After working in wine for 20 years, Rachael Niall – one of Perth’s most prominent sommeliers and a former WAGFG Sommelier of the Year – has switched things up with the opening of Tomorrow on Tap, a non-alcoholic bottle shop just metres from Hyde Park. Bars Editor Matty Hirsch caught up with her to check in on how the switch-up was tracking, and whether the way we drink has changed forever.
How did the idea to open an alcohol-free bottle shop arise?
I’ve worked with wine for two decades now, and while I’m still passionate about the industry, I wanted to work on a new project within the drinks realm. Personally, I wanted to create a business and a lifestyle that wouldn’t involve working late nights and being around alcohol all the time. I still drink, but I wanted to form a strong and healthy foundation within my work schedule, so that I could achieve more and reduce the risk of burnout, which I experienced in my first business.
Whilst reducing my alcohol consumption last year, I started researching the NOLO [no- and low-alcohol] category. In my eyes, there was clearly a demand for quality non-alcoholic products, but lots of the drinks on the market were bland and didn’t offer any sense of discovery or pleasure – both key factors, especially to a sommelier. As a result, I made it a mission to source and make delicious, quality 0% ABV drinks and share them with the Perth community.
Some people might see this move as a bit of a zag for a sommelier/former bar owner/wine marketer. How has your career informed your decision to open this business?
My career has always been guided by discovery, growth and fun – and much of it has been spent watching trends and researching new drinks and ideas. The NOLO industry is niche, but it’s growing, and I felt that I could use my experience to create a more bespoke experience as a point of difference to buying from a supermarket or online retailer. Tomorrow on Tap ticks those ‘discovery, growth and fun’ boxes for me, but also, I think, for my customers.
In terms of the space and the experience, what can customers expect? Is there anything you hope they take away from their visit?
Rather than a vanilla shop with big shelves and bright lights, Tomorrow on Tap is an alternative, community-minded store focused on creating a fun retail experience. We want people to feel welcome. They can bring their dog and enjoy a cold tinny al fresco; work from their laptop at our large tasting table, or bring a few friends to share some bottles and snacks. I’d love to open people’s minds and show them that non-alcoholic drinks can offer a sense of occasion, that they can still be paired with food and they can still be delicious.
Talk to me about the stocking process. How many products do you carry in total? How many producers are you working with? Is there anything specific you’re looking for when you’re sourcing inventory?
I carry around 140 products, which include alcohol alternatives and functional drinks. There are several brands that I’m working with, that you won’t find anywhere else in Australia. In terms of what I’m looking for, my solid rule is the one I’ve always used when putting together a list: “Would I genuinely enjoy drinking this, and would I be happy to share it with friends or customers?”
Are there one or two products you’re particularly excited about at the moment?
Ghiddy is a delicious beverage built to mimic wine, using fruits and botanicals. I find these products have more purity and complexity than alcohol-removed wines. I’m also excited about our house-made drinks, which are sold on tap – customers can bring in their own bottle, and we’ll fill it. The current drinks are made by WAGFG Bartender of the Year winner Shirley Yeung and we’re working on a collab with Young George chef-owner Melissa Palinkas next.
What have been the biggest challenges thus far?
When you’re working with wine, you know that you’re dealing with 100% grape juice, and that the only other considerations that customers may want to know about are fining substances and sulphite levels. There’s much more to decipher in non-alcoholic drinks – ingredients, processing, preservatives, regulations, additions and even plant medicine. It’s also been somewhat challenging explaining to customers why 0% drinks are not necessarily cheaper than alcoholic drinks.
If market projections are any indication, there’s still considerable growth ahead for the non-alcoholic drinks sector in Australia. What do you think the future holds?
Lots of big breweries have launched 0% beers, but I foresee many of them creating a full 0% range under a new brand, so they can promote themselves as a ‘non-alcoholic brewery’. I also think the interest in and development of drinks infused with adaptogens and nootropics is going to be huge. As for demographics, younger people are already choosing to abstain from or limit alcohol, but I’m also seeing a lot of older people wanting to make healthy changes, so demand overall will no about continue to rise.
Have you picked up any surprising insights about people’s drinking habits, or even your own?
In the lead-up to opening the shop, I thought deeply about what makes a drink, why people drink and what they want or do not want to feel when they do. I daresay I have a more romantic connection to drinks and drinking, as I’ve made a career out of it, but I’ve realised the main reasons people drink are for ritual, flavour and connection. My goal is to enable that and offer people even more options.
223 Bulwer Street, Perth, tomorrowontap.com, @tomorrowontap
Photography: Danica Zuks and Rachael Niall