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The thirst for beers, wines and spirits with no alcohol is growing rapidly, and local businesses are helping fill the need.
Monthly events such as Dry January and Dry February have raised the profile of abstaining from alcohol and helped drive interest in non-alc products. Many people are looking to lighten up on the alcohol, says a local wine and spirits veteran.
Mark Kuspira has operated Crush Imports for 19 years, bringing wine and spirits from around the world to the Canadian market. Last June he launched Soft Crush, a business focusing entirely on low- and no-alcohol products.
“I knew that it was going to be a nice complement to our regular business, but I didn’t know how big, how fast. Our biggest challenge with so many things, these days, has been logistics and availability,” said Kuspira.
It’s been a struggle to keep up with the demand, especially for wine, which is dependent on annual harvests.
The desire for non-alcoholic options is everywhere, adds Kuspira, who has products available in retail stores, fine dining restaurants and top cocktail bars. There is no typical customer, either.
“In 19 years in business, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a category that is this inclusive and this diverse of people that want to experience it. It has no boundaries, which is amazing and exciting.”
Ted Fleming has been involved in the non-alcohol world for more than a decade. The avid fan of craft beer was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2005. Over the next five years, he realized that consuming alcohol was too hard on his body.
But when he cut out drinking, he missed the social aspect that often came with tipping back a cold one. Around 2010, he started to look for flavourful non-alc beers. That led to the creation of an e-commerce website to sell some of his favourite discoveries, many from Europe. Eventually, he started brewing his own, launching Partake Brewing in Toronto in 2017.
When his wife Sharon was offered a job with Calgary Transit, Fleming decided to expand the business by moving to Calgary, which is now the head office. He has brewing operations here and in Toronto, and is selling across the country and in 30 U.S. states.
“We’re seeing a huge influx of new customers that honestly I didn’t expect when we started the business,” said Fleming. “Our success today is built on this new interest, and broader interest in the category.”
Last month, Partake raised US$16.5 million through a Series B round of funding. The company, which employs more than 40 people, will continue to expand, particularly south of the border.
His lineup of beers measure less than 0.5 per cent alcohol and range between 10 and 30 calories. He says his beers have found a place with many people.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘Hey, this fits into my lifestyle, whether it’s my weekday beer, whether it’s something I drink during the daytime, it’s a business lunch, whatever it is. There’s so many people that are discovering products like Partake.”
So, what to expect from non-alcoholic products? You have to keep an open mind as they are quite different, particularly the wines and spirits. The process of removing the alcohol greatly affects the aromas that make wine so intriguing. Many of the wines I tasted had a sour nose, with muted flavours and citrus-oriented acidity. Sparkling wines have been the most enjoyable examples.
I haven’t tasted enough non-alcoholic spirits to make a judgement, but of those I’ve tried, most have little palate weight, intensity or integrity. The aperitif options, such as vermouth and amaro-style beverages, were more captivating.
The best non-alc option, to my taste, is beer. Though lighter-bodied and less hoppy, several have shown nice malty notes and refreshing finishes. And there are more and more non-alc beer options coming, including from local craft brewers such as Village Brewery, Fahr Brewery and Tool Shed Brewing Company, to name a few.
The non-alcohol beverages category is one to watch, with strong growth projected over the coming years. Here are some quite enjoyable examples. Send me a note about your favourites by email or social media. Cheers.
Tool Shed Brewing Company’s Zero People Skills is the non-alcoholic version of the local brewery’s bestselling People Skills patio style ale. Using the same ingredients, the non-alc version is light, creamy and refreshing. About $11 for a four-pack of 473-ml cans. You can buy it at the brewery or select Highlander Wine and Spirits, Calgary Co-op Wine Spirits Beer and Willow Park Wines & Spirits.
Partake Brewing’s Pale delivers hoppy, malty flavours, with a nice tang of bitterness. It’s the brewery’s bestselling beer and comes in at just 10 calories. The stout is also very tasty, with lots of creamy coffee flavours. The beers are stocked by many large grocery retailers such as Sobeys, Safeway, Real Canadian Superstore and Co-op. It costs about $8 for four 355-ml cans.
Thomson & Scott Noughty Sparkling Rosé is a truly European enterprise. The British company gets the tempranillo grapes from La Mancha, Spain, and has the wine dealcoholized in Germany. But the result is a refreshing, light sparkler with peach, apricot, lime and orange flavours. It is organic and vegan-friendly. It’s been sold at Aspen Wine and Spirits, Bin 905, BK Liquor, CSN Wine and Spirits, Highlander Wine and Spirits, Liquor Town, Vine Arts and Vine Styles for around $22.
The Oddbird Blanc de Blancs is crafted from chardonnay grapes grown in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region. It offers notes of green apple, lime and orange, with a light, somewhat frothy palate. You can find it for about $22. Check for it at Bin 905, Highlander Wine and Spirits, Oak and Vine in Inglewood, Silver Springs Liquor Store, Vine Arts, Willow Park Wines & Spirits and Zyn the Wine Market.
Contact Darren Oleksyn at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter or Instagram. Looking for a specific wine? Because wine inventories are always in flux, it’s a good idea to call a store to confirm they have it. A search on Liquorconnect.com can give you an idea of stores that have carried the wines.