Featured image for Free AF is the Alcohol-Free Cocktail Brand to Get You Glowing

Free AF is the Alcohol-Free Cocktail Brand to Get You Glowing

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 04/10/2023 | 6 Minute Read

There’s something about ordering an alcohol-free beverage when you’re out that makes you feel like a teenager ordering a mocktail at Olive Garden, isn’t there?

Luckily, booze-free beverages are everywhere now, so you can say goodbye to Shirley Temples and hello to something more your style. With alcohol consumption decreasing, the demand for a new drinks category that didn’t really exist a decade ago continues to rise. 

Lisa King, the founder and CEO of Free AF, saw this as an opportunity to create a distinctive beverage for someone like herself—someone who wanted the positive effects of alcohol but not the negative ones, someone who didn’t want all the prying questions about why she wasn’t drinking alcohol, and someone who didn’t want to feel relegated to the kiddie table with a cup of juice.


Lisa, who also founded the now-defunct social enterprise Eat My Lunch, got the idea just before New Zealand (where she lived at the time) went into Covid lockdown for the first time. She was suffering from bouts of severe vertigo, and when she reflected on why that was, she realized she had drunk a gin and tonic every single time. She wanted an alcohol-free beverage and was promptly disappointed by the lack of options, and it often felt like most of her choices were merely sodas or juices.


“The other funny thing was when I went out and said that I wasn't drinking, everyone would be like, ‘Oh, are you pregnant?’ or ‘What's wrong with you?’ There was this odd need for me to justify the fact that I wasn't drinking," said Lisa. "I found that really interesting. When someone gives up smoking, you don't ever question why. But when someone stops drinking, it's almost like there's something wrong with you.”

That led Lisa to do some research within the category, and when she couldn’t find what she wanted—a gin and tonic, minus the alcohol—she decided to make her own.

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Free AF founder, Lisa King

At its heart, Free AF isn’t simply producing delicious booze-free cocktails. The brand genuinely wants to create a cultural shift around drinking and change the idea that to have a good night out or enjoy yourself at a social occasion, you have to consume alcohol. “We want to create a world where, actually, it’s cool not to drink. It’s normal,” Lisa said. “We wanted to normalize not drinking and have those really open conversations about it to create that behavioral and mental change. But we’re doing it in a fun, cool, and sexy way, and we’re sharing with people that it’s a kind of exciting new world that doesn’t have to involve alcohol.”

Lisa emphasized that Free AF beverages aren’t mocktails; they’re cocktails minus the alcohol. The flavors are the same ones you would recognize from any classic cocktail menu, like a Paloma or Aperol Spritz. That was an intentional decision to help consumers know how their drinks would genuinely taste, and it makes Free AF an easy substitution.


What Free AF has that its mocktail counterparts don’t is its special ingredient, afterglow. This natural botanical extract the brand sources from New Zealand mimics the buzzy sensation that alcohol gives, minus all the harmful effects of booze. After a few sips, consumers might notice a warming feeling in their throat, neck, or cheeks—a feeling similar to the one you'd have when enjoying your typical cocktail.


“When people drink our drinks, they feel like they’re actually having a real, adult drink and that there’s something going on versus just having a nice flavored sparkling water or a nice concoction of juices,” Lisa said.

The line of drinks is designed to appeal to those who want that delicious feeling alcohol gives them, but also a delicious taste. Rather than rely on a dealcoholization method, Lisa wanted Free AF to have a rich body and compelling combination of flavors that weren’t derived from booze.


“What other alcohol-free brands or businesses do is they make the products with alcohol and then remove it,” Lisa explained. “When you do that, you lose all the flavor and texture that alcohol gives. And I was fascinated with why you would start with alcohol when it was the thing you didn’t want in the first place. We took a very different approach to making the drinks. We used really great flavor technology to get all the different layers and complexity you would expect in these cocktails.”


Staying in line with the brand’s mission, Lisa wanted Free AF to have a design that looked premium and anchored in the alcohol space, so, naturally, other kinds of alcoholic beverages served as inspiration. She also wanted people to want to be seen with it in a social setting, so for the sophisticated and beautiful aesthetic, their team looked at perfume packaging. Designed by Arch MacDonnell, the mix of serif and sans serif fonts looks decidedly upscale, nestled in the white block on the front of the can, and the swirl of colors in the background reflects the flavors and positions Free AF as something unique.

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“We wanted to create something original, so we went to an old-school printmaker and worked with him to create those marbling designs,” Lisa said. “It's kind of a metaphor for mixology. All the colors in each of them represent the ingredients that are in those drinks. It was such a fascinating process of using kind of old-school processes to create these beautiful marbles, and we do that for every one of the drinks.”

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Free AF is now expanding from New Zealand and into the US (it's now available in Sprouts nationwide), and they’re continuing to release their full range of flavors in the States. Even though plenty of other non-alcoholic drinks on the market contain some kind of special sauce—like CBD or adaptogens, or beverages that promise a high similar to that of psychedelic drugs—the “cocktail without alcohol” makes Free AF a unique offering. Lisa’s certainly had the option to add other elements and ingredients to Free AF, but she wants it to stay true to her original mission—that’s her special sauce.

“There are so many trends going on in beverages at the moment,” Lisa explained. “There are a lot of these brands trying to be everything. They’re non-alcoholic, they’re functional, and they’ve got this and that. And if we start adding mushrooms or whatever else, it doesn’t become a cocktail anymore. I think it’s important to be very clear on who you are and what you want to be.”