When 20-year-old Hibah Dannaoui started working as a waitress, she was surprised to discover a new category of drinks: non-alcoholic beverages that are meant to imitate the taste of alcohol. A practising Muslim, Dannaoui has never consumed alcohol.
“I was actually shocked and didn’t understand the concept behind it, since they can make a normal drink,” she says. “I didn’t consume it and will not, since I’m a Muslim.”
She says she is sceptical that these drinks could avoid contamination with alcohol. “I would rather stay away from these ‘non-alcoholic’ beers. Even naming it is uncomfortable for me.”
According to the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University, the number of 18-24-year-old Australians who don’t drink has doubled in the past 20 years.
Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that the growth of the non-alcoholic drinks category outpaced that of alcoholic drinks, with the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis showing the volume of low- and no-alcohol drinks growing by 2.9% in 2020, while regular alcohol experienced a slight volume decline.
Every month is “dry July’’ for Muslims. However, rather than increasing their options, the rise of zero-alcohol drinks created a conundrum for many young Muslims.
According to Food Standards Australia, brands can label their products as “non-alcoholic’’ with anything less than 0.5% alcohol by volume.
But while drinks with 0.5% alcohol may be labelled non-intoxicating by Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Islam, like many other religions, has stricter rules for food and drink consumption. Bushra Nasir from Muslims Down Under explains: “The holy Qur’an describes different categories of foods, and alcohol falls under the category which is prohibited because it is harmful to the body, and that which is harmful to the body is harmful to the spirit.”
Thus, a drink that has 0.5% of alcohol is not halal – lawful or permissible. It would be like cooking your meat in a pan that has just been used to prepare pork.
While popular among many Australians who are cutting down on their alcohol consumption, zero-alcohol beer, wines and spirits are rarely marketed for people who have never drunk before.
Noura Hijazi, a 19-year-old Muslim, says: “I’ve actually never heard of non-alcoholic alcohol until now. I only recall beverages like ginger beer …
“I wouldn’t really want to try it, first because there is no guarantee that it would be 100% alcohol-free, but also because I would find it a little weird.’’
Many non-alcoholic brands have noticed this untapped market, and have begun attempting to get halal certification for their drinks.
Online alcohol-free drink retailer Craftzero does carry some halal options. However, out of the 200-odd drinks it sells, only 14 are halal certified.
Sherif Goubran, director and co-founder of the store, says “these wines have been very popular … Although they are certified Halal, they have been consumed by non-halal buyers alike.”
When asked if he believes Muslims might be apprehensive about this style of drink, he says, “there are still so many people out there that are not aware of these products and their availability. I believe once they learn and understand more about these products, they will become more inclined to try them and enjoy them.”
There are several methods for making non-alcoholic drinks. One of the most common is through “ethanol distillation’’, whereby alcohol that is formed during a drink’s fermentation process is boiled away. Other ways to remove alcohol from alcoholic drinks includes reverse osmosis, where alcohol is pumped out with water. Processes such as this are generally not considered halal.
Monday Distillery, a Melbourne-based zero-alcohol drinks manufacturer, says it is in the early stages of investigating halal certification. Co-founder Haydn Farley says “we are working with a distribution partner who is importing our products to Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Off the back of this, we are wanting to add halal certification as part of that expansion.”
Sydney-based Seadrift, which distils non-alcoholic spirits, says halal certification “is next on the list” for its business.
Seadrift founder Carolyn Whiteley says “we have designed our distillation process to carefully consider the needs of all consumers, particularly those who don’t want any alcohol in the process”.
Whiteley says that creating a manufacturing process that does not involve fermentation at all, and is thus more likely to allow certification, “was a benefit to us anyway, because we wanted something that was extremely low in sugar”.
Whiteley views the rise of zero-alcohol options such as hers as “really encouraging a very positive shift”.
“There’s so many fabulous options coming on to the market that really are providing a huge amount of alternatives for so many people.”
She says this feeds into “the idea that you don’t have to be drinking, it’s becoming much more socially acceptable. And actually, that social acceptance is what’s going to have a massive impact on society. And that, you know, is a really positive thing that we can change.”
But for Hijazi the need for an alternative at all seems like another side of the same coin. “I feel like the drinking culture is something I wouldn’t really want to participate in,” she says. “Even if it would be alcohol-free.”