Going low-alcohol or alcohol-free this Dry January? Fear not, we are far beyond the sugary “mocktail” alternatives of yesteryear and gone are the days where non-drinkers were forced to miss out on the social component of clinking cocktails.
Today’s low-alcohol, non-alcohol and alcohol-free industries have evolved and the space is full of innovative craft spirits that introduce the much-needed complexity familiar to craft cocktails aficionados, the world over. Make room on your bar cart: here is the ultimate guide to the best tried and tested craft alcohol alternatives available in Canada.
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Seedlip Distilled Non-Alcoholic Sprits
Seedlip entered the non-alcoholic scene four years ago, but its origin story stretches much further back. It starts in 1651 to be exact, which is when physician, John French, published The Art of Distillation, documenting his non-alcoholic recipes. It is also the time period when the founder Ben Branson’s own predecessors in Lincolnshire started farming, hand-sowing seeds using baskets called seedlips – the brand’s namesake. Spending two years to tinker and perfect Seedlip’s award-winning distillates, Benson eventually launched three original non-alcoholic spirits, each with their unique flavour profile: The herbaceous Garden 108, the aromatic Spice 94, and the newest citrus-forward Grove 42. What sets Seedlip apart is that it isn’t outright emulating any of the traditional spirits (such as rum, gin or vodka). It is instead introducing an original non-alcoholic spirit to compliment a whole new range of cocktails (so much so that Seedlip published its own cocktail recipe book, titled The Seedlip Cocktail Book). You can also download a free ebook Seedlip Recipes at Home, full of recipes as well here.
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Lyre’s Impossibly Crafted Non-Alcoholic Spirits
If you have particular favourites when it comes to traditional spirits, Lyre’s offers the greatest range of award-winning non-alcoholic expressions that pay homage to popular and time-tested boozy classics. Practically any traditional cocktail can be recreated with Lyre’s fleet of distillates. From absinthe– and amaretto-style spirits to coffee liquor– to triple sec– and vermouth-like options, Lyre’s selection is impressive (13 in total), and the folks behind the brand have clearly done their homework; even the alternatives to rum come in varieties of White, Dark or Spiced Cane style. The Australian brand’s cheeky branding will introduce a level of levity to the occasion, ensuring “everyone can enjoy the mirth and merriment of a soiree or shindig,” whether they are expecting, are a designated driver, or are choosing to go low-alcohol or to forego alcohol altogether for some other reason. Its “Seize the night, embrace the day” motto will keep you functional the morning after, and there are no artificial colours, even though its options are doppelgangers to their inspirations (see Lyre’s Malt take on bourbon).
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Aiming to illuminate your drinking experience, British Columbia’s Lumette! was born out of desire to combine a love of natural ingredients with cocktail culture. The delightful result is a trio of distilled alt-spirits named London Dry, Bright Light and Lumrum. They are handcrafted using a bounty of premium botanicals and traditional distilling methods, and yield delicious renderings that are great additions to low- or zero-proof cocktails. Bright Light brings forth notes of juniper, citrus, rose, mint, cucumber and grand fir. Lumrum on the other hand hits warmer aromas of molasses, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. With London Dry you’ll get juniper, and a citrus forward burst of flavour.
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Sobrii Distilled Non-Alcoholic Spirits
Another Canadian favourite on this list, Sobrii was started in 2017 by Bob Huitema as he pursuit a great-tasting cocktail that didn’t contain alcohol. Growing up on a farm near Stratford, Ontario, Huitema brought his experiences in the food and beverage industries in pursuit of Canada’s first non-alcoholic gin. The result was Sobrii 0-Gin, and soon after Sobrii 0-Tequila followed. Huitema achieved this using natural botanical distillates and extracts with no sugar, no sweeteners and no artificial flavours. It’s “0 calories, 0 sugar, 0 hangover.” The former folds in juniper berry, coriander, all spice, star anise, Canadian ginseng while the latter echoes the familiar taste and heat of tequila by infusing agave with spicy jalapeno, hot blackpepper, savoury coriander and Canadian ginseng.
