Make gatherings more inclusive with these non-alcoholic spirits, beers and wines, all available in Canada.
When Jessica Jeboult first tried to give up alcohol in 2009, her only drink options on a night out were soda water or juice. At the time, Jeboult was working as a DJ in Los Angeles, where she “was paid to party and drinking was just a part of the job,” she says. Back then, being a sober DJ was out of the ordinary: Jeboult recalls feeling left out and “uncool.
Today, more people are watching their alcohol consumption and retooling their relationship with booze. Luckily, there are new, sophisticated drink options for those who choose not to imbibe. The market for alcohol-free beers, spirits and wines has been growing, leading to an explosion of new products. According to data from Nielsen, the global no- and low-alcohol sector has grown an impressive 506 percent since 2015. “[Sobriety] has been around for a long time, but bartenders and spirit companies are now starting to put out options that are way more [available] to those who don’t drink,” says Kaitlyn Stewart, a Vancouver-based cocktail curator and consultant who posts drink recipes on Instagram and TikTok as @likeablecocktails.
The move towards temperance may also be a counterbalance to all the drinking we did over the pandemic: a StatsCan survey conducted in January 2021 found that nearly a quarter of Canadians who drank alcohol before the pandemic had increased their use.
Emily Jenkins is an associate professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia who worked with the Canadian Mental Health Association to study the connection between the pandemic, mental health and substance use outcomes. She points to the pandemic’s “variety of unprecedented stressors” as the driving force behind increased rates of drinking. “People are stressed about job security, changing economic situations, relationship changes and challenges,” she says. “Then there are the feelings of isolation, changes on what we can and can’t do, and then boredom as well.”
This increased alcohol consumption can exacerbate existing mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, says Jenkins. “Alcohol impacts people’s mood, things like energy and sleep patterns that are really important to our mental health, concentration and memory.” Jenkins is most concerned about an increase in risky behaviour, aggression and self-harm that comes with increased drinking. Plus, in the long term, excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, cancer and weakened immune systems.
On top of the health benefits of drinking less alcohol, the boom in zero-proof options (meaning beverages that don’t contain alcohol) will help those who aren’t drinking feel included in social gatherings and celebrations—whether sobriety is a long-term decision or a choice for the night. “Sober people need alternatives to make us feel included. I’m so sick of fizzy water and coke,” says Jeboult, who founded the online sobriety coaching program A Sober Girl’s Guide. “It’s boring and doesn’t feel special. It’s like a vegan going to a restaurant and there’s nothing for them except, like, fries.”
“Ordering a drink that comes out in a martini glass but has no alcohol, you feel like, ‘Oh, I’m a part of the gang.’ Even having that visual cue is nice for people to feel included during photos or toasting,” says Stewart. “Plus, some people don’t want others to know why they aren’t drinking—for some, it can be easy to answer questions and for other people it can be very triggering.”
These new low- and no-ABV drink options entering the market are nothing like their sugary mocktail predecessors. “It’s a whole category unto itself,” says Evelyn Chick, a beverage expert and the owner of pop-up and event space Ahma in Toronto. Chick notes that non-alcoholic distillates (a product that has been distilled) have really taken the industry by storm. Non-alcoholic beers and de-alcoholized wines have been around forever, she says, but people are getting creative with non-alcoholic spirits. And this is a good thing: “Non-alcoholic cocktails need to look like cocktails for that stigma [of not drinking] to go away,” says Chick.
Bartenders like Stewart are having fun with these products and adapting their favourite creations. “I’ve done a milk punch before. It takes a couple of days to process and make, but I was able to use a non-alcoholic base and keep all the other parameters the same using interesting mixers,” she says. “You might wonder, Why take the time to do that for a non-alcoholic cocktail? But it’s part of the experience and it makes the drink as special as it would be if it were alcoholic.”
Swapping a couple of bottles of your go-to spirits for non-alcoholic distillates could be an easy way to cut down on alcohol consumption at home while still enjoying your favourite cocktails. Stewart loves riffing on the classic Moscow mule by mixing a shot of any non-alcoholic spirit with a scoop of berry jam and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, then topping the whole concoction with ginger beer. “And if you’re with someone who is drinking, you can swap out the base for some vodka or gin or whatever you have on hand.”
Offering non-alcoholic options is also an easy way to make any gathering more inclusive. Placing them front and centre on your bar cart with the rest of the drinks takes the pressure off guests to disclose their sobriety. Instead of having to ask for something non-alcoholic, it’s right there with all the other options.
“Everyone’s got their own reason [for going booze-free],” says Stewart. “You should never feel judged or left out of a celebration or social gathering just because you’re not drinking.”
Best non-alcoholic spirits Canada:
Toronto-based Sobrii is known for their non-alcoholic gins, but their latest release, the 0-Tequila, is a zero-proof spirit that replicates the flavour profile of tequila. Tasting notes include fresh jalapeno, citrus and rosehip.
$ 35, sobrii.ca.
From British Columbia, Lumette! specializes in non-alcoholic “alt-spirits,” like LumRum, a spiced drink reminiscent of a rum. Distilled with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and ginger, LumRum is perfect for any cocktail that calls for dark rum.
$ 36, enjoylumette.com.
Image: St. Regis Wine
St. Regis Secco
This de-alcoholized sparkling wine from Laval’s St. Regis is the perfect bubbly to pop at a holiday party. It has intense fruit and floral notes, and works as well with snacks as it does for sipping.
$ 10, well.ca.
Image: Acid League
Acid League Wine Proxies
Acid League started as a vinegar company in 2020 and has since taken their gut-friendly ferments and layered in juices, teas, spices and bitters to create wine proxies—faux-wine drinks that are meant to elevate the flavours of your food. Acid League creates their products in batches, so each proxy is available for a short period of time. You can purchase them individually or pay for a monthly subscription.
$ 68 for a monthly proxy trio, $ 101 for a one-time purchase of four bottles, acidleague.com.
Seedlip Grove 42
Seedlip, the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits company, has a variety of zero-proof options that evoke gin, rum, whiskey, tequila and other traditional spirits. Grove 42 is a bright citrus blend with a dry finish that works well with tonic or as a fizz.
$ 45, seedlipdrinks.ca.
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