As Dry July – the annual fundraiser encouraging Aussies to go alcohol-free for the month and raise funds for people affected by cancer – swings round for another year, we thought it was a good time to get drinks expert Mike Bennie to share his favourite non-booze options with us. And it’s especially helpful as the alcohol-free drinks market gets more and more crowded. A leading drinks specialist and noted drinks writer, Bennie co-founded Sydney bottle shop P&V Wine & Liquor Merchants, and is behind a number of local industry awards and events, such as Drink Easy and Rootstock. That means he tastes almost everything that gets released here, so we reckon he’s well-positioned to give us the tastiest alcohol-free drinks suggestions. Here are his eight top choices.
Heaps Normal Another Lager
Crisp, refreshing, bitter and dry, a ripper lager in anyone’s language (and you don’t end up the drongo of the party after having a few too many). It’s so authentically an Aussie beer it feels like the kind of thing you’d spill on a pub floor to give it that “authentic smell” – although you wouldn’t waste any, as it’s so damn refreshing and good. Proper stuff, serious beer, stacks of flavour, sessionable and just plain outstanding as an important alternative to booze. Right on.
Beesbucha Organic Raspberry & Eucalyptus
Simple and brilliantly done, this is a seriously invigorating and delicious beverage. While it’s not strictly a mead (which has booze in it), it’s still naturally fermented honey water that ends up gently fizzy, tart and tangy with a little hit of sweetness. Created by Sydney bartender Giacomo Franceschi, this version is spiked with raspberry and eucalyptus for additional complexity and interest. The ingredients are also sustainable – the honey comes from the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and Huntleys Peninsula, the wild eucalyptus from south-eastern Australia – and there are no artificial flavours, preservatives or sweeteners.
Save 20% when you buy two or more Broadsheet books. Order now to make sure they arrive in time for Christmas.SHOP NOW
Gruppetto Spritz Veneziano
Melbourne bar legend Matt Bax (Bar Americano et al) has used his deep knowledge of cocktails to produce this incredibly authentic and outstanding canned spritz. It’s made in the vogue of the classic Mediterranean spritzes with a pleasingly bitter twang – think blood orange and pink grapefruit – and offers a hit of sweet-herbal Campari-like character in the mix. Brilliantly fizzy too. It’s a sheer delight.
Monceau Blood Orange Pét Nat Kombucha
Pét-nat, or pétillant naturel, is usually a phrase associated with naturally sparkling wine, but it’s been co-opted here by unique Melbourne beverage producer Monceau. Monceau produces kombucha traditionally but ferments it a second time using fruit. This one is tart and gently sweet from the juice of blood oranges. What we get is all the bright tang of kombucha, all the frisky fizz of pét-nat, and a whole lot of thirst-quenching deliciousness of tart-sweet citrus. Drunk out of proper glassware is the idea with this one.
Original, different and straight up delicious, Tina (This Is Not Alcohol) is a lightly sparkling tea-based “cocktail” flavoured with calamansi (a type of citrus) and organic botanicals. It’s dry, a little sweet-and-tart fruity, has some of the nice herbal elements of fine oolong tea, and finishes with a tickle of fizz and a chalky pucker that resets the palate beautifully. Created by Victorian cousins Chrissie Trabucco and Imogen Hayes, it’s interesting and distinct, with high drinkability and a lot of sophistication. This is top of the tree in the non-alc cocktail realm.
Lyre’s Italian Orange
Lyre’s is a dedicated non-alcoholic spirit company that started in Sydney and has a broad range of “spirits” produced to mimic the alcoholic equivalents (hence why it’s named after the lyrebird). While many are good or great, the Italian Orange is the outstanding one. This is Campari by another name, sans booze, and impressive on ice with a wedge of blood orange, brilliant splashed through soda water and garnished with a hunk of orange, or just damn excellent on its own. It’s pleasingly bitter-sweet, has great glossy texture and depth, and truly over-delivers.
Barossa Wine Cartel 2023 No, No Rosé
A canny wine producer from the Barossa Valley has worked out how to make possibly the best non-alcoholic wine going around, using an unconventional blend of riesling and chardonnay grapes, cherry juice and salt. Who’d have thunk it? This ends up as a slippery-textured rosé of immediate appeal that feels a few grades up from a pleasingly watery raspberry cordial with some citrusy bite. It’s not 100 per cent convincing as a rosé, but it comes close, and it’s wicked drinking and a really good time.
Monday Distillery Exotic Spice G&T
Monday Distillery has nailed the brief of an interesting gin and tonic (well, it’s half soda, half tonic), blending in additional cinnamon and nutmeg spice to produce a distinct mixed drink. It has that great, satisfying texture of the original cocktail but a kind of friendly freshness that feels satisfying but very easy to get stuck into, and all that spice just kind of makes you want to hound your glass and have a bit more. That’s a job well done.