Plant Life Balance

This Indigenous craft beer is the perfect Dry July go-to

Meet Clinton Schultz, co-founder of Sobah: Australia’s first non-alcoholic craft beer company.

Words: Maggie Scardifield

Follow: Sobah

With sustainable native Australian ingredients such as Davidson plum, pepperberry and finger lime in their brew kettle, Clinton and his co-founder and wife, Lozen, are working hard to break down the stigma of socialising sober.

“It’s all been a part of my own journey,” says Clinton, a Gamilaraay man. “I stopped drinking about six years ago and I quickly got frustrated with not being able to get a decent tasting, non-alcoholic beverage.”

Sobah’s brews are helping to bring about positive change in many ways: from smashing stereotypes and encouraging more sustainable and healthy lifestyle choices, to sourcing ingredients ethically on country, and raising positive awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. We caught up with Clinton to talk brewing and bush foods, connection to country, and how trees are often the greatest teachers of us all. 

First things first: why the decision to start making non-alcoholic craft beers, Clinton?

I started home brewing and making brews infused with different bush tucker for myself. I had a food truck at the time with all Aboriginal-inspired foods, and we thought it’d be a good idea to start putting the brews on to serve with the food. We started getting a lot of people turning up with their own bottles to fill for takeaways – which led us to start thinking that there may actually be a market for non-alcoholic craft beer.

What has the reception been like to Sobah so far, in Australia? 

That was about three-and-a-half years ago, and it’s been quite a journey since then. The first couple of years was very much about trying to shift the Australian mentality to be more accepting of non-alcoholic craft beers (the opinions were quite jaded when we first started) and also because, unfortunately, Australia as a society has a bad relationship with alcohol. Growing the acceptance of what we were doing was difficult in the early days, but it seems to have sky-rocketed in the past 12 months. People are just choosing to make better lifestyle choices now, both the older and the younger generations.

Where does the name Sobah come from?

It’s a play on the word sober, obviously, but also that, ‘bah’ suffix, in south-east Queensland where I live, tends to reference ‘place of.’ So it’s a play on ‘place of sobriety.’

Why did you decide to use native produce in your brews? 

I’m an Aboriginal man myself, so I’ve always had an awareness of the whole abundance of native produce and foods that we have here in Australia. When I was a chef, I was always quite frustrated that native foods seemed to only ever be a garnish in fancy restaurants.

With Sobah, I wanted to infuse all our products with native produce; to bring the wonderful flavours that we have available to us here in Australia to the forefront and make it so that everyone has the ability to give them a try. 

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🚨game changer🚨 The photo doesn’t do the colour justice, this zingy beer pours a sparkling pink! It’s the second of @sobahbeverages limited release beers, the Davidson Plum Gluten Free Ale. I have to say it is hands down, the best NA available in oz. As you can see the body is hazy and slightly sparkling. The Davidson Plum is seriously sharp and sour which leaves you slightly puckering after every sip. It leaves me wanting more after every mouthful! I would love to see this as full time member of their core range as it easily stands up to the Pepperberry IPA. With beers like this, the future of NA in Australia is in safe hands and no doubt the team are working on some more exciting limited releases! I can’t wait to see what’s next🍻 #alcoholfree #alcoholfreebeer #nonalcoholic #nonalcoholicbeer #NAbeer #afbeer #beer #delicious #nacraftbeer #beerstagram #cheers #afcraftbrew #craftbeer #beersofinstagram #alkoholfrei #craftbeer #softdrink #sinalcohol #sober #soberliving #sobah #sobahbeer #sydney #glutenfree #ale #lager #paleale

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So many non-alcoholic drinks are sickly sweet – but you guys are doing the opposite. What kind of thought and research goes into your brewing process?

In the early days, it was very much about, ‘what do I want to drink.’  As we’ve grown, we’ve taken more notice of what our consumers are drinking.

For example, if you look at the more city-centric markets like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, there’s a massive desire for heavily hopped beers like IPAs and XPAs – so then we start to look at what kind of native ingredients are going to suit that style of beer. Where we are on the Gold Coast, or in the Northern Beaches of Sydney, say, a product like our summer-style Finger Lime Cerveza goes gang-busters! And something like our Lemon-Aspen Pilsner because it’s such a light, less punch-you-in-the-face style of beer, in terms of its bitterness and profile – tends to be the one that people who don’t necessarily like beer, go for.

You’re constantly developing new brews and launching seasonal releases. What can we look out for next?

We’re about to re-release our gluten-free Davidson Plum Ale, which is more of a sour-style ale. We’re also re-releasing an Aniseed-Myrtle Stout for Dry July, which we did last year. We had a lot of people commenting on how great it is to have a non-alcoholic stout.

How do you go about sourcing your ingredients ethically?

Again, it’s a lot of research and investigation. I’m fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to learn our old ways from a lot of our Elders, and traditional owners of different areas who have a lot of knowledge about the bush tucker available in their areas. Being out in the bush, and being exposed to bush tucker, is nothing new to me. But because it is a blossoming industry, at times it can still be quite hard. We’ve got good relationships with different businesses around the country, however, that work very ethically and effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

What role do plants play in your day to day life, Clinton?

We have three boys and they love being in the bush. I’m a Gamilaraay man, and I spend a lot of my time talking to trees, talking to animals, and spending time sitting, listening, asking questions about different things and waiting for the answers to be brought to me.  

The science behind plants is that they have health, wellbeing and creative benefits. Have you experienced this, Clinton?

Despite having a piece of paper saying I’m a registered psychologist, and also being an academic,

I’ve learnt more in my life from sitting down and allowing myself to listen to and learn from old trees, than I ever have out of a book!

Although that book would’ve been a tree once, too!

What advice would you have for people who want to connect more with nature?

As Aboriginal people, we’ve always learnt from nature, and we’ve always learnt from listening to and observing nature. So as much as possible, I try to engage in those practices. 

And the other thing would be, stop making excuses not to. As human beings, we’re really good at making excuses to stop us doing the things that we actually know are good for our wellbeing. Connecting to nature and the environment is a massive part of that, and yet it’s probably one of the ones where we consistently make up excuses not to do so. So stop saying, ‘I don’t have time’. Time is something that human beings have created, so there’s no reason why you can’t create the time. 

What’s your version of getting your hands dirty?

I’m very into regeneration. We’ve made sure that as much as possible, we introduce plants back into our garden that are from this place. We had quite a good native garden happening until a few floods came through over the last few years, so our garden is in the rebuilding phase now.

That process in itself is beautiful. Just to plant something and be able to watch it actually grow and reap the rewards.

If you could spend the day gardening with anyone in the world, who would it be?

It’d have to be Costa [Georgiadis, of Gardening Australia]. He’s done everything – last year at Woodford, we saw him do a Drag heavy metal performance! I just love his approach to life. Also my wife, Lozen, because it’s something we really enjoy doing together.

How would you rate your own Plant Life Balance?

I think I do pretty good. But that’s because I have the opportunity and the resources to be heavily connected to nature and to country, and I completely recognise that that’s not the situation for everybody.

What are you most excited about right now?

I’m stoked to see the current movement we’re having around Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter. As a business, we’re really excited to look into how we can most effectively add to that story, that growth and that journey.

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