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CEDER’S Distilled Non-Alcoholic
Evoking the sense of “everyday escape,” CEDER’S is meticulously created in Sweden with rare botanicals found in the Cederberg Mountains of the Western Cape, South Africa. Aimed at being “perfect for those times when you want to opt out without feeling left out,” the brand has won awards with its four options titled Classic, Pink Rose, Wild and Crisp. Classic centres on juniper and is fresh and forward, Pink Rose includes rose and hibiscus and is a beautiful addition to any cocktail glass visually, Wild will expand your horizons with rooibos and buchu flavour, and Crisp is refreshing – crediting pristine Swedish water in its list of ingredients.
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Latin for “flow”, FLUÈRE (pronounced flew-air) seeks to bring cocktail aficionados the experience of drinking alcohol without the alcohol. It does so with its four original blends: Original Blend (Gin), Raspberry Blend (Pink Gin), Smoked Agave (Mezcal) and Spiced Cane (Rum). The brand is inspired by the Romans, as they travelled and experimented with herbs, spices, and botanicals that they picked up along the way. FLUÈRE distills all botanicals individually in a copper pot using hydrosteam distillation, promising to get the very best out of each branch, leaf and berry. For example, the ingredients the brand lists feature coriander seeds from Casablanca, the best juniper berries from the Himalayas, lavender from Provence, and lemon peel from the Mediterranean. The Spiced Cane blend Hints of dark roasted coffee, cocoa, liquorice, tonka beans and toffee, with a touch of sugar cane and molasses, evoking fine Caribbean rum. It is warm, complex, and full of character. The Original Blend has a unique afterbite and lists juniper and lime peel to give a bright and fresh character, while lavender and coriander add a satisfying herbal finish. The Raspberry Blend boast complex yet balanced taste, including fresh distilled raspberries, adding smoothness and slight sweetness to the nose. The brand also offers a 5 per cent pledge back for ocean cleaning projects.
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Proudly made in Quebec, award-winning HP Juniper is the province’s first-ever non-alcoholic spirit brand. Patrick Cool and Valérian Roy created the non-alcoholic gin-focused line out of a fierce passion for this classic spirit. The award-winning creations come in Classic Gin and Floral Gin variety and tap into the duo’s existing expertise in the beverage industry space (in 2017 they also launched the world’s first Gin Ale – a beer brewed gin-style). Distilled in a copper still, the sugar-free spirits are made with gin aromatics such as juniper berries, as well as yuzu lemons, organic cucumbers, cinnamon, lemongrass, eucalyptus, rosemary, and coriander seeds. Its Floral Gin blend uses rose, hibiscus, eucalyptus, cucumber flowers, and juniper berries.
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Craft aperitif from Greece, ROOTS Divino is a non-alcoholic vermouth based on wine and focused on reviving age-old recipes “using earthy and elemental flavours.” The brand was started by two brothers in 2013, whose own family tradition of distilling spirits goes as far back as 1850. Fast-forward to 2022, and ROOTS Divino now includes zero-proof craft aperitifs with a story to tell. Absinthe wine (vinum absinthium) or vermouth as we call it today, got its origins in ancient Greece with Hippocrates back around 400 BCE, when the father of medicine fortified and infused wine with wormwood and other botanicals such as artemisia (absinthe) for more medicinal purposes. ROOTS Divino leans into the typical vermouth maceration process before diluting the result, while maintaining the “heart” of the blend, with its distinct aromas and flavours. Its Aperatif Blanco is fresh and sour with rosemary, thyme and wormwood, while Aperitif Rosso is bittersweet with notes of bitter orange, gentian and wormwood.
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Rolling out in 2018, Stryyk’s NOT G*N, and NOT R*M were created to not only mimic but rival their alcoholic counterparts. And they come deceptively close. They are the brainchild of Alex Carlton, bar world vet with more than two decades of experience tinkering in the beverage world. And he wasn’t alone. The process was carefully finessed under the watchful tutelage of some of the UK’s most renown bartenders, and soon after NOT V*DKA joined the lineup. Adding to the fleet of available spirits geared at health-conscious hedonists, Stryyk macerates botanicals with ethanol and water before passing the solution through a moderised steam distillation process. They then blend, filter and cut back the resulting spirits so they are under 0.5 Alcohol By Volume (ABV). The spirits are ultra low in calories, carbs, have no sugars, or artificial flavours.
