Gin and Tonic

Non-alcoholic drinks like the virgin G&T are rising in popularity. Image: Sgroene/Pixabay

The rise of non-alcoholic drinks: Crafty and cool substitutes for booze

South Africans are having a Dry January by virtue of the country’s liquor sales ban. Luckily there are plenty of alcohol-free alternatives available.

Gin and Tonic

Non-alcoholic drinks like the virgin G&T are rising in popularity. Image: Sgroene/Pixabay

South Africans enjoy their booze. Whether it’s beers by the braai or wine at dinner, many of us do have an affection for a drink or two.

The Coronavirus lockdown and recurring liquor sales ban may have caused a rise in illicit booze trading, but entrepreneurs in the industry are also coming up with some crafty and cool alternatives to our regular tipple in the form of alcohol-free drinks.

Non-alcoholic drinks are nothing new. Long before President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the second lockdown ban on the sale of alcohol, a “mindful drinking” trend was brewing among “sober curious” young South Africans who want to live clear-eyed and hangover free.

Appetite for non-alcoholic drinks emerged before lockdown

Johannes Le Roux, founder of the award-winning non-alcoholic gin and tonic drink called The Duchess told the Financial Mail that even before lockdown there was a greater awareness and demand for alcohol-free drinks, whether for lifestyle or health reasons.

“It’s a category still in its infancy, but it’s something we see growing tremendously over the next few years.”

Sharp rise in demand for non-alcoholic drinks

The new “mindful drinking” trend saw people put down their shot glasses in search of an alternative to the punch-drunk life and a sharp increase in the non-alcoholic drinks sector.

Producers of booze-free beverages, from de-alcoholised beer and wine to distilled non-alcoholic gin, have enjoyed a surge in demand across South Africa. More and more brands are joining the fray and launching products that imitate the taste of gin, rum or whisky.

Non-alcoholic beer brands on the rise

The beer market has also seen a flush of non-alcoholic brands — imported and locally brewed —arrive on local shelves over the past few years. A dominant player in the craft industry, Devil’s Peak Brewing Company, has a trio of brews under the Devil’s Peak Hero label, while SA Breweries has Castle Free and Heineken has 0.0.

The lockdown has been a boon for these brands, Elizanne Rauch, GM of marketing for brand owner Signal Hill Products told the Financial Mail.

“We have certainly seen increased demand, not only through sales from our regular stockists of Devil’s Peak Hero, but also through more outlets listing our product nationally.”

According to Brendon Geary, head of buying at online retailer Yuppiechef, there has also been a societal shift in attitude towards non-alcoholic drinks. He believes the producers are getting it right.

“A few years ago, non-alcoholic beer wasn’t great tasting beer. But that’s changed. It’s just a great craft beer, it tastes really good, whether it’s alcoholic or not.”

Wineries follow suit

From its cellars in the Robertson Winelands, Van Loveren Family Vineyards — home to the high-volume Four Cousins brand — produces the award-winning Almost Zero range of de-alcoholised wines where the alcohol is removed from the wine post fermentation, using spinning-cone technology.

For the winery, the Almost Zero range was a drop in the ocean of wine that would ordinarily leave the cellars each month and a very small part of the business. However, the lockdown has sparked an interest in the category among wine lovers who would normally turn their well-trained noses up at de-alcoholised wine.

“[The lockdown] has definitely assisted us in getting the product more traction,” Retief said. “I think customers are purchasing out of curiosity and the mouth-feel related to wine.”

‘Oros or cooldrink with your meal just not lekker’

Leopard’s Leap in the Franschhoek valley offers red and white de-alcoholised wines under its Natura label. Leopard’s Leap CEO Hein Koegelenberg told the Financial Mail:

“People are used to enjoying wine with their food, so in lockdown, you either drink de-alcoholised wine, or you have soft drinks. And to have Oros or cooldrink with your meal? It’s just not lekker.”

The Natura brand launched in 2019, after three vintages of trial and error. It accounts for just 4% of the cellar’s local sales, but that figure doubled during April when alcohol sales were first banned as reported in an article in the Financial Mail.

“It’s been huge for us,” Koegelenberg said. “All of a sudden we’re shifting a large amount of wine. We’ve actually run out of stock, so we’ve had to look at making the next vintage available early.”

Truly non-alcoholic?

According to the Liquor Act, an alcoholic beverage is defined as a product containing greater than 1% of alcohol by volume. Most so-called non-alcoholic products on the market sing from this song sheet, even though many contain between 0.05% and 0.5% alcohol.

If you’re avoiding alcohol for strict religious or health reasons, it pays to read the label. Otherwise, there is no reason to fret about an extended alcohol ban – join the “mindful drinking” brigade and go alcohol-free.