Aaron Heary and John Hoedemaker.

Amidst the hoopla of brewery acquisitions in Australia over the past few years – including Feral to Coca-Cola Amatil, both Balter and Pirate Life to CUB – another more modest, but no less significant, sale largely slipped under the radar.

Founded in 2010 by Matt Bebe, Mornington Peninsula Brewing ( mpbrew.com.au) rapidly emerged as the prize of the south east thereafter: its legendary Tar Bar becoming an essential destination on any serious beer pilgrimage throughout craft-crazed Victoria.

As part of its expansion, Tribe ( tribebreweries.com) – formerly contract brewing behemoth Brewpack, now proprietor of well-respected labels Stockade Brew, Wilde gluten-free beers, and the local producer and partner of iconic US stalwarts Pabst Blue Ribbon – purchased the brewery in 2018. Tribe quickly set about relaunching it as a national concern; in 2020, it moved mass production to its mega Goulburn production facility (which now boasts a staggering capacity of 70 million litres per year).

With Stockade’s Marrickville Barrel Room plying the pointy end of the alchemical artisan beer spectrum, Tribe has opted for the middle route as it expands Mornington Peninsula’s footprint Australia-wide, with beers that are alluring but never audacious, toothsome but not tendentious.

And with Tribe’s promising foray into gluten-free brewing with Wilde, it was only a matter of time before the group would tackle what for many is the holy grail of brewing: alcohol-free beer. Few brewing categories have proven so elusive (and economically bruising) in Australia than that of ‘alcohol-free’. Most often the beer has been insipid and uninspired, all-too spectacularly failing to compete in the ever-kaleidoscopic no/low-alcohol fermented beverage sector, which traverses everything from ginger beer to kombucha.

But driven by the example of Germany – where it is estimated one in every 15 beer sales is now alcohol-free – many breweries have persisted through trial, error and innovation with promising results.

Non-alcoholic beers are generally defined as those clocking in at under 0.5% ABV and – notoriously prickly to even the most innovative brewer – have traditionally been brewed by one of three methods: post-brew distillation, complex filtration, or modulating the mash temperature to manually inhibit fermentable sugars.

Contemporary research and innovation into alternative yeast strains (genetically modified to prevent maltose consumption and its by-product, alcohol), however, has now enabled canny brewers to ply a more traditional route, one that avoids the ‘burnt’ and ‘chemical’ characteristics too often associated with non-alcohol beers produced by more traditional means.

Employing these modified yeast strains – which still create essential flavour-packed esters, but without the alcohol – Mornington Peninsula’s Free pale ale is certainly amongst the finest domestically brewed alcohol-free beers on offer in Australia today. Whereas most alcohol-free beers have traditionally been brewed as lagers or pilsners, this light-style pale ale brings some welcome depth to the no-booze field, with its faint peach nose, supple tropical palate and faint yet inviting malt profile.

While the loss of the paradigmatic alcoholic warmth and astringency is, of course, evident, it does not necessarily detract unduly from the drinking experience. The beer is ever refreshing and inviting, and structurally fortified through some light dry hopping, emblematic of the American pale ale style.

Mornington Peninsula’s alcohol-free beer joins a small but-growing list of noteworthy domestic brews in this field, amongst them the Quiet XPA from Canberra upstarts Heaps Normal ( heapsnormal.com): a tropical tango of Kohatu, Cascade and Simcoe hops that help fill the void, underwritten with an enticing hint of wheat malt. Also worthy of a mention is the brewery’s clever and cheeky motto: “Too good to be wasted”.

While the alcohol-free brewing sector still has a way to go in enticing craft-
conscious drinkers en masse across the great divide (both culturally and taste-wise), examples such as these are proving the future of this sector is as bright as it is light.