Ten years ago, teenager Ezrah Waith was in a bustling nightclub on the glittering Gold Coast, with flashing lights and pounding music, when he got enlightened.
The main point:
- The number of former drinkers increased from 1.5 to 1.9 million Australians between 2016 and 2019
- Gaining weight and getting drunk are among the reasons to stop drinking alcohol
- Distillers fill a gap in the market by making alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
“I just remember standing in the middle of Sin City and realizing that I didn’t need alcohol to be myself,” Ezrah said.
That’s almost an insult in Australia’s school capital, where drinking alcohol is a legitimate right for many.
Now 30 years old, Ezrah and his wife Tyrene are proud to remain liquor-free and it seems their sober lifestyle may be gaining popularity.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) triennial survey, the number of people who did not consume these drinks increased from 1.5 million to 1.9 million between 2016 and 2019.
Weight gain and hangovers were cited among the reasons.
The AIHW report found the proportion of ex-drinkers had fluctuated since 2001, but 2019 saw the highest proportion of former drinkers during that period.
The coronavirus pandemic may have disrupted people’s drinking habits by 2020, however, the AIHW said no clear pattern had yet emerged from the effects of COVID-19 restriction on alcohol and other drug consumption.
Under the radar
Christmas parties and social gatherings at work can often be an upsetting experience for the conscious mind, but the advent of non-alcoholic, low-alcohol drinks has allowed the likes of Ezrah and Tyrene Waith to fly under the radar.
“It’s not that the questions bother me, but they recur after a while if you keep explaining why you’re not drinking,” Ezrah says.
“I love beer and gin and non-alcoholic tonics; I’ve found those that are quite delicious. The taste is very similar [to an alcoholic drink].
“It’s more socially acceptable to drink non-alcoholic. When you’re not drinking, people think you’re not having fun.
Faye Lawrence is the founder of Untoxicated, a non-drinking network of 8,000 Australians who socialize through morning tea and activities such as mini golf and camping.
They are part of a growing movement called “conscious curiosity.”
Ms Lawrence said whether people drink alcohol or not doesn’t have to be “black or white”.
“It’s about being curious and choosing what individuals work for them and how they want to appear in the world.
“It’s a mindful drink, where one day you might have vodka or alcohol-free wine, and another day you might want to go out with friends and have fun.”
Ms Lawrence said the alcohol-free alternative “cool, fun and exciting” helps non-drinkers overcome the fear of missing out.
“We are social animals, we also like to fit in and if you show up and have an alcohol-free cocktail no one will notice that you are not drinking, so big problems shouldn’t be made about that,” he said.
Filling a gap in the market
With conscious curiosity rising, Burleigh-based distiller Catie Fry is entering a market that traditionally caters only to beer and wine drinkers.
Ms Fry is the first distiller in Australia to produce non-alcoholic and moderate-alcoholic beverages.
“You would call them botanical vodka, but they’re made a lot like gin.”
The distiller’s inspiration came after being treated “like a houseplant” during her two pregnancies, when her only drink options were water or juice.
“It’s distilled in exactly the same way; I work with 21 different herbs that are all in my three-infusion range and I make my herbs with wheat-based spirits,” says Fry.
The mother, wife and businessman said he was also determined to change the culture of the male-dominated refining industry.
“I didn’t have many opportunities to be at the distillery without distraction, which I got. You can’t let the kids run around the refinery, someone has to look after them,” he said.
“But I was a bit of an outcast, so I bought a copper still and experimented while the kids slept.”
All three varieties are being marketed to female audiences, but the mother of two says she is surprised by the overwhelming interest from men.
“People say if I am too feminine or focused on women, you will lose half of your market and alienate men,” she said.
“Little wins like this for women show young girls that they too can be a refiner, or have their own distillery, or a mechanic’s shop, or whatever.”
Ms Fry hopes her company will help bring change to the drinking landscape.
“Things are changing and there are so many amazing craft distilleries that are going with the times and becoming more inclusive so look around, be proud and you will find other people who want to come with you,” he said.