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Kaddy Exclusives

A dive into the wild success of Lyre's with co-founder Carl Hartmann

June 23, 2022

Can we change the way that the world drinks? One Australian company is giving it a go.

The Kaddy Community team sat down with the co-founder of Lyre’s Carl Hartmann to talk about wedge drinks, winning over show judges and the future of spirits.

It’s hard to underestimate just how quickly Lyre’s has exploded. From a company that was started in 2019, it has now on track to be a billion-dollar business that, as co-founder Carl Hartmann puts it, Lyre’s is ‘selling in more countries than Tim Tams'.

Indeed, just keeping up with demand is half the challenge.

'At the beginning of the year, we were selling 1 bottle a minute. I’d love to run the numbers again at the end of the year to see where it goes'. he said.

You’d wager the figures are going up given that non-alcoholic spirits are growing at 80% annually in the UK alone (which is one of Lyre’s biggest markets), and no and low alcohol (NOLO) as a category is expanding by 10% globally (according to IWSR figures).

But are we entering a NOLO boomtime? Or is this just a reaction that ties into the ‘drink better for you’ fad sweeping drinks?

For Hartmann, a ‘serial entrepreneur’ who famously founded tech business Temando, the Lyre’s story starts with the life of a global businessman who then returns to Australia and realises how unhealthy that life really is:

'I think I worked out that one year I did 230 days of travelling, and I just came back home and I had packed on heaps of weight.' he notes

'I was out in places like Japan where people would just empty their glasses constantly, with booze a key part of socialising.'

Back in an Australian boardroom, Hartmann (pictured below) found himself talking to long-time friend and fellow Australian entrepreneur Mark Livings, who introduced him to the non-alcoholic ‘liquids’ he’d been working on. After trying a gin and tonic that tasted exactly like a traditional alcoholic G & T, Hartmann was on board.

The ethos of Lyre’s remains to reinterpret classic drinks - to focus on making non-alcoholic versions of traditional spirits. Even the name Lyre’s is a nod to the native Australia Lyrebird, which famously mimics everything from chainsaws to human voices.

In practice, that means non-alc versions of everything from gin to absinthe and orange curacao. Most recently Lyre’s has been pushing hard into whisky alternatives, and Hartmann is particularly proud of the two different non-alcoholic agave spirits.

Importantly, and this is something that Hartmann stresses, what sets Lyre’s apart is that the production is all-natural and relies purely on clever food science, including essences, distillates and extracts. But is that opaque production enough to convince drinkers who value the traditions of classic spirits?

'When you break it down, we’re often just talking about distillates and water,' Hartmann said.

'Now whether you’re using a copper still or you’re doing it otherwise, it’s basically the same thing'.

Hartmann’s argument is that large-scale spirit production, for example, is anything but natural. Instead, working with ‘flavour architect’ (what a great job title) David Murphy, the Lyre’s method is to use a whole array of natural flavours - including things like pepper and chilli extracts - to achieve those traditional spirit sensations.

It’s working - Lyre’s is now the most awarded non-alcoholic spirits company in the world. Indeed, the quality is now strong enough to woo seasoned show judges too.

'One of the best stories comes from our Aperitivo Rosso in San Francisco (at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition). Here’s a product that has zero abv, and it won a double gold awarded by all these Master Sommeliers who were convinced' he said.

For Lyre’s, the market, though, isn’t show judges - it’s about catering for drinkers who are looking for a non-alcoholic alternative. The so-called ‘switchers’ who may enjoy a classic alcoholic G & T (for example) but want to avoid the alcohol.

'What we’re seeing is that it’s drinkers like you and I who are looking for an alternative - and often it’s people who are looking for a healthier option or for another reason', he explains.

One particular drinking habit that Hartmann sees as a Lyre’s opportunity is what he calls the 'wedge drinks'. This is where someone will use a Lyre’s based cocktail to mix their rounds between alcoholic and non-alcoholic to literally lessen their hangovers without feeling like they’re missing out.

Another angle that Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits can present for those looking for a healthier option is the lower calories. Lyre’s Dry London Spirit has just 10 calories per 100ml, which is 95% less than a typical 40% ABV London dry gin. In an era where calorie counts are a hot-button topic across all drinks (look at the rise of low-cal seltzers and low-carb beer to see this), a lower kilojoule footprint gives makers like Lyre’s an instant edge.

Speaking of cocktails, Hartmann is coy about the next stage for Lyre’s, but already a range of canned premix options has broken cover - including a Lyre’s Amalfi Spritz & the Lyre’s American Malt & Cola (both of which you can work out what it is mimicking). Given that these cans can be sold in any outlet around the world - rather than the often strictly regulated licensed premises - it makes these RTDs a potential game-changer.

In the long run, Hartmann is convinced that non-alc-based cocktails will be part of the fabric of bar and drinking culture. Eventually, he thinks that the large spirits makers will all have zero alcohol versions, and the market will be as saturated as craft beer. For now, it’s up to trailblazers like Lyre’s to grow the ‘premium volume’ part of this category and take that first-mover advantage.

And to think that it’s an Australian company (albeit now with an international footprint) spearheading the non-alcoholic revolution? Yeah, we’ll drink (a non-alcoholic margarita) to that!

(Images from Lyre's & Instagram).