Up until recently, the only options for non-drinkers have been mocktails, sodas or… water. Alcohol is deeply embedded in our culture, so it can feel pretty alienating to cut it out. These limiting beverage choices don’t help. But thanks to the rise of the sober curious movement and an increased consumer demand for non-alcoholic options that pack panache, a new wave of brands are redefining the depth and breadth of alcohol-free alternatives.
The first brand to fill this gap with style and grace in Australia is the appropriately-titled NON. The product is premium—and the founders have the credentials to match. Chef Will Wade and business partner Aaron Trotman met through Wade’s brother who runs psychedelic ayahuasca retreats. Trotman had been sitting on the idea of making zero-alcohol wine for a while. Thankfully for him, Wade had spent time working in one of the world’s best restaurants, Noma in Copenhagen, doing just that. Together, they began developing the idea for NON in December 2018.
“I said, ‘Look, I’ve got this idea: why can’t you get that level of drink in a bottle? Ready to pour. Ready to take home.’ Will’s like, ‘Alright, I’ll make it’. He went away and overnight and he was sending me videos. It was all buzzing, it was all really fast. He nailed five flavours straight away,” says Trotman.
Slight problem: Wade didn’t write down the recipes. What followed was three months of eighteen-hour days of trial and testing, all in Wade’s kitchen, using a DIY scientific approach inspired by the lab sheets chemists use to formulate cosmetics. “I had all these dropper bottles in my fridge. My girlfriend was getting the shits,” Wade laughs.
Once they had a clear idea of what flavour profiles they wanted to work with, they had to work through the sensitives of using natural ingredients (not only ensuring shelf-life stability but making sure they could get bulk quantities of what they were after). Complex culinary techniques are used to maximise the ingredients—such as dehydrating Valencia oranges or caramelising whole pears. Left-of-centre flavours like kombu (for minerality), olive brine (for saltiness), and yuzu (for sour acidity) take NON into the sort of sophisticated and inspired territory usually reserved for alcoholic beverages.
The resulting NON range is made up of three low-sugar and preservative-free varieties, all designed to be paired with food. The first is a crowd favourite, inspired by one of Wade’s dessert recipes. It marries salted raspberries with chamomile, organic cane sugar, verjus, and filtered water. Murray River Salt keeps it from being too saccharine. “It’s got that moreish feeling going on,” Trotman says. The second takes caramelised whole pears, kombu, ginger, cardamom, peppercorn, star anise, black tea, clove, honey, vanilla, olive brine, verjus, and filtered water. The third, which Wade says is “super, super good with raw fish because it’s so fresh and punchy,” sees a union of Japanese yuzu, local organic Valencia oranges, and toasted cinnamon. There is also a limited-edition fourth bottle, which is a collaboration with Melbourne restaurant Ides and centred around roasted beetroot.
While NON is making its mark in the non-alcoholic beverage sector, Wade and Trotman don’t have an agenda to push. They’re not aiming to combat alcohol. Instead, they just want to encourage people to drink better. In their eyes, NON could easily be an accompaniment to a night of drinking, enjoyed in-between alcoholic drinks. “It’s not like we’re anti-drinking,” explains Trotman. “I love wine and beer, because of the creativity behind it. There’s so many different, unusual things going on. We aren’t trying to stamp it out. We’re just trying to create something cool—and there’s space for that.” We’ll raise a glass to that.
NON is available at selected stockists around Australia, including online at Blackhearts & Sparrows. You can find out more information about them here and follow them on Instagram. Photography by Benjamin Thomson for Really Well.