The last time Michael Payne drank alcohol was on July 9, 2020. The date is imprinted on his memory because the morning after, he woke up in hospital.
“That was a big eye-opener for me,” says Payne, a one-time bartender and former owner of CBD shoe store Gingers Gentlemen Shoe Boutique. “I'm in no way, shape or form the first person that’s happened to. You go to emergency on a Saturday night and it’s all alcohol-related. I kind of brushed it off a bit at the start, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to be. It changed my whole way of thinking.”
While Payne, as he says, isn’t the first (former) drinker to have drunk one glass too many, he’s the first – at least in Western Australia – to have addressed the situation by creating a dedicated non-alcoholic beer brand. His visit to hospital inspired him to create Lightning Minds, another newcomer to the buoyant, seemingly unstoppable non-alcoholic drinks category.
Launched in March, Lightning Minds’ debut release is a pale ale that hits the spot for bitter, crisp and refreshing. Inside each eye-catching gold can is a mix of malt, three different hops (Simcoe, Galaxy and Mosaic, hop-spotters), plus the hope that this home-grown product will seamlessly slot into the WA lifestyle.
“Having a can in your hand around your friends means you can still be part of the tribe,” says Payne as we sip on a couple of Lightning Minds pale ales in the Rosemount beer garden. Payne is enjoying his out of the can; I’m having mine out of a glass, which seems to lift those tropical, hop-derived notes. “We’re not trying to stop people from drinking. We just want people to have these options they can go to when they’re not drinking so they don’t just become hermits.”
Our half-hour catch-up touches on plenty of topics including the origin story of the brand (the pale ale recipe took five months to develop); the influence social media has on shaping the habits of younger drinkers (Payne: “People don’t want to be photographed looking wasted”); and what the drinking habits of future generations might look like.
“I've got friends with teenage kids who are seeing their parents drink non-alcoholic beers,” says Payne. “Imagine what that instils in someone. It makes them think, ‘there's a reason they’re drinking non-alcoholic beer’.”
Most importantly, both of us can get on with our day after our chat, our minds unclouded by alcohol. Considering Lightning Minds is a one-man show operating out of a tiny warehouse in North Perth, this is a good thing since Payne has to juggle the roles of accountant, website manager and delivery person (his car is stacked with 20 cartons due to be delivered around the metro area after we chat). Thankfully, being sober for almost two years has given our man drive he didn’t know he had.
“When you’re not drinking, you’ve got more time and energy,” says Payne, who is working on plans for a second release and getting his beer into markets outside of WA. “I'm up at 6am and keen to get into it. It’s such a new frame of mind for me to be in and I’m excited about what this is becoming.”