Many of us have been there. It may have been at a pub, at a mate’s place, or in your garage playing poker.
You’ve overindulged in one or two too many nine percent double IPAs, maybe had your first cigarette in six months, stumbled into bed without brushing your teeth and woken up with the bitter taste of ash and regret in your mouth.
It’s the pink elephant in the room of the craft beer scene – and getting pissed is entrenched in the Australian identity too. Yet, now more than ever, we are aware of the effects of alcohol and the impact it can have on our health, both mental and physical. However, unlike many other beer-loving countries, there has never been a non-alcoholic beer option that any self-respecting lover of beer would dare touch.
Clinton and Lozen Schultz, the husband and wife team behind Australia’s first non-alcoholic craft beer company, Sobah, are looking to change that. Their mission is about breaking down the stigma around sobriety in a social setting and providing a bloody delicious tasting bevvy to those who, for whatever reason, don’t want to get pissed.
Sobah launched via a crowdfunding campaign in December 2017, with their first stockists in Sydney and Fremantle, before relaunching in June of this year. Today, Clinton and Lozen work on distributing and building Sobah from a warehouse and base of operations they opened in the Gold Coast suburb of Burleigh Heads.
“Sobah started as an idea not long after I stopped drinking six years ago,” Clinton says. “I got really frustrated with not being able to find a decent tasting non-alcoholic beer. The only thing I’d really get offered was a ginger beer and you can only have a couple before you feel bloated and sugared out. I’d get pissed off having to pay five bucks for a soda water with a piece of lime in it.”
Clinton, a proud Gamilaroi man, comes from a culinary background and has recently completed a PhD in psychology.
“I started experimenting with flavours and trying to find something that would suit what I wanted and maybe fill a void for other people like me who wanted something more sophisticated than the bland non-alcoholic beers in the market at the time,” he says.
“The non-alcoholic beers that were available here in Australia for a long time haven’t done us any favours. When something is selling for $7 a six-pack at the supermarket you know it’s not going to be any good. Unfortunately, that’s kind of burnt into the profile of non-alcoholic beer now.”
Clinton and Lozen saw this is a challenge and wanted to offer something more. Sobah’s first brew was a pilsner flavoured with lemon aspen, a tree native to North Queensland. The Lemon Aspen Pilsner was soon joined by a Pepperberry IPA and a Finger Lime Cerveza to create the Sobah core range.
“When we first started testing it and people were tasting it, the first reactions that we’d get was, ‘It tastes like beer!’ Well hopefully, yeah, we’d be out of business pretty damn quick if it tasted like the other stuff,” Clinton says. “The only difference between how we brew and how any other beer is brewed is the strain of yeast we use.”
While showcasing native Australian ingredients is a priority for Sobah, they have also met constraints.
“There’s a big difference between grabbing a handful of something I need from the bush and finding 100 kilos of it on a regular basis,” Clinton says about the challenges of upscaling his brews for commercial production.
Lozen adds: “It can be a struggle to find a lot of Australian native stuff in commercial quantities. Not every idea we have we can do. To find someone to go out there and grow for us would take a lifetime.”
While sourcing ingredients is a challenge, the bigger challenge for Sobah is in the drinking culture of Australia.
“The first two years of doing this have been hard work, in terms of snapping that mentality,” Clinton says, with their home turf proving particularly tricky.
“This is Australia’s playground," Lozen says. "People come here to party.”
As for their plan to overcome the connotations surrounding non-alcoholic beer, Clinton says: “It’s all about having a good product, something that people enjoy drinking and recognise as a quality craft beer. The more we do that, the more it looks after itself.
"If someone picks it up and says, ‘That tastes like beer’, I’ve done my job. We’ve got to make a good product that’s like for like with any other craft beer in terms of quality and consistency.”
Lozen says they've had great feedback from within the industry; “One brewer told us that our IPA could stand in a category against any other IPA on the market," she says. "The beauty of craft is that you can continually tweak and improve and we’re confident we can make it better still.”
Sobah plan to release two more beers this summer – a gluten-free Davidson Plum Ale and a Boab and Wild Ginger Lager – with an additional two to follow in April. Inspiration for new releases comes from listening to their customers and balancing their wishes with what they can get in the quantities they need while still showcasing Australian ingredients.
“The Davidson Plum drinks more like a cocktail,” Lozen adds. “I dress it up as a cocktail.”
It has to be said there’s something uniquely satisfying about crushing a refreshing AF tinnie of Finger Lime Cerveza in the car on a hot summer’s day or enjoying a four-pack of Pepperberry IPA and still being able to have a productive afternoon.
Beyond that, Sobah offer the opportunity to have a beer when you’re not having a beer. Whether you’re off the sauce for a day, a week or indefinitely, you can still enjoy cracking a cold one and not be resigned to cola or soda water on a night out. We’ll often knock back six or eight beers on a night out, but the thought of having that many sugar-filled softies make our stomachs turn. With Sobah, the idea is that you can still be in on the shout, still enjoy a beverage, and still drive home and wake up feeling as fresh as a Lemon Aspen Pilsner.
While Clinton and Lozen want to grow the Sobah brand, one in which they've embedded the philosophies of Gamilaraay lore – promoting respect for people, place, and the environment – and will soon look to export to New Zealand, Singapore and the UK, it’s about much more than just a business.
“We’d love to walk into a bar and have a nice non-alcoholic beer that isn’t Sobah," Lozen says. "Of course, it’d be nice if they had Sobah, but we’d like there to be more options and to have it more widely accepted."
As they settle into their Burleigh Heads base, they’ll look at opening it up to the local community for exhibitions, community radio, and regular Sobah knock-offs.
Led by passionate and articulate people, Sobah is about more than a tasty beverage: it’s about breaking down the correlation between getting pissed and having a good night out; it’s about supporting and displaying the great natural ingredients this country has to offer; and it’s about promoting responsible drinking habits that don’t come at the cost of being social.
Above all, Sobah is about community and carving a space within the craft beer community as the sober option.
Sobah have retailers in many metro areas of Australia and also sell direct via their online store. Find stockists, the online store and more via their website.