“We are patient,” he says. “People [are] come to the idea at their own pace.
Rewrite the recipe
Heaps Normal brews non-alcoholic beer using the same four ingredients as traditional beer (water, malt, yeast and hops). But every detail of the 15-step process had to be tweaked to make the end product taste like beer but without the alcohol. To achieve this, sugar levels were rebalanced, temperatures were adjusted, and standard brewer’s yeast was replaced with non-traditional yeast.
It took Holdstock and the team six months to prepare and perfect a winning formula that would pass the pub test – literally. For their first test batch, the team put the beer in an unmarked can and invited food writers, brewers, bartenders and industry friends to sample it.
They didn’t tell them it was alcohol free. Many thought they were tasting a medium or strong beer. About one in ten guessed the truth.
“It’s one of the most exciting and rewarding moments to see people’s jaws touching the ground,” Miller says.
“It was a turning point for us, when we had the confidence to really back this beer we had created.”
Heaps Normal was launched on the last day of dry July in 2020, a fortuitous accident. Miller notes that the pandemic shutdowns have seen people reassess their relationship with alcohol. Young people, in particular, focus on physical and mental health and well-being: the proportion of Australians in their twenties who abstain from drinking alcohol has risen from 8.9% in 2001 to 22% in 2019.
Despite what his company represents, the founder is aware of not being preachy: Heaps Normal does not want people to stop drinking. “A lot of beer drinkers get into that kind of behavior where they still enjoy their favorite craft beers when they go out, but they use Heaps Normal in between to space things out.”
And if a giant beer conglomerate came knocking one day, would Heaps Normal give up its independence?
There has been interest, Miller reveals. “We don’t entertain anything like that at this point.
“We’re having so much fun building this business…I don’t think any of us can imagine the idea of giving up less than two years into this journey.”
But the team is pragmatic about this possibility. “If there was an opportunity further down the line where it made sense to…enhance our ability to deliver on this mission [of changing drinking culture] – then that would be the kind of opportunity we would consider later.