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Sexy AF Spirits
Award-winning, Sexy AF Spirits is Alberta’s first non-alcohol, plant-based spirit. Founded by Jo-Anne Reynolds following a girls’ trip where she was underwhelmed by the options available to those who opted not to drink, she sought to fill the void. Reynolds wanted a solution that was 100 per cent alcohol-free, sugar-free, was natural, and that tasted great in cocktails. Sexy AF Spirits achieved its goal by infusing botanical extracts into the end product, making each blend 33 per cent of botanicals by volume. This makes Sexy AF Spirits the strongest entirely alcohol-free spirit available in the market. The results have won Global-Plant Based Certified Sexy AF multiple double-gold awards. Sexy AF features six varieties: Spiced Yum, ViirGiin, AperTease, Triple Sexy, Amar-oh, and Friski Whiski. Of these six, the last four have won San Francisco World Spirit Competition Double Gold awards.
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Tuscan Tree Non-Alcoholic Aperativo Spirit
Made in the style of a classic Italian aperitif, UK’s Tuscan Tree’s non-alcoholic aperativo spirit is made using a traditional copper pot still to produce individual distillates. These are then removed before blending and bottling. Tuscan Tree makes Tuscan Blood Orange aperitif and you can find it through Club Zero in Canada. It includes juniper peel and berry, cardamom, pimento, cascarila bark, gentian, rhubarb root and more. It’s flavour combination is ideal for an Italian spritz, non-alcoholic negroni, or simply paired with tonic water.
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Created by two Ottawa entrepreneurs, Silver Swallow is the first non-alcoholic (with 0.5 per cent alcohol) champagne-inspired premium kombucha on the market in Canada. The brand gets its name from the rare organic white tea it uses, which is hand-picked in Yunnan, China. Available in Ontario and Quebec, the luxury kombucha is meticulously brewed in Canada. The beverage stands up to sparkling wine at any special occasion, and is light and well-balanced with a delightful, complex finish. You’ll taste notes of clover, wildflowers, honey and tropical fruit (it pairs well with fruit, seafood and cheese).
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Acid League Proxies
While Ontario-based Acid League was created by food scientists to offer a wide range of living vinegar-based products to foodies, its Proxies line of limited-edition non-alcoholic wines deserves a spot on this list. Many non-alcoholic wines can be a big, disappointing miss, but Proxies eschew this trend and reinvigorate the idea of non-alcoholic wines. Complex and interesting, you will enjoy them on their own merit. Its range layers blends of juices, teas, spices, bitters and more. There are plenty of options to choose from, but its Holiday Proxies set features a seasonal triumvirate of festive options: Fruitcake, Linger and Truffle. The latter actually folds in the prized Alba white truffles to evoke the finish of aged red wines. It’s fruity and fresh and will keep you exploring its combination of earthy-fruity layers, sip after sip. Linger is a dark rosé inspired by classic holiday cranberry sauce, while Fruitcake combines dried fruit and baking spices in a bright Riesling with pineapple, and orange zest.
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TÖST was created to offer delicious-tasting beverages that can be enjoyed at any time, anywhere, and by everyone. Whether used as mixers, or enjoyed on their own, they are refreshing, light, delivering a sense of elegance to any occasion. Choose from TÖST’s Sparkling White Tea (cranberry and ginger) and Rosé (ginger and elderberry), both of which are dry (not too sweet), sparkling, sophisticated and have an engaging aroma.
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If you like your cocktails, you know mixers matter. Fever-Tree offers a fleet of premium and diverse mixers that are not only incredibly nuanced and flavourful, but also ramp up the complexity of any cocktails you create using the spirits noted above. In Canada, you can choose from 16 flavours (and spare yourself by not checking out what’s available elsewhere because you’ll instantly want to try the other flavours too). Locally, you can choose from Premium Tonic Water, Refreshingly Light Tonight Water, Refreshingly Light Cucumber Tonic Water, Elderflower Tonic Water, Mediterranean Tonic Water, Aromatic Tonic Water, Lemon Tonic, Premium Ginger Ale, Refreshingly Light Ginger Ale, Premium Ginger Beer, Refreshingly Light Ginger Beer, Spiced Orange Ginger Ale, Smoky Ginger Ale, Club Soda, Sparkling Sicilian Lemonade and Sparkling Pink Grapefruit (you can find out more about Fever-Tree’s Canadian offerings here). Pair these with your alt-gins for a classic Gin and Tonic, a zero-proof vodka for a martini, or a Moscow mule and so much more.
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