Heaps Normal: Brewing Great Alcohol Free Beer

WE SAT DOWN WITH BEN HOLDSTOCK FROM HEAPS NORMAL, THE CREW MAKING BIG HANGOVER-FREE WAVES, TO CHAT ABOUT BREWING GREAT BOOZE-FREE BEER.

What’s the Heaps Normal philosophy? How would you describe your underpinning ethos?

Normal is about offering people an alternative to the standard way of drinking. We get that everyone has their own normal when it comes to drinking and we are here to offer a choice rather than a judgment.

What’s the story that led you to where you are? Was it inspired by a personal desire for a decent non-alcoholic beer, or could you see there was a gap for something like this?

After working in the brewing industry for a number of years we were frustrated by the lack of great tasting non-alc beers. We decided to create Heaps Normal because we each wanted to reduce our alcohol consumption for one reason or another. However, we didn’t want to sacrifice the good times that often go hand in hand with a night out or when catching up with friends. It really came down to scratching a personal itch rather than tapping into a gap in the market.

Talk us through the technical aspect of what you do. How does brewing non-alcoholic beer work? What’s the difference to normal beer?

There are a number of ways to produce non-alcoholic beer but most involve removing the alcohol by heat or filtration. We have worked hard to develop a method that doesn’t involve any post fermentation alcohol removal as we feel that takes a lot of the flavour with it. Instead, we make a few tweaks in the process and formulation to produce a beer that only contains a trace amount of alcohol. We use the same four ingredients as ‘normal’ craft beer but brew in a way to control the fermentation process and the amount of alcohol produced.

Was that whole process something you had to/wanted to discover yourselves, or were there some pioneers in alcoholic beers you were able to learn from?

For sure, it was a great technical challenge to achieve the right balance in the beer and the process took about 6 months of research and development to get right. Sobah, based in QLD, are one of the pioneers here in Australia for non-alc beers but most of our product development came from in-house research.

Have you got much interest on premise? Are bars and pubs and restaurants seeing a demand for non alcoholic beers?

Yeah, definitely. We have found that there are a bunch of great pubs, bars and restaurants who have really jumped on board. The landscape is changing fast and it’s becoming pretty normal to find non-alcoholic menus and pairings at the best on premise venues around town.

Were you confident from the start that this idea had legs? Your branding and packaging is really fantastic and popular - how does that play into what you do? Is that part of ‘normalising’ non-alcoholic beer and selling the story?

I was probably the most conservative of the 4 co-founders in terms of our projected growth. It’s safe to say that we have all been surprised though. I think our branding definitely helps our mission to normalise mindful drinking. Our aim was to make a beer that tastes like your favourite craft beer, the fact that it contains no alcohol is just a footnote and our branding plays into that.

It goes without saying that you’ve got customers from all walks of life, but who would you say is your most common customer?

It is pretty diverse to be honest. One demographic that surprised us was pregnant women. I think there are a lot of people out there who don’t drink or want to drink less but don’t vocalise that desire in everyday life. Heaps of people have reached out to us thanking us for making our product - it is a really nice feeling to be able to contribute in a small way to helping make people happy.

Talk to us about the style of the Quiet XPA, which is pretty iconic out there.

We developed the Quiet XPA as our flagship beer because we felt it was perfect for the way in which a lot of us drink. It is also one of our favourite styles so the decision was in part a selfish one. It’s a light bodied and refreshing beer with a balanced bitterness and a lovely tropical citrus hop character.

What’s next for Heaps Normal. Expansion? Different styles?

It’s been our plan from day one to build our own brewery and tasting bar. We’re working on that now and will hopefully have something to share within the next 12 months. That will really allow us to push the boundaries with non-alc brewing and our aim will be to grow our core range of beer as well as brew a bunch of seasonal and limited release non-alc beers.

Do you keep an eye on what’s happening internationally in beer? Which countries do you think are leading the charge in non alcoholic beer?

Yeah definitely. I’ve always thought of the USA as a bit of a crystal ball for the market here in Australia. Having said that though, non-alc beers have been completely normal in Europe for years and I love the traditions of brewing and the beer culture over there so I always try to keep abreast of what is going on internationally.