemonade or apple juice. cookandnelson.com 

Terps & Co Gin-Like 750ml ($59) 

Fresh from winning gold at the 2022 Bartender Spirits Awards, this crisp 0% gin offers classic clove, bitters and juniper and is right at home in a classic G&T, over ice or in your favourite cocktail. drinkterps.co.nz 

Polka Lilly Pilly Riverland De-Alc Sparkling ($28)

Utilising low-temperature distillation, 12 months of R&D, 40 years of winemaking experience and a blend of 11 white wine varietals, Polka’s first vintage sparkling is crisp, creamy and fabulous. polkadrops.co.nz 

Plus & Minus South Australia Zero Alcohol Rosé 2021 ($15)

One of the best zero-alcohol rosés I’ve tasted. While it doesn’t say exactly which variety of grapes it’s made from, that’s no matter because what you have here is a clean, apple and cherry-scented wine that’s crisp, zesty and dangerously drinkable. clearheaddrinks.co.nz 

Giesen 0% Merlot NV ($15) 

New Zealand’s first 0% red wine made from quality Hawke’s Bay fruit, this bursts with spice, blackberries, plum and toasty long tannins. Fresh, fleshy and not as sweet as a lot of 0% reds, which is good. Widely available 

AF Lucky Grapefruit Margarita 250ml ($45 x 12pk)

This boasts zesty, sour notes of pink grapefruit with a peppery kick from an injection of AfterglowTM. Each box also contains Lucky Taco chilli salt to dip your glass rim in. a-fdrinks.com 

Zeffer 0% Crisp Apple Cider 330ml ($13.50 x 4pk)

Summertime is cider-time and the dry, tangy, green apple goodness from cider gurus Zeffer really hits all the spots. Cleansing, refreshing and satisfying. Widely available 

Finery 0% Sparkling Cocktail – Lemon Myrtle Lime & Black Tea 250ml ($79 x 12pk)

The clean, dry combo of citrus, bitter black tea and aromatic extracts creates an ultra-refreshing, mineral-edged sip that really delivers. finerycocktails.co.nz