If you tuned into CBC Edmonton AM this morning, you would’ve heard me singing the praises of several non-alcoholic beverages. Some are made in Alberta, some in Canada, and a couple that I spoke about come from across the Pond.
What I didn’t talk about was alcohol-free wine and beer because there simply wasn’t time, and while these products have been around for quite a long time, today’s zero alcohol wine and beer offerings are nothing like what was available 10, or even five years ago. That discussion will have to be saved for a separate post.
To hear the on-air session with Mark Connolly, listen here. But for more info and where to buy the products, read on:
Distilled Non-Alcoholic Spirits
Seedlip – This brand has become the world’s most popular and perhaps the highest regarded distilled non-alcoholic spirit on the market. In 2015, Ben Branson, a young farmer from England gathered herbs from his garden and started testing out recipes in a copper still after having come across a book written by a physician in 1651 called The Art of Distillation. It was filled with recipes for medicinal non-alcoholic remedies. As fast as Branson could bottle his creations, they sold out on bespoke store shelves and were snapped up by posh bars and restaurants around the world. There are three flavours available and all are meant to be mixed with tonic water or used in cocktails. I picked up the Seedlip Grove 42 at Sherbrooke Liquor for about $45. You can find Seedlip at the Italian Centre Shop or, you can order it from well.ca. Seedlip’s website has a very good list of cocktail recipes. I used the Grove 42 to make a margarita, and I was truly impressed with the result.
Ceder’s, from Sweden, is known as an “alt gin”. At about $22 (500 ml), it’s not as pricey as Seedlip but still very impressive. Four formulas are available (Classic, Crisp, Wild, and Pink Rosé), again meant to be mixed with tonic or into a cocktail. I made a simple “gin” and tonic using FeverTree’s light formula and a couple slices of lemon and lime. The flavour was there in full force with good complexity and lovely balance. Find Ceder’s at the Italian Centre Shop, or check www.liquorconnect.com, as well.
I didn’t find out about Lumette until too late, so I can’t give an opinion on the flavour. What I do know about this Canadian-made product is that it offers two options of “alt gin”: the Bright Lites features juniper, grapefruit, orange, mint, rose, cucumber and other premium botanicals, and the London Dry is more juniper-citrus forward with a bit of star anise. I checked on three stores: Chateau Louis, Sherbrooke, and Wine & Beyond, and they all had Lumette in stock. Price ranges around $35/750 ml.
The Boocha line of kombucha comes in five flavours. I was tempted by the lavender but chose snozzberry instead, named apparently for fruit mentioned in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It has a blueberry lemon flavour and was terrific. I found Boocha at Blush Lane where they have a wall of kombucha and other sparkling beverages including Squamish Water Kefir, a gluten- and dairy-free beverage made from fermenting fruit and adding kefir grains (from a cactus plant). You’ll find these drinks close to the cashiers, in the cooler near the eggs and dairy products. Prices vary. The kiwi-pineapple by Rise was my least favourite because of the flavour. It tasted like an odd candy and stayed with me for hours…way too many hours afterwards.
I think fermented drinks might be the it product of 2021. Maybe it’s because people are concerned more than ever about leading a healthy lifestyle or maybe it’s because these drinks have less sugar than other fizzy drinks and despite that, actually taste great which is not what I would’ve said about the kombuchas back a few years. The ones I tried then were highly acidic, murky and just unpleasing in general. I’m glad to see things have improved because ‘buchas and water kefir are purported to have some of the same health benefits as other probiotic foods like cultured yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut—good for the gut, the immune system, and liver function amongst others.
Tonic and Sparkling Drinks
All tonics start with carbonated water and quinine. Different ingredients and essences added beyond that is up to the manufacturer. FeverTree tonics come in about six flavours and can be found in many retail outlets for about $6 for 4×200 ml. The new kid on the block from Vancouver, Sparkmouth, is a bit harder to find. I picked up a case of it at Safeway (in Oliver) week for about $6. On the sugar front, Sparkmouth has 14 g of sugar per 250 ml compared to 23 g per 250 ml for a big production tonic like Canada Dry. Two hundred mls of FeverTree light, though, only contains 5.8 g sugar and most importantly, when mixed with the Ceder’s alt gin, no shortchanging of flavour.
There are a kajillion sodas on store shelves, way more than there were five years ago, but what I’m curious about are the sodas being made by breweries. Annex is a brewery in Calgary that makes great beer. Turns out they also make a pretty find soda, too. Along with a Ginger Beer and a Root Beer, they make a Saskatoon Lemonade (my favourite). Annex sodas can be found around town at grocery and liquor stores (search on Liquorconnect.com) but I stopped by Meuwly’s to get mine because I saw they also carry the rare Sparkling Yuzu by Kimino. This product works beautifully in cocktails—with or without alcohol. I have a feeling it would be great with the Seedlip Grove 42.
Also, keep your eye on Meuwly’s for water kefir. Chef Roger Letourneau is working on a recipe right now, so if all goes well, it’ll be bottled and for sale in the near future.
If you’ve made a zero-proof cocktail that tasted great (or flopped!), or have tried a distilled alcohol-spirit that I haven’t mentioned, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about it.
If you really want to get in deep with homemade cocktails, order the book, Good Drinks by Julia Bainbridge. You can find it at Audreys Books in Edmonton or order through Chapters Indigo. Her mission is simple: make delicious, interesting zero-proof drinks while promoting the acceptance of drinking non-alcoholic cocktails so that you can feel good before, during, and after consumption.