What they don’t tell you when you set out to be a wine writer is that, at some point in the journey, your body will revolt. If the alcohol doesn’t get your stomach, then it will your tastebuds, rendering each subsequent sip of inky cab sauv another step into hyposensory no man’s land. Sometimes—and I’m no dry January zealot—you really need a break. Luckily, there has never been a better time to be a sober, or sober-curious, drinker in Canada. Companies all over the country have set out to improve upon the dire options previously available, crafting spirits, wines, beers, and mixed drinks that rival alcoholic options.
Few know that Acid League, the undoubted king of nonalcoholic “wine,” is a homegrown product founded in Toronto in 2019. Dubbing its ingenious vinegar-based drinks “wine proxies,” the company has set the standard for both elegance and aesthetics in the nonalcoholic market sector. Working with a subscription model, Acid League delivers three varying bottles of wine proxy monthly to the subscriber’s home.
At the outset of the pandemic, there were two directions where people tended to head with regard to their drinking habits: 1) they indulged a little more and earlier in the day; 2) they toyed with sobriety and yearned for a better way to enjoy it. Montreal’s Bière Sans Alcool is a product of the latter inclination. The pandemic project of Jerome Gagnon and Yann Carrière takes nonalcoholic beer to the next level, producing IPAs and sours that stand up to their alcoholic counterparts.
Lumette is the nonalcoholic project at award-winning Vancouver Island outfit Sheringham Distillery. Currently, Lumette has three spirits in its lineup: a contemporary-styled gin akin to Sheringham’s Seaside Gin, called Bright Light; a classic juniper-forward gin simply referred to as London Dry; and a spiced rum-style spirit that goes by Lumrum. All three take a botanical-forward approach to enliven the drinking experience, much as an alcoholic competitor would.
Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse is known for being one of the leaders of B.C.’s craft cider movement. Over 50 types of heritage apples go into making the many stalwart and seasonal cider bottlings. The same apples are also used in the Temperance nonalcoholic apple juice. Yes, the nonalcoholic version of cider is just apple juice, but Sea Cider’s apple juice has a complexity that means it can accompany food or be mixed into a nonalcoholic cocktail.
Vancouver-based canned cocktail company Opus crafts both alcoholic and nonalcoholic versions of its premixed takes on classic drinks: the gin and tonic and aperol spritz. And if a diet coincides with sobriety this January, you’re in luck: Opus cocktails are sugar-free. Thanks to this and the hefty dose of botanicals in each cocktail, these are perfect for White Claw fans who want more flavour and less alcohol.
Kombucha, otherwise known as the drink of choice for yogis and yuppies (including myself), is a fermented drink that can become quite alcoholic if left to its own fermenting devices, which is perhaps why it works so well as a nonalcoholic option. Named after the Yunnan, China-sourced white tea that serves as its kombucha’s hallmark ingredient, Ottawa’s Silver Swallow has embraced the tart, alcohol-replicating taste of kombucha, bottling its products under a muselet (champagne cork) and pronouncing it a luxury item.
Okay, I’m cheating a little bit here—Lyre’s is an Australian nonalcoholic spirits brand producing booze-free variations of everything from absinthe to vermouth. However, it crafts some of its offerings in Montreal, and Australians are just warm-weather Canadians anyway. Focusing on niche spirits more than back-bar favourites, in addition to the aforementioned options, Lyre’s produces a coffee liqueur and an aperol replica—bringing a certain playfulness to what might be perceived as a fuddy-duddy market segment.