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This article was published 30/7/2019 (339 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Whether you like it shaken or stirred, Winnipeg bartenders are noticing a shift in the city’s drinking culture.
Langside Grocery, 164 Langside St.
Patent 5 Distillery, 108 Alexander Ave.
The Roost on Corydon, 651 Corydon Ave.
Forth, 171 McDermot Ave.
The Tallest Poppy, 103 Sherbrook St.
Interested in attending #goodfoodnobooze with chef Ben Kramer and Tiny Bar’s Josey Krahn on Aug. 14? Tickets are on sale now: http://wfp.to/nobooze
Casey Bee has been mixing drinks in the heart of Wolseley at Langside Grocery for the past two years. He was in Toronto in 2007 during the "cocktail renaissance" that produced unnaturally colourful liquids served in martini glasses with bizarre garnishes; an unappetizing trend that missed the mark when it came to making cocktails "cool" again.
Bee says drinking culture has sobered up since then.
"People don’t want to be hammered anymore," he says. "We discovered how great cocktails were, and then a lot of bartenders around the world made cocktails better than they had ever been.... So, people want to drink them all night, but they were never designed to do that. They were too strong."
Over the course of 20 years in the industry, Bee says he has seen a steady increase of customers requesting alcohol-free or low-alcohol "mocktails." That word, however, leaves some mixmasters suffering from a language-generated hangover.
"The term ‘mocktail’ sort of takes the word cocktail and makes it less serious and less important.... So calling it a mocktail makes it look like we should be taking it out of a package, putting it into a blender and giving it to someone for two bucks. And a lot more work goes into these drinks than that," he says.
There is no set menu for zero-proof cocktails at Langside Grocery. Instead, Bee says an all-ages beverage begins with a question: does the customer prefer their beverages spicy, fruity or savoury?
"Really, we are just going to the grocery store before the weekend and just buying a bunch of stuff, and that’s why we don’t really have a set menu for these things," he says. "What we do is see what we have and then decide what we can make for people."
Patent 5 Distillery in the east Exchange District specializes in making small-batch vodka and gin, but offers a set low- and no-alcohol menu in their tasting room.
Assistant manager Callan Anderson says although the distillery mostly makes alcoholic beverages, the owners recognized there was a need to serve another constituency.
"We wanted to make sure that we weren’t just going to be offering people, ‘Here’s some fruit juice in a cup, or here’s a Coca-Cola.’ You know, that’s boring. Make it exciting for people because there’s lots of reasons why people don’t drink," Anderson says.
Patent 5’s six-item menu ranges from a standard cola to the unique Not Rosé, which mimics the look and feel of rosé wine.
"I feel like Winnipeg is thirsty for something different," she says. "And it definitely feels like Winnipeg is on the cusp of a move forward and creativity."
Other bartenders say they attempt to create low- or no-alcohol cocktails with a completely new vision in mind.
Josey Krahn operates Winnipeg-based Tiny Bar, which hosts bar services, private events and cocktail education. He has also collaborated with entrepreneurs in the city.
"If you take a minute to think about what a drink could possibly be and then offer it to somebody, not as a ho-hum throwaway alternative to alcohol... then that person gets that same experience that everyone is looking for at a bar or restaurant, which is escape, celebration, something special, something that is not easily duplicated at home," Krahn says.
Krahn and chef Ben Kramer are joining forces again for their second multi-course dinner paired with non-alcoholic cocktails. The first edition was in May at the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club. Krahn says the next event will be hosted on a rooftop, but the exact location will remain unknown to ticket holders until closer to the dinner, scheduled for next month.
"We kind of overlooked the fact that that (a bar) might be a prohibitive environment for people who maybe aren’t drinking because of recovery or addiction issues and being triggered by sitting at a bar was not kind of within their wheelhouse," he says.
More recently, Krahn hosted a pop-up event at The Forks crafting lavender-and-rose fizzes and sage-and-lemon Collins. The booze-free drinks priced out at about $7.50 after tax and Krahn said people didn’t seem too concerned about the cost.
"I think that people should pay for quality. Whether that quality has alcohol in it or doesn’t have alcohol in it, if it’s quality, it has value. And often the people that are trying to put this quality product in front of you put in a lot of effort," he says.
Krahn says it’s challenging to create flavours without relying on familiar favourites.
"When you are making cocktails that have gin or whiskey in it, you kind of rely on that one-and-a- half or two ounces of gin or whatever to create the base flavour of the drink. Not so with zero-(alcohol by volume) cocktails," he explains.
"You definitely need to put in the effort and say, ‘OK, how is this going to work? How am I going to get a drink that is worthy of calling itself a drink without just adding a bunch of different sugars?’"
It appears to be last call for Shirley Temples and run-of-the-mill sodas.
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