TO YOUR HEALTH

Nat­u­ral wine, boozy kom­bucha, cannabis gin: the way we drink is the next fron­tier for well­ness. But, writes MAX ALLEN, al­co­hol and well­be­ing have a long his­tory.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Contents -

Nat­u­ral wine, boozy kom­bucha, cannabis gin: the way we drink is the next fron­tier for well­ness.

The wine­maker hands me a glass of cloudy am­ber­coloured fluid. He tells me it was made from or­gan­i­cally-grown grapes, no chem­i­cals, wild­fer­mented on skins, and bot­tled with­out fil­tra­tion or any added preser­va­tives. Nat­u­ral wine, in other words. And then he says some­thing I’ve heard from other nat­u­ral wine­mak­ers.

“You know, wines made like this have bet­ter di­gestibil­ity.

You taste the vi­tal­ity in them. You can drink nat­u­ral wines and not feel any bad ef­fects the next day.”

In the late 19th and early 20th cen­tury it was com­mon to spruik wines – and other drinks, from beer to spir­its to cider

– by talk­ing up their health ben­e­fits. But as so­cial at­ti­tudes shifted and ad­ver­tis­ing codes be­came stricter over the en­su­ing decades, the idea of ther­a­peu­tic drink­ing dis­ap­peared from booze mar­ket­ing.

To­day, though, as the well­ness trend con­tin­ues to grow at a stag­ger­ing rate in the world of food, wine­mak­ers, brewers and dis­tillers are be­gin­ning to dab­ble once again in semimed­i­cal lan­guage, even mak­ing new, al­legedly ther­a­peu­tic prod­ucts. And they of­ten sound un­can­nily sim­i­lar to their 19th-cen­tury pre­de­ces­sors.

Take our nat­u­ral wine­maker’s talk of “di­gestibil­ity”. This was a com­mon claim in the 19th cen­tury: Aus­tralian wine com­pa­nies such as Sep­pelt, Pen­folds and Hardys pro­duced all sorts of drinks, from ver­mouth to bit­ters to tonic wine, that were said to be ben­e­fi­cial to di­ges­tive health. One ver­mouth, made by Mel­bourne wine mer­chant Alexan­der and Pater­son in 1895, promised to “pos­sess the prop­er­ties of a bit­ter stom­achic that acts like a charm, and frees the bow­els from flat­u­lency and pain”. An­gas­ton Bit­ters, pro­duced around the turn of the 20th cen­tury, was “rec­om­mended as an un­fail­ing, quick and ef­fec­tive rem­edy for weak di­ges­tion”.

It wasn’t just the mar­ket­ing copy­writ­ers who were prone to such colour­ful lan­guage. In 1906, no less a fig­ure than Dr Thomas Fi­aschi, one of Syd­ney’s most re­spected sur­geons and the owner of Tiz­zana vine­yard and win­ery on the Hawkes­bury River, gave a

lec­ture to the Aus­tralasian Trained Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion on

“The Var­i­ous Wines Used in Sick­ness and Con­va­les­cence”.

As well as rec­om­mend­ing Cham­pagne as a stim­u­lant in cases of weak heart ac­tion, and the mod­er­ate use of Bur­gundy for rheuma­toid arthri­tis, Fi­aschi told the nurses that claret was a “valu­able aid to di­ges­tion... In this cli­mate, claret is es­pe­cially use­ful on hot days, when the stom­ach be­comes lan­guid and un­able to digest the amount of food re­quired to keep up the nerve strain en­tailed in the strug­gle of civilised life. It tones both the stom­ach and the heart.”

With this kind of clin­i­cal en­dorse­ment, it’s no sur­prise that so many winer­ies at the time sold their prod­ucts on their restora­tive mer­its: Hans Irvine’s Sparkling Bur­gundy from

Great West­ern in Victo­ria was just one of many wine brands “rec­om­mended for in­valids”, and ad­ver­tis­ing for Pen­folds Hospi­tal Brandy fea­tured a nurse, dressed in angelic white, cradling a bot­tle like it’s holy wa­ter.

As the 20th cen­tury wore on, drinks pro­duc­ers moved away from con­cen­trat­ing on the in­di­vid­ual ben­e­fits of al­co­hol con­sump­tion and to­wards more generic life­style at­tributes: beer ads fea­tured fit young men en­gaged in healthy out­doors ac­tiv­i­ties like surf­ing or rugby; wine ads em­pha­sised the plea­sures of the so­cial oc­ca­sion, fea­tur­ing cou­ples en­joy­ing a ro­man­tic din­ner, or groups of friends at a party.

In re­cent years, though, an ob­ses­sion with in­di­vid­ual health and well­ness has per­me­ated many as­pects of ev­ery­day life, and booze pro­duc­ers are re­spond­ing.

