Dry Dock Cellars

A long long time before non-alc was the up and coming cool thing (because lets face it guys, we’re cool), there was 1970’s Warrnambool. Where a group of three men, (sober for religious reasons) together with their wives, create Dry Dock Cellars – an Alcohol Free bottle shop featuring over 150 non alcoholic drinks. How do I know this? I was lucky enough to quite accidentally one evening at a workshop, meet Ronda Philpot; wife of Dr John Philpot, Co-Founder of Dry Dock Cellars. I am sure you can imagine how excited I got when I found out that a non-alcoholic bottle shop existed here in country Victoria before I was even born. (I got very excited).

Ronda offered to round up some memorabilia for me and this week she and John visited to share the Dry Dock story with me. Some of this may sound eerily familiar!

The Dry Dock Cellars story

In 1970’s Warrnambool, Dr Roger Brough, Dr John Philpot & Mr Ron Miller were sick of going to parties and out for dinner and having to drink lemonade. There were so many choices for drinkers and none for non-drinkers (sound familiar yet?). In the 70’s, food in Australia was starting to diversify, change was happening with new cuisines becoming more readily available. But change was not happening in the drinks space. So this group of men and their lovely wives, decided to make the change.

They began by sourcing a range of red & white grape juices from The Patritti Family Winery in South Australia (the winery that today brings us the V.No range of de-alcoholised wines). Working off word of mouth and hot tips, the founders slowly worked on bringing products together from around Australia including a range of cream liqueurs and cocktail.

These were all showcased at various fetes and markets around the region. When they got to the point of outgrowing the markets, a decision was made to open up a retail shop. This was opened in 1980, 30 metres from a bottle shop. The offering expanded from grape juice to de-alcoholised wines and beer. Product sourcing remained predominantly word of mouth (pre internet) and on road trips through South Australia, Ronda & John would often stop at wineries and just ask for non alcoholic products. The goal was to become a one stop shop.

Dry Dock Cellars was run for love, not money. Over the 6 year history, the best they did was break even. The shop was manned voluntarily by Mrs Miller, the mother of co-founder Ron Miller. For all involved it was about their commitment to promoting the benefits of non-alcoholic drinks. Clientele was an eclectic mix. People buying for their non drinkers friends for parties, recovering alcoholics, church groups, pregnant women, people on medication. (Ringing any bells??)

Dry Dock Cellars ran from 1980 – 1986 . Supermarkets took over once they saw the demand and the trio could no longer compete. Founder Dr Roger Brough went on to found WRAD (Western Regional Drug & Alcohol Centre that I myself went through twice) and become a renowned specialist in addiction medicine.

The goal from start to finish was always simple… providing an alternative for those wishing to not drink alcohol.

It was funny to notice over the course of our chat that John is a self confessed ‘gulper’. He noted it’s a good job her never drank alcohol – he would have been very drunk very quickly. As a fellow ‘gulper’ I identified and said this is how I ended up here!

The Philpots say its fantastic to see the non-alcoholic space growing and long may it continue. They are amazed at the choice and quality of what is on offer today, particularly in the range of de-alchoholised wines. And living an alcohol free life is more important than ever as the links to health (foetal alcohol syndrome, cancer etc) are regularly becoming more apparent. Even as a retired GP John has only recently become aware of the carcinogenic properties of alcohol!

Thanks Ronda and John for coming to visit and sharing your amazing story with us! Congratulations on being the pioneers of the alcohol free scene!

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