There are typically three choices for an evening out; you can embrace full teetotalism and dodge questions from suspicious friends, teeter the dangerous edge that is ‘drinking in moderation’, or embrace your fate of a two-day hangover of existential dread.
But Colin Dahl, founder and chief product scientist at OPPIL (which opens on February 4th), has found a healthier and more realistic middle ground. The new cocktail bar in Sydney’s Newtown is pioneering the ‘future of drinking’, with their hangover-halting, grape-infused spirits.
When thinking of grapes, the mind tends to make vinous swings to a certain type of fermented alcohol, which is apt as the vineyards are where it all began for OPPIL. In his current role as Director of Research at Australian Sciences, Dahl had developed a breakthrough treatment for the skin condition rosacea, and during that process he discovered the strong, anti-inflammatory benefits of grapes. So when he was tasked with developing a healthier alternative to wine for overseas distributors, he believed antioxidants held the key.
Following rigorous research and development, Dahl bottled up a high-antioxidant wine that produced 300% less hangover symptoms than other wines. Once uncorked, this discovery led him to explore more innovation. Last year, Dahl used their wine research to formulate a process where spirits could be grape infused — and trials found these were even more effective at reducing hangover symptoms.
Now, this month, Dahl is opening the doors to this new way of drinking with their first flagship bar, the eponymous OPPIL. “Our goal is to just help people drink better and introduce them to a more natural way to drink,” he says.
The beauty of OPPIL’s grape extract — which has an indistinguishable taste when mixed — is that virtually any spirit can be transformed into a hangover-free cocktail. The launch menu lineup spans gin, bourbon, tequila, vodka, sangria, and even cider. There’s a tipple for nearly every type of health-conscious drinker — with beer next on the horizon, once the scientists find a brew that can handle the grape extract’s consistency.
Current menu highlights include the creamy, floral-tinted Whiskey Sour, the bitey and botanical Le Gin, the sweet-yet-smoky Orange Old Fashioned, the light and refreshing Lychee Mojito and the dark and comforting Ginger Storm. The cocktails give the same warm-throated, crimson-cheeked buzz of wine, but without the dehydration and pulsating headache the following day.
“When you have alcohol, the ethanol breaks down into toxic byproducts and these are the free radicals that cause hangover symptoms, not the ethanol itself,” explains Dahl. “We believe that the higher antioxidants in our wine and spirits help to balance the toxic byproducts of ethanol, thus reducing the presentation of hangover symptoms.”
Finding a more health-friendly approach to drinking is not a novel concept in Australia; non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic distillates (spirits) are two of the fastest growing categories locally, and are predicted to grow 28.6 per cent this year alone.
And there’s something comforting about walking into a cocktail bar and knowing you can choose any drink and still feel like a functioning human the next day. It’s a feeling that OPPIL’s venue manager Louis hopes to eventually share beyond the inner-city hub of Newtown. “We want to open more bars,” says Louis. “If all goes well, we’d like at 10 to 15 in Australia.”
After all, much like the hazy memories of a night out, the healthier future of drinking is best when shared.