Julie Clarke’s recently completed PhD is in water resources management but her start-up sideline came from looking for a more adult beverage than water as an alternative to alcohol.

Ms Clarke, who grew up in Alexandra and now lives in a cabin she built with friends and family on a lifestyle block near Butchers Dam, said the pilot launch for her business, The Stone Cold Bar, would take place at the Alexandra Blossom Festival, which starts tomorrow.

The business idea was partly a way of putting off completing her thesis and partly a response to her taking part in ‘‘Dry July’’.

‘‘I stopped drinking the last week of June just to practise and was looking for a more adult drink,’’ she said.

‘‘I started experimenting with things other than beers and wines and found there was a whole range of other zero-alcohol spirits and mocktails.’’

She also joined several alcohol›free and sober›curious groups on social media and realised there were many people who, like her, wanted to drink less but were bored with the soft drink or juice alternatives commonly available.

A view worth toasting . . . Julie Clarke’s search for a non-alcoholic but adult beverage to sip on her deck led her to launch a new business.

Indicating the ranges surround her home, she explained. ‘‘You can imagine, sitting on this deck, looking at this view, you feel like a glass of wine, and lemonade just doesn’t cut it.

‘‘For me, it’s a psychological thing too. If I’m out with friends and they’re drinking, I’d have a glass of zero-percent wine if it was available, rather than a lemon, lime and bitters.’’

She is far from alone in wanting to drink less, as figures from the New Zealand Alcohol Beverages Council show New Zealanders are drinking about 25% less alcohol than 35 years ago. In 1986, New Zealanders consumed the equivalent of 11.3 litres of pure alcohol per person per year but by December 2021, the annual amount had dropped to 8.7 litres per person.

Brewers Association of New Zealand executive director Dylan Firth said while sales of beer had remained relatively constant, consumers were switching from full›strength options to non-alcoholic alternatives.

For the first six months of 2022, consumption of beer with less than 1.15% alcohol increased by 909%. He noted that was from a very low base but said it was still a dramatic increase.

‘‘What we have seen has really been changing consumer preferences, with Kiwis looking to have more non›alcohol occasions and, speaking from a brewing perspective, we have seen investment in the 0% beer brewing process by a number of producers.’’

That bodes well for Ms Clarke’s test launch, for which she would keep her initial costs down by using her own outdoor furniture and borrowing a friend’s marquee.

If all went well at the blossom festival, she would then attend the Wanaka Show, local A&P shows and summer festivals across Central Otago.

She would continue to work in her academic field and would be monitoring soil moisture throughout summer, but saw The Stone Cold Bar as a weekend/ festival add-on.