Let’s retire the mocktails and let these placebo drinks, “nocktails” and free-spirited bottles happily get you through Dry-uary
This year could be peak Sober Curious: just check out the new booze-free vending machine at Larry’s Market in the Shipyards, featuring mickeys of Solbru booze-free spirit and cans of Sober Carpenter and Partake near-beer in slots that recently held healthy salads and takeout—proof that Dry-uary is a full-blown lifestyle trend.
A huge range of non-alcoholic spirits and other drinks are increasingly easy to find, since non-boozy drinks can ship almost anywhere (check websites for local stores and ordering information). Because they’re often low sugar, carb and calorie, they also make great options for anyone kick-starting a fitness or diet regime this year. Since the process to make them is even more involved than distilling an alcoholic spirit, expect them to be practically the same price.
While none of them will fool you in a Martini or on the rocks, many are great with soda and a squeeze, or other mixed drink staples. We tested them with Fever Tree tonic, plain and flavoured sparkling water and various citrus fruits. Here are some of the best of the best from Canada, the world and our own B.C. backyard.
Best in B.C.
Since the Seaside Gin and other spirits from Vancouver Island’s Sheringham Distillery are award winning, it’s not surprising that their non-alcoholic sister line (founded by Alayne MacIsaac) is just as refreshing and well made. The original Bright Light has crisp cucumber and mint notes that make a great aperitif with grapefruit or lime bubbly water; the newer London Dry formula is stellar with tonic and lime. Around $35 for 750 mL (also available in 375-mL size), enjoylumette.com
Best in Canada
Sexy AF Spirits
Calgary-made non-alcoholic, low-calorie, low-carb alternatives can round out your bar and sub for your favourite cocktail mixers: Triple Sexy has juicy orange flavour, Amar-oh makes a killer sour. Combine a half-measure of each with equal parts bittersweet Kamparii and ViirGiin over ice for a Nogroni. These do have a small amount of natural sugar, which gives them great mouthfeel. About $40 for 750 mL (also available in 375-mL size), sexyafspirits.com.
Ontario ginseng and other natural flavours provide a unique tang to this Stratford distilled zero proof, which has a sharp piney juniper scent that dilutes to just-right when mixed with tonic and has great astringency on the finish. Around $35 for 750 mL (also available in 200-mL size), sobrii.ca
This trio of amber-coloured elixirs, by former pro hockey player Leanne Kisil, get their complex, savoury quality from adaptogenic mushrooms plus herbs and spices. Restore (ginger, orange, apricot) has smoky, whisky-ish qualities that sing with ginger ale. Inspire (apple and lavender) is great with tonic, and Elevate (lemon, mint and rosemary) needs only soda to satisfy. Around $33 for 750 mL (also available in 375-mL size), solbru.com
Ontario distillery H2 makes not only a back bar of craft spirits and bottled cocktails, but also three Spiritliss non-alcoholic gins (including a colour-changing one!) and what just might be Canada’s first non-alcoholic canned cocktail—and it’s a winner. Pretty slim cans of Hibiscus Non-Alcoholic Gin & Tonic pour pink and fizzy, with a floral aroma, bright berry-like flavour and a finish with a hint of anise. About $50 for 24 canned cocktails or $30 for 750 mL bottles of Spiritliss, H2craftspirits.com
Best of the Globe
Distilled in Sweden, by a U.K. couple, from South African botanicals, this line of non-alcoholic gin alternatives is just kind the armchair travel we all need right now. The Classic, with the lift of a geranium note on the nose, makes a convincingly dry and fresh G&T. Crisp has savoury cucumber that pairs well with lemon soda. Wild has an exotic, almost chai-scented nose and pale gold colour, with bold clove flavour that gives it a whisky-soda resemblance, garnished with an orange twist. (There’s also a blushing Pink Rose version, not yet in Canada.) Around $25 for 500 mL from Well.ca, ceders-alt-gin.com
Perhaps the most famous of the spirit frees, Seedlip recently added the citrus-rich Grove 42 (great with grapefruit soda or juice) to its Garden 108 (makes a gin-ish, vegetal and herbaceous mix with tonic) and Spice 94 (spicy, lightly bitter and good with cold tea or kombucha)—with lots of online recipes, including a delicious oat milk-based alt-eggnog using Spice. About $45 for 750 mL at Gourmet Warehouse or Well.ca, seedlipdrinks.com
Partake (especially the Pale Ale, 4 355-mL cans for around $10) gets our vote for best non-alcoholic beer, with Montreal’s Sober Carpenter (which makes a passable IPA) and Street Legal Pilsner from B.C.’s own Central City coming (both about $3 per 473-mL can) in close second.
Find de-alcoholized Barrels and Drums Merlot (passable with a meaty meal) and Chardonnay wines on local shelves (around $10 at Legacy Liquor Store or Everything Wine). Both Töst (around $10 for 750 mL, tostbeverages.com) or Gruvi (about $20 for 4 275-mL bottles from cocktailemporium.com) non-alcoholic sparkling alternatives are perfectly refreshing, sipped alone or with a dash of flavoured syrup or muddled fruit. Leitz Eins-Zwei-Zero Sparkling Rosé is a pinot noir-based wine with 0.1 per cent alcohol and a near-cult following (lcbo.com $12.95): it’s tart and juicy, but watch out for the surprisingly high sugar level.
In a league of their own, Wine Proxies from Toronto-based fermentation geeks Acid League use spices, bitters, juices, teas and more to emulate the pairability, taste and texture of wine, promising some of the most innovative wine alternatives out there. New Cru 3 bottle/month subscription for $70, acidleague.com.
Make this no-alcohol Margarita recipe at home:
Seedlip Grove 42 Margarita
—by Charlene Rooke