Some are chang­ing their pro­duc­tion meth­ods to ap­peal to a more health-con­scious gen­er­a­tion. In th­ese pages last year, for ex­am­ple, I pro­filed a bunch of small-scale wine­mak­ers pick­ing their grapes ear­lier to pro­duce lighter, fresher red wines sit­ting at just 12 per cent al­co­hol or less. Mean­while, at the other end of the booze in­dus­try spec­trum, a sur­pris­ing num­ber of highly-pro­cessed RTD brands are now avail­able in sugar-free, gluten-free ver­sions, some with added “nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring botan­i­cal flavours”. All the buzz­words.

Some pro­duc­ers are high­light­ing the ex­ist­ing well­ness cre­den­tials of their prod­ucts. There is grow­ing de­mand, for ex­am­ple, for ve­gan wines that have been pro­duced with­out any an­i­mal-based pro­cess­ing aids such as the egg­whites tra­di­tion­ally used for clar­i­fi­ca­tion. Lots of wines have been made like this for years, but pro­duc­ers are now mak­ing their ve­gan-friendly sta­tus ex­plicit by in­clud­ing it on their la­bels.

Some pro­duc­ers are jump­ing onto the con­sci­en­tious con­sump­tion wagon by pro­mot­ing the fact that they’re or­ganic or bio­dy­namic, im­ply­ing that “cleaner” grapes make “health­ier” wine. The grow­ing num­ber of wines bot­tled with no added preser­va­tives is also tap­ping into con­sumer con­cerns about the “tox­ins” we’re all putting into our bod­ies.

And some pro­duc­ers are re­spond­ing to the health-andwell­be­ing trend by de­vel­op­ing en­tirely new prod­ucts, packed with in­gre­di­ents that are good for you.

Gee­long-based com­pany Botan­i­cal

Brew re­cently launched Aus­tralia’s first

Jun Kom­bucha, an al­co­holic (four per cent by vol­ume) vari­a­tion on the well­ness set’s favourite drink, fer­mented with honey and green tea and bot­tled un­pas­teurised, with all its live cul­tures in­tact, to “main­tain the ben­e­fi­cial pro­bi­otics, en­zymes, vi­ta­mins and min­er­als”.

And The Cannabis Co, a Mel­bournebase­d spe­cial­ist in hemp-based prod­ucts, has re­leased a small-batch gin made us­ing a num­ber of botan­i­cals in­clud­ing a ter­pene called limonene ex­tracted from cannabis, and jilun­gin, an indige­nous herb grown in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory and har­vested by the lo­cal Nyul Nyul peo­ple. The ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects of the in­gre­di­ents in this spirit are ex­ten­sive: ac­cord­ing to re­cent re­search jilun­gin con­tains more an­tiox­i­dants than green tea, and it is revered by the Nyul Nyul for its heal­ing prop­er­ties; limonene is re­puted to aid with anx­i­ety, and im­prove di­ges­tion, men­tal fo­cus and even li­bido.

There may be po­ten­tial hur­dles ahead, though, for some of th­ese new prod­ucts aimed at the well­ness-aware con­sumer.

The more they pro­lif­er­ate, the more at­ten­tion they’ll at­tract from reg­u­la­tors. Food-la­belling laws for­bid the use of health claims on the pack­ag­ing of al­co­holic drinks, and the (al­beit vol­un­tary) Al­co­holic Bev­er­ages Ad­ver­tis­ing Code also pro­hibits any sug­ges­tion in any mar­ket­ing ma­te­rial that a prod­uct “of­fers ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fit or is a nec­es­sary aid to re­lax­ation”.

Bear­ing this in mind, some pro­duc­ers are ap­proach­ing the whole is­sue of well­be­ing with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

When Can­berra wine­maker Bryan Martin pro­duced his ver­mouth-styled bit­ter ton­ics, for ex­am­ple, his pack­ag­ing de­signer put to­gether a la­bel evok­ing 19th-cen­tury news­pa­per ad­ver­tis­ing in­spired by restora­tive ton­ics such as the An­gas­ton Bit­ters men­tioned ear­lier. “Doc­tor Martin’s Cathar­tic Liquor”, says the fine print on the la­bel, will “al­le­vi­ate com­mon ail­ments of mod­ern life” and “pre­vent mid-af­ter­noon melan­choly”.

“Doc­tor” Martin called his drink Out­landish Claims.

“Doc­tor Martin’s Cathar­tic Liquor,” says the fine print, will “al­le­vi­ate com­mon ail­ments of mod­ern life” and “pre­vent mid-af­ter­noon melan­choly”.

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