Tim Triggs used to love a drink, but the relationship soured. It was his young family – and a hangover – that spurred a change in direction.

“I remember I was at the Lord Nelson in Bondi with my wife and my daughter,” Triggs says. “I was having a beer, because hair of the dog makes you feel better, and that’s what I did. I remember thinking ‘Oh, I hate this’ and in my mind I was just not enjoying it at all. My wife was having a lovely meal and my kid was running around having a good time. I just noticed that she was enjoying it and I should have been enjoying it too.”

So, Triggs quit drinking. At first for six months, as a test, then a year. It’s now been eight years since he gave up the booze, but in that time, the self-described “entrepreneurial dude”, with four non-alcoholic brands of his own, has helped shift the way we think about drinks for the non-drinker. The reason is that, while Triggs gave up drinking, he’s not living some abstinent lifestyle. As for many of us, there’s still appeal to a bit of a buzz.

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Low alcohol, big ideas
In 2018 – inspired by a bottle of Seedlip from his sister, and with some guidance from NZ distiller Jill Mulvaney – Triggs created and released two non-alcoholic spirits under the Altd Spirits label. “I was basically trying to mimic what Seedlip was doing but with all Aussie botanicals,” he says.

Altd drinks are zero-alcohol distillates of native ingredients like strawberry gum, cinnamon myrtle and wild rosella, as found in pink gin-style drink Silver Princess. Altd Spirits has been successful but, for Triggs, there’s always been something more to reach for.

“Where my interest really is now is in functional herbs and natural medicines that help you feel something,” Triggs says. “I obviously don’t drink, but I do still crave some kind of mind-altering state. Naturally, I think humans crave feeling happy and they want to release themselves.”

Triggs’s three other brands, all founded in 2022, lean into this. With Ghiddy, Brewtropic and, now, Highr, he’s finding ways of (subtly, and legally) giving some sort of potency to alcohol-free drinks.

Ghiddy is a wine alternative that combines ingredients like honeydew and verjuice to approximate wine, rather than removing the alcohol after fermentation. Brewtropic beers are genuine zero per cent ales with additional botanicals on top, while Highr produces ready-to-drink cocktails like a “Giin and Tonic” with distilled juniper, yuzu tonic, chamomile and valerian root made in collaboration with Japanese chef Chase Kojima. The common thread is that many of the ingredients and compounds that go into them are chosen not just for their flavours, but for their effects too.

Nootropics, adaptogens and “magic” plants
Triggs is fascinated by compounds called nootropics (caffeine is one) and adaptogens, as well as other “functional” ingredients. “Usually when you’re talking about nootropics, you’re talking about brain function – things that help you increase focus or maybe remove any jitteriness,” Triggs says. “Adaptogens are pretty similar. They help plug holes where you might be deficient.”

For instance, the Highr Negroni Spriitz contains L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea that’s associated with increased concentration and an adaptogen called ashwagandha, a medicinal plant traditionally used for its calming effect (although, despite positive indications, its health advantages remain unproven). Triggs also adds mango leaf (which he compares to cannabidiol, or CBD) to the Brewtropic sour, the calming Californian poppy goes in Highr’s aforementioned G&T, and good old-fashioned chamomile features in Ghiddy's “vermentino”.

Triggs has learned from friend and naturopath Emily Rose Yates, as well as traditional healers and modern scientific literature – although for many of these ingredients, like the Californian poppy, he admits the evidence is scarce. “There’s not much research on that,” says Triggs. “There’s anecdotal stuff and naturopaths who swear by it, but in the lab and proper testing, there’s not that much.”

These active ingredients are legal, and many can be found in supplement form at pharmacies. The effects (if any) are supposed to be subtle, providing a lift or change that’s beyond a standard non-alc drink, but not up to the level of alcohol intoxication.

“They’re purposefully dosed quite low, so there’s going to be no trouble in terms of that,” Triggs says. “If you smashed 20 of them you’re going to be fine.” He says the effects should be considered a slow burn – have one, let it sink in, and come back again regularly.

“With alcohol, you get that hit straight away,” says Triggs. “You feel drunk and you’re in a good mood and whatever happens after that happens, but I think with nootropics and adaptogenics, it’s more a case of building those things up in your system.”