Can wine alternative NON prove that non-alc drinks don't suck?

A review of three bottlings from the striking Melbourne non-alc producer.

Can wine alternative NON prove that non-alc drinks don't suck?
NON is a non-alc wine alternative. Photo: Boothby

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I’m not against non-alcoholic drinks. I feel like I have to make that disclaimer whenever I write about them or talk about them, because the problem I find with much of the non-alc market is that far too often they suck. They don’t give you value for money. They’re often pale imitations of alcoholic drinks. They don’t drink the same way that a glass of wine or a spirit or a cocktail should — they don’t have the weight on the palate, complexity, structure. Without that, they drink more like a flavoured water than something spiritous.

That isn’t a problem in and of itself — sometimes you want a thirst-quenching  drink to smash. It becomes a problem when you’re asked to pay nearly as much as you would on an alcoholic drink. The presence of strong spirits in a drink — that alcohol burn — makes you sip the drink rather than slurp it down like its Powerade on a hot day, which means that when you’re spending money on booze, it tends to last a bit longer (you are consuming responsibly, I assume).

NON is something a bit different, and I think that’s because of their approach: yes, it’s marketed as a non-alc wine alternative but it doesn’t mimic wine varietals, like, say, a non-alcoholic riesling. It doesn’t call itself a non alcoholic cocktail. It’s not trying to be something that it isn’t, and that’s a good start.

Because there are other brands out there that do mimic established alcohol categories — and don't do it well.

This is the problem with non-alc ‘spirits’
Should you call a product absinthe if there’s no alcohol in it?

NON isn’t perfect, but it is tasty, and it does an admirable job as a drink to sip and savour. I've driunk the bottles below on their own, with company, and with meals. Each bottle I’ve tried has layered on the flavour, and got the mouthfeel and texture that slows your sipping down — they’ve got structure and length and happily sit alongside a feed.

What we know about NON

NON is made in Cheltenham in Victoria, has some pretty striking and modern label design, and has been receiving some pretty favourable media coverage.

Each of their offerings are built on a backbone of verjus —  the very acidic pressed juice from unripe grapes — and a cast of other ingredients. They offer 7 different bottlings at the moment, via their website, for $30 a bottle or $150 for six.

NON was founded by entrepreneur Aaron Trotman and former Noma chef, William Wade (who has since left the business); former Eau de Vie Melbourne bar manager Nick Cozens makes the stuff, too.

NON 7 Stewed Cherry & Coffee. Photo: Boothby
NON 7 Stewed Cherry & Coffee. Photo: Boothby

NON 7 Stewed Cherry & Coffee

The Nose: Coffee, red fruit, and spice on the nose.

The Palate: White pepper frames the palate, broad bubbles, and layers of flavour here: dark red fruit, coffee and spice.

The Finish: It ends a touch shorter than the others, but there’s a juicy acidity that has me returning to the glass.

The Conclusion: There’s a lot to like here. True to form with the other bottles I’ve tasted, it layers on the flavour, and has that moreish, give me another quality to it. Very satisfying. 7.5/10

NON 1 Salted Raspberry & Chamomile was the standout. Photo: Boothby
NON 1 Salted Raspberry & Chamomile was the standout. Photo: Boothby

NON 1 Salted Raspberry & Chamomile

The Nose: I pick up notes of raspberry, apple pie, and a little pleasant funk that adds to the overall aroma, rather than detracting.

The Palate: It’s a spritz number, with a fine bead of bubbles, notes of chamomile and citrus and good acid.

The Finish: There’s great length here, it’s dry, long, and a little salty.

The Conclusion: There’s plenty of flavour here — layers of it — and the palate is well structured, it’s satisfying to drink, accompanies food well. And whilst it doesn’t need it — it’s a really good drink as it is — if you did want to get on the booze, I can see this splashed over a little gin, too. 9/10

NON 3 Toasted Cinnamon & Yuzu. Photo: Boothby
NON 3 Toasted Cinnamon & Yuzu. Photo: Boothby

NON 3 Toasted Cinnamon & Yuzu

The Nose: a little like cordial — Cottee’s, perhaps? — on the nose, a little cola jelly like note. Inviting.

The Palate: There’s structure here: the inclusion of tea dries the palate out, there’s good body, juicy acidity, and a bit of bite at the back of the mouth; it reminds me of a long finish on a good semillon.

The Finish: That bite on the finish, over a glass or two, reveals itself as a little too much saltiness — and I love salt — but this is a bit too much even for me.

The Conclusion: There’s some particulate matter suspended in the drink — it’s not a problem for me, but I can see how it would turn off others. This is tasty, but the salt reallys adds up over the course of a few glasses, that to me marks it down. 6.5/10

Further Reading

NON | Non-Alchoholic Wine Alternative | Australia Made
Non-alcoholic beverages with bold & complex flavours. A zero percent re-think of the wine occasion.
Why Australians can’t get enough of booze-free drinks in the pandemic
High-end restaurants are responding to the insatiable demand for quality beverages with low or no alcohol, particularly now that they taste so much better.
Up to 3000 Litres at a Time – An Afternoon at the Factory Where Non Brews Complex, Zero-Alcohol “Wine”
Containing ingredients such as cherries, cold-brew coffee, cinnamon, tamari and olive brine, Non’s zero-alcohol drinks are completely different from anything that came before. Over the course of several hours, Broadsheet photographer Jamie Alexander captured the production of several batches at Non’…