It's kind of ironic that the first conversation about developing the booze-free Heaps Normal was held over a few cold beers.
It was 2019 and four mates, Andy Miller, Ben Holdstock, Peter Brennan and Jordy Smith, were reflecting on their own alcohol consumption and they all realised, for very different reasons, they wanted to make a change.
"I was working in the beer industry," says Miller, who is now the chief executive officer, "and while I never thought I had a problem with alcohol I realised I was having it every day, even if it was just one or two, and I just wanted a change.
"Working as a strategist, interested in behavioural change and what drives cultural change, I saw a real opportunity to see if we could positively influence drinking culture in Australia."
Heaps Normal head brewer Holdstock, formerly of Sydney's 4 Pines and The Grifter breweries, saw it as a challenge - "it's extremely difficult to create a beer without alcohol that tastes like a beer," says Miller.
Brennan, who is head of brand, had a history of alcohol abuse in his family and he'd been thinking about the idea for a long time.
Brennan grew up in South Africa surfing with Smith. Smith, who is Heaps Normal global brand ambassador, wanted to ditch alcohol as he made his mark as a professional surfer on the World Championship Tour.
"It was all these things but mainly we wanted to create a non-alcoholic beer that tasted like a beer and didn't scream 'I'm sober'," says Miller.
Since it was launched out of Canberra in July 2020 Heaps Normal Quiet XPA has become one of the most popular beers in the country. The extra pale ale has been likened to Balter's genre defining XPA. It is brewed with a specific yeast that consumes very few sugars resulting in an alcohol content of 0.5 per cent. There's no more alcohol in it than orange juice that's been open in the fridge for a couple of days, or a bottle of kombucha, says Miller.
At online store Beer Cartel it's the best selling product nationally out of more than 1000 beers and stockists around the nation are reporting increased sales.
"We couldn't have predicted the way it's been received by consumers, it's really blown our minds how much people have identified different ways to incorporate it into their lifestyles."
While an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare survey reported that 20 per cent of Australians increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic, sales of non alcoholic beverages also rose.
Bree Coleman, head of merchandise transformation for Endeavour Group, who own BWS and Dan Murphy's, said non-alcoholic drinks is one of the fastest growing categories.
"The rise of non-alcoholic drinks is a reflection of a broader trend where consumers are choosing to drink less, but drink better," says Coleman.
"We've never had such a wide range of non-alcoholic and lower alcohol drinks in our stores. You can find anything from craft beer, rosé and bubbles to craft gin and bourbon without any alcohol in it - and the quality is so good, you won't be able to tell the difference.
"We are seeing some great innovation from Australian producers in particular, who are creating delicious alcohol-free options for customers."
At Plonk Beer and Wine Store, at the Fyshwick Markets, beer manager Connor Tracey-Patte says sales of non-alcoholic beer have been steadily increasing and Heaps Normal is one of their best sellers.
"We used to have all the non-alcohol beers, and the gluten frees and the like on a little shelf in the corner but we've had to move everything up to the front of the store and it has its own section now," Tracey-Patte says.
"We've had some German ones for a while but now we have about 20 different varieties on the shelves. There's a good range of traditional styles but now there's craft styles like stout and IPA. We can't keep up."
Heaps Normal will soon have another offering to add to the list. A limited edition hazy IPA called Isol-Aid Haze, brewed in conjunction with independent wine store Blackhearts and Sparrow, will be out at the end of May. Isol-Aid is an award-winning online music festival and community, supporting musicians who are now unable to book live gigs.
"For every case sold we'll donate $10 to Isol-Aid, musicians were some of the hardest hit members of our community in the disaster we refer to as 2020," says Miller.
While Heaps Normal is currently produced at Brick Lane Brewery in Dandenong, Miller is proud of the company's Canberra connections and says the team would love to set up its own brewery here, or in a surrounding regional NSW area.
"We don't want to preach sobriety to anyone, that's not our goal, we all still enjoy a drink every now and then, but it's about working out what works for you.
"We hit on Heaps Normal as a name because it references the idea that we're all very different, that there is no thing as normal."