As the Australian non-alcoholic beer brand NORT rolls out a new range in time for its inaugural Dry July event its founder has described the success of its first nine months as “phenomenal” as its growth has kept pace with the boom of the alcohol-free drinks category as a whole.
Launched in September last year by Modus Operandi brewing co-founder Jaz Wearin, NORT has seemingly been the right product to arrive at the right time as sections of Australian society, for multiple reasons, have looked to take a more balanced approach to their drink choices. The Endeavour Group, the parent company of BWS and Dan Murphy’s, said recently their sales of non-alcoholic drinks had increased more than 83 per cent in the past year, with alcohol-free beer being its biggest seller in the category.
On the back of a national ad campaign, that saw NORT being brandished across the back of capital city buses and elsewhere, the first released and flagship Refreshing Ale is now stocked in Woolworths supermarkets across Australia. It is also stocked nationally in Dan Murphy’s and BWS stores while it can be found with the likes of online retailers Amazon Australia, Beer Cartel and Sans Drinks. NORT has also just received a $1 million grant in the second round of the Federal Government’s Manufacturing Modernisation Fund.
And now, as the alcohol free charity event Dry July kicks in for what could be its most supported event ever, NORT is raising its presence considerably with the release of three new beers that cleverly play to both the broader market and to the more seasoned craft drinker.
“It’s just been phenomenal to watch for me – especially coming from owning a brewery and watching the change,” Jaz told Beer & Brewer. “It’s not so much that everyone’s completely going sober, but there’s this real mindful drinking coming in to play and you just can’t ignore it – you can see it in the numbers and the trends. It’s quite incredible.”
Similar to the Refreshing Ale, NORT’s new Pacific Ale, released in bottles only, is positioned to appeal to most palates while the All Day IPA and Tropical XPA, both solely in cans, are targeted at current craft drinkers who have moderation in mind. Refreshing Ale is also now in cans. The new NORT releases are available online through Sans Drinks, Amazon Australia and Beer Cartel and in select independent retailers across the country.
“At that time (NORT launched in 2020) I was like ‘I’m putting this out there and I’ll see what happens’. But the growth that we’ve had is quite mind-blowing and it’s just going from strength-to-strength. And that’s why we’ve brought out these new varieties – because people are on to NORT but they’re wanting more. The uptake that we’ve had already with the new SKUs is quite incredible.”
The rise in popularity of drinks that mimic their alcoholic versions has caught many by surprise, including those that make them, and Jaz said she’s learning everyday the reasons for the uptake of brands like her own.
From the 70-year-old who can’t drink like they used to, to the 21-year-old who just doesn’t want to drink, she said her customers come from a vast array of backgrounds and display different motivations for limiting their alcohol intake.
“But the biggest commonality from our customers is balance. People are saying ‘I still like drinking and I don’t want to give that up because I like my big hoppy IPAs’ or whatever. And they’re having one but saying to themselves ‘I want to stay out with my mates’ so they’re having a couple of NORTS instead. And then they could potentially still drive home later in the night and they’re not wasting half their next day being hungover.”
If launching a new brand and coping with its upward trajectory wasn’t enough for Jaz, herself and husband Grant are building an entire new Modus Operandi production brewery and hospitality venue up the coast from their original Mona Vale home in the Newcastle beachside suburb of Merewether.
It’s been a challenging process by the sounds, simply for the fact they are breaking new ground somewhat with few similar ventures having preceded them in the area. But the build is in full swing and Jaz hopes to be welcoming guests come Spring.
“We’re most excited about the extra capacity that’s going to come on,” she said. “We’ve been brewing out of a shoe closet (in Mona Vale) for so long and… the little brewhouse there really needs a rest. So to have this extra capacity is going to be life-changing.”