When I spoke to Sarah Kate, Canada’s first alcohol-free sommelier, I was struck and really touched by a phase she used to describe the addition of alcohol-free beverages to menus: inclusive hospitality. I love everything that phrase conjures: thoughtfulness, fun, warmth, creativity and, of course, inclusivity. When I am making cocktails, it’s for friends and family, and because there is often a wide span of ages and tastes when we gather, there is always an alcohol-free option for kids and for adults who choose to abstain or who cannot drink. That was why I was so excited to learn about all the ways I can now expand into alcohol-free spirits, beers, wines and aperitifs.
Kate’s website Some Good Clean Fun is full of resources for the sober-curious, including links to “quit-lit” if you want further reading, and a page of all-Canadian brands. I love that we are leading the charge in this exciting new market.
Twenty years ago, when I offered a Loblaw’s brand non-alcoholic beer to a party guest, he quipped, “Ah, yes. Memories of Beer.” The offerings have improved greatly since then, right alongside the boom in craft brewing. Kate notes that innovation has created many excellent options for AF (alcohol free) beer, with a wide variety of types, including IPA and wheat beer styles with all the character and complexity of alcoholic craft beers. (The AF abbreviation just begs for playful language, and brands are there for that! Sexy AF Viirgiin, Noughty, and Free Spirit nailed it.)
Now, I am a gin-lover, and England’s Seedlip Garden 108 non-alcoholic gin is hands-down one of the best drinks I’ve ever had. It is as aromatic, complex and faceted as craft gins, and, it has to be said, just as expensive. I don’t mind paying the price, though, because I recognize and can taste the parity between the products. A cocktail made with Seedlip is just as sophisticated as one made with gin. Kate encouraged me to keep looking and to keep trying other offerings because, just like my beloved craft gins, the non-alcoholic varieties each have their own charms. Kate says that another exciting brand, this one out of Australia, makes an excellent non-alcoholic whisky. American Malt rates highly on her list of outstanding spirits, and I have added it to my list of drinks to try.
What about wine? Kate notes that so much of the complexity in the flavour of wine comes from fermentation, and it can be hard to find beverages that are as close to the alcoholic variety, but that sparkling non-alcoholic wines are excellent. The bubbles add dimension and depth of flavour, and she has been blown away by some of the sparkling wines she’s sampled. (See below for a cocktail recipe with one!)
Finding these non-alcoholic options can be somewhat more challenging than a simple trip to the liquor store because distribution is not as centralized. The good news is that there are many online options for shopping and as the market expands, so too does bricks and mortar availability. One way to make sure that your local shops carry a variety is to ask for it! My local butcher has non-alcoholic gin and beers, and my local Loblaws carries Seedlip. For more, check out Where to Buy Alcohol Free in Canada.
And if you are planning a Thanksgiving gathering and you want to practice inclusive hospitality, or if you just want to swap out your glass of bubbly, Kate has kindly shared a recipe for a tea-based non-alcoholic cocktail, perfect for fall.
Earl of Bubbles
Noughty AF Sparkling Wine
3 oz Earl Grey Tea
1.5 oz Earl Grey Syrup (or to taste)
To make the syrup in advance (5-8 minutes):
Mix ½ cup of sugar, ¼ cup of water and 1 tbsp of Early Grey tea in a small saucepan. Turn to medium-low heat and stir gently until the sugar is dissolved and it’s just about to simmer. Turn off the heat and let it steep for a few minutes and then strain into a glass jar. This makes enough for about 8 – 10 drinks.
Building the drink:
Combine the syrup and the cooled tea in a medium-sized glass, add ice and fill to the top with sparkling wine. Gently stir and enjoy!