Brunswick Aces lays claim to being Australia's first zero-percent alcohol distillers. In April, it'll chalk up another first in the sobriety scene: Australia's first permanent non-alcoholic bar in Melbourne.
Save for the alcohol, the venue will be a "bar" in every other sense of the word; from the ambience, to the decor, to the music. It'll offer a menu of classic cocktails – Negroni, Espresso Martini, Tom Collins – mixed by bartenders (sobertenders?), though the drinks themselves will be bereft of the boozy stuff. Just don't call them mocktails.
"We call them cocktails because that's what they are. Everything about a cocktail is in the person who created it and how the flavours blend together," says Stephen Lawrence, CEO and co-founder of Brunswick Aces.
"I've never tasted a cocktail and thought, 'Wow, the alcohol tastes amazing'. You taste the notes of orange, the sage, the rosemary. What's interesting is the way the drink is blended in front of your eyes. That's the cocktail experience, and we'll offer every drop of that in the Brunswick Aces bar."
Brunswick Aces distillery was founded in 2017 by a group of neighbours who saw a gap in the market for alcohol-free products. "We'd have cocktail evenings and if there was someone who couldn't drink, for whatever reason, they felt left out," says Lawrence. In the following years, Brunswick Aces was riding the growing wave of sobriety before the lockdowns of 2020 saw customers spend up big on alcohol.
But as with all vices, what goes up must come down. "During COVID people absolutely drank as a coping mechanism, and that exacerbated their need for alternatives later," says Lawrence. "Whenever we see people increase their alcohol consumption, it makes them realise they don't want to drink later."
The overwhelming feedback from customers was they wanted to enjoy non-alcoholic drinks in a public, social setting; they wanted to keep their spirits up without having to down them too. The progression to a permanent temperance tavern was a logical play.
"With our cocktail bar experience the alcohol is irrelevant. It's about making the flavours, and making people feel welcome," says Lawrence.
The Negroni, by all accounts, is one of the more challenging cocktails to replicate in sober form. Instead of gin, they're using Brunswick Aces sapiir, an age-old distilled beverage of Middle Eastern origin. The sapiir contains notes of Tasmanian pepperberry which mimics the alcohol "burn" of a traditional Negroni. The Campari? That's a work in progress. The vermouth? It's TBC, with the team looking at a few options available on the market.
The cocktail bar, painted in petrol blue and decked out in soft furnishings, will feature a glass window to peer into the onsite distillery. But it's not an all-Brunswick Aces showcase. The bar will also serve a range of other Australian non-alcoholic products including Sobah (an Aboriginal-owned brewery) and Heaps Normal beers, plus wine-adjacent drinks from Non and Plus & Minus.
And what of the lemon, lime and bitters, the customary drink of the designated driver? "Now we're talking about dirty drinks," says Lawrence with a chuckle. "There will be no such thing on our menu."
True to the Brunswick Aces spirit of inclusiveness, the bar will serve one alcoholic gin and tonic too. "Our raison d'être is about making people feel welcome in our home," says Lawrence. "[Drinkers, non-drinkers], we're trying to include them in our bar. It's not about precluding people."
We'll raise a glass to that.
Brunswick Aces bar is set to open in late April, 2021 at 124 Weston St, Brunswick, Vic.