Keep a clear head with alcohol-free brews and bubblies
New offerings offer beer- and wine-like flavours without the buzz
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Summer’s a great time to kick back on a patio, in a backyard or poolside with a refreshing beverage. And while an ice-cold beer, a fun cooler or a glass of white/bubbly/rosé can really hit the spot in warmer weather, there are times when you might not want the buzz that comes with them — or perhaps, for whatever reason, you’ve chosen not to drink alcohol.
Thankfully the selection of non-alcoholic beverages (beyond soda) continues to get bigger and, in many categories, better. Here’s a roundup of some zero/low-alcohol drinks tried recently, many of which are worth your time even if you do regularly imbibe.
Selection varies, so included is where these drinks were picked up, although many may be available beyond the listed shops. (In addition to Liquor Marts, beer vendors and private wine stores, non-alcoholic drinks can be sold at grocery stores and elsewhere.)
And because some choose non-alcoholic drinks because they’re lower in calories, that information also follows where available.
On the beer front, the Big Drop Brewing Co. Paradiso IPA (Vancouver — $5/355ml can, De Luca Fine Wines) says it’s “never more than” 0.4 per cent alcohol. It’s medium straw in colour and slightly hazy, and is made with Chinook, Cascade, Simcoe, Citra and Columbus hops. It smells just like an IPA should — loads of pine, grapefruit and resinous notes. On the dry, light-bodied (almost too light-bodied) palate, the bitter-ish hops notes show pretty well, and it’s crisp and refreshing, with underlying malty notes. Nicely done; 72 calories per can. 3/5
The Athletic Brewing Co. Run Wild IPA (Vancouver — $3.75/355ml can, City Park Runners) notes that it’s “less than 0.5” per cent alcohol and is “brewed with a blend of five northwest hops,” according to their website. It’s medium copper in colour and mainly clear, bringing modest resinous and pine notes on the nose. It’s slightly heavier and more robust than the Big Drop, with deeper malt notes to complement the bitterness of the hops. Good intensity of flavour, and 70 calories per can. 3.5/5
The Partake Blonde (Toronto — $199/355ml can, Liquor Marts) is just 15 calories per can. It’s pale gold in colour and clear, with a decent malty note on the nose as well as apple and wheat notes. It’s dry and quite light-bodied, with the malty notes front and centre — none of the hops of the above-reviewed IPAs — and finishes crisp and clean. While a bit on the watery side, it’s a solid low-alcohol beer (it’s 0.3 per cent alcohol) for enjoying after mowing the lawn. Also available in four-packs at grocery stores. 2.5/5
The Farmery Premium Non-Alcoholic Beer (Neepawa — $3.59/473ml can, brewery, Safeway) is pale straw and hazy in appearance, with up-front malt and floral notes on the nose that are reminiscent of Farmery’s regular offerings. It’s light-plus-bodied and off-dry, with malt and barley flavours front and centre (it features “family-farm grown barley and hops,” says the Farmery website), low bitterness and a mostly clean finish. The can notes it’s 0.5 per cent alcohol — no caloric info to be found. 2.5/5
On the zero/low-alcohol wine side of things, the Benjamin Bridge NV Piquette Zero (Nova Scotia — $4.50/250ml can, Kenaston Wine Market) is a no-alcohol version of the piquette from one of Nova Scotia’s best wineries. It’s pale straw in colour and aromatically offers fresh lemon-lime, green apple and grapefruit notes. It’s light-bodied and dry, bringing fresh citrus and green apple flavours with a slight chalkiness that comes with the modest acidity, and fun, not-too-intense fizz. Very good stuff; 50 calories per can. 4/5
The President’s Choice NV Rosé (Belgium — $7.49/750ml bottle, Superstore) is made from Syrah grapes seemingly grown in Belgium, and certainly looks the part of a rosé in the glass. Aromatically it’s not exactly a knockout, with cooked cherry and slightly dusty notes coming through. It’s medium-plus sweet and slightly more than light-bodied, with a short cherry candy flavour that almost gets medicinal before an oddly tinny, tart finish. Too sweet and cloying, even when very well chilled. Clocks in at 90 calories per 375ml. 1.5/5
On the sparkling front, the Oddbird NV Blanc de Blancs (Languedoc-Roussillon, France — around $20/750ml bottle, private wine stores) is made from Chardonnay grapes grown in the south of France and then aged for 12 months before “being gently liberated from alcohol.” It delivers big fizz when poured, with pale straw colours coming through and chalky, flinty notes on the nose that work well with the red apple skin and floral aromas. It’s light-bodied, with vibrant bubbles and a splash of sweetness that ramps up the red apple and lemon candy flavours, and which works well with the medium-plus acidity. Really tasty on its own, or would work in a mimosa. 4/5
The low/zero-alcohol movement has seen a fair share of pre-mixed cocktails and coolers enter our market — some good, some bad, some so-so. The Carlos Pepito Sangria (Laval, Que. — $3.29/473ml can, Liquor Marts and beyond) falls into the last category. Deep cherry red in colour, this non-alcoholic sangria features dealcoholized wine and some (mainly artificial) flavours thrown into the mix. It certainly smells enough like sangria, with lots of red berry and orange peel aromas to go around. It’s light-bodied, fizzy and medium-sweet, with raspberry and cherry candy flavours front and centre, zippy bubbles and a short finish. Toss some fruit in and serve on the rocks; straight up it comes up a bit short. Weighs in at 150 calories per can. 2/5
From the same company comes the Casal Domingo Cabernet Sauvignon Blackcurrant Spritzer (Laval, Que. — $3.29/355 ml can, Liquor Marts and beyond). It’s slightly deeper purple in colour than the Carlos Pepito, with a blackcurrant candy note on the nose and hints of wild raspberries. It’s medium-sweet and brings lighter spritz, with blackcurrant candy flavours that are pleasant but not earth-shattering. Clocks in at 90 calories per can; serve over ice. 2.5/5
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.