March 18, 2021

It’s 6 p.m. and I’m lying in bed in a pitch-black room trying to get rid of a hangover that has plagued me since noon. As someone who is somewhat active in the F&B scene, I’m no stranger to that fuzzy-headed, vertigo feeling. In fact, I used to boast about my Wolverine-like recovery powers and high-functioning alcoholic ways. But as I age, that means I can’t drink like I used to, or perhaps I don’t need to.

Enter non-alcoholic alternatives. Some have no qualms about blurring the lines and voluntarily confusing customers with its trendy bottling and cool labels. Yes, Lyre’s, I’m referring to you and your bottles that can class up any drinks cabinet instantly.

The fact is that more of us are drinking less. According to Global Market Insights, “Inclination towards lower alcohol content in several countries due to increasing consumer health consciousness across the world has escalated the non-alcoholic wine and beer market size.” In Singapore, this mindset is catching on. In 2019, Heineken 0.0 chose the Lion City to be the first country in Asia to toast its alcohol-free lager. Following closely behind was Carlsberg with not one, but two flavours—the Carlsberg Alcohol-free Pilsner and the Carlsberg Alcohol-Free Wheat. Teetotallers can now celebrate the fact that the world is finally catching up with them, whilst gym rats find humour in reaching out for that conspicuously shaped bottle after a ‘sweat sesh’.

In the last two years, non-alcoholic booze has been gaining steam everywhere; in Michelin restaurants, bars, the media and people’s drinking cabinets. UK-made Seedlip, the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit can be attributed to that rise. I remember distinctly in 2018 rubbing shoulders with Ben Branson, founder of Seedlip’s, whilst sipping on a Seedlip NOgroni and lounging on EC Proof flat’s very luxurious Chesterfield sofa. From his first foray with distilling the botanicals on his family’s farm to getting acquired by global drinks giants Diageo—the journey of Seedlip is the ultimate end goal of any drinks entrepreneur. 

This year, I got a taste of Lyre’s, whose range of ‘spirits’ go head-on with any well-established back bar. From the mainstays of Dry London Spirit to American Malt and Aperitif Rosso; Lyre’s bottles are designed with aplomb. It looks like alcohol, it smells like alcohol. The American Malt, which I’ve had the pleasure of trying in a homemade Old Fashioned is lightly perfumed with vanilla and spruced with toasted nuts. But how’s this for a plot twist; it is totally sans booze.

Those of you who participated in Dry January might have come across Australian NON—a zero alcohol wine alternative by an ex-Noma chef (most of their alumni are impelled to do jarringly crazy things). Technically a tisane (an infusion of dried fruits, herbs and spices in hot water), the carbonated drink presents like a pét-nat, a trend that’s been growing in the natural wine segment. The easy-drinking salted-raspberry and chamomile perfectly pairs with fish & chips at Cheek Bistro’s weekend brunch.

We have yet to see an Asian representative, so along comes Melati Drinks, Asia’s first non-alcoholic aperitif. I’ve first heard wind about this when I met founder and fellow food ambassador Lorin Winata at a full-fledged wine lunch in V-Dining. It piqued my curiosity, mostly because of the excessive wines we indulged in that afternoon. Melati wasn’t crafted just for the purpose of assuming stepchild status to it’s a more boisterous big brother—it was designed to be restorative. Crafted from 26 botanicals including goji berries, star anise and red kampot peppers, these are believed to contribute to increased blood flow and better digestion. The result, an aperitif that’s a brilliantly convincing contender in the boozeless market. 

Alcohol has no positive effects on the body. Sure, a glass of red wine a day may prove to be good for the heart, but studies have shown that cutting out alcohol, even briefly, may be beneficial for the body. In my book, dollar for dollar, a non-alcoholic spirit will never match up to a bottle of drinking rum. But who am I to say? We will pick this up when I’m pregnant, or the designated driver.