New Year’s is upon us, a.k.a. the indulgent season. And you know what that means? Time to booze it up! Actually, not so fast. The pandemic didn’t just play a role in cancelling Christmas last year, it also gave a lot of us second thoughts about our booze consumption, giving rise to the sober curious movement.
Yeah, partying AF (um, that’s alcohol-free) is a growing trend. Interested in giving it a try? We caught up with Fiona Hepher, CEO and creative director of Sansorium, an online marketplace and delivery service that specializes in alcohol-free beverages for all the deets.
FS: There’s obvious interest in the “sober curious movement.” What is propelling that?
FH: Since lockdowns in March 2020, many saw an obvious rise in their alcohol intake over the pandemic, with the closure of stress-relieving outlets like yoga and fitness classes, the blend of office and home life and above all the isolation and loneliness. Many folks reported their 5 p.m. happy hour started creeping earlier into the day, while we went deeper into social isolation, and the frequency starred many blank in the face. With the increased hyper-focus on health, and our socially distanced lives, we believe this fast-emerging industry reflects the shifting values of the world in light of the pandemic; more well-being, more connection.
FS: Some alcohol-free beverages are high in sugar or additives. How do you find healthy choices?
FH: Totally! And the traditional mixers like Coke, soda and tonic water – when added to alcohol, or not are loaded with sugar. For years, mocktails were primarily made with high-fructose syrups and definitely weren’t any better. But many alcohol-free wine, beer and spirits that are on the market today, and that we curate at our shop, have much lower sugar content – and with some brands, none at all. For example, here’s a sugar comparison with some beverages we stock:
- Noughty’s Sparkling Chardonnay contains 2.9 grams of sugar per 100 millilitre – just shy of one glass of wine – which falls in the typical range for an alcoholic dry white pinot grigio, chardonnay or sauvignon blanc.
- Free Spirits created the Spirit of Tequila, Gin and Bourbon. Each spirit has 5 calories, about one gram of sugar and is flavoured with natural extracts. When mixing your cocktail of choice. Think: Low-sugar tonic for a gin and tonic or bitters for a bourbon old-fashioned. You’re sipping a very low-calorie, low-sugar cocktail.
FS: What about AF beer?
FH: Yes, this is the non-alcoholic product that does see higher sugar content because the alcohol has been removed. In Big Drop’s alcohol-free pale ale, it has seven grams per can, and an alcoholic pale ale usually has about one gram. The trade off is that alcoholic beers are double the calories to alcohol-free beers. Further, the enzyme Aldh1a1, which is responsible for converting alcohol to fat, is suppressed by estrogen. So bodies without/low estrogen – male bodies – are converting more alcohol to fat, hence the term “beer belly.” With alcohol-free beer, that conversion process is eliminated.
FS: When it comes to NYE entertaining, what’s your recommendation for creating a festive vibe without booze?
FH: Creating a no- or low-alcohol New Year’s Eve party doesn’t need to look all that different to your regular annual celebrations. For instance, you can enjoy your usual Christmas-morning mimosas by mixing OJ with Oddbird Prosecco. And, for parties, cocktails can still be on the menu. One of our favourite recommendations is the dark and stormy made with Lyre’s Dark Cane Rum, a splash of Gimber’s Original and a tonic like Fever Tree Light.
Sober curious? Here are a few online shops to check out
Harmon’s Organic Non Alc Craft Beer is the first sustainable and organic AF craft beer from Ontario, founded by a few of the former team of Mill Street Organic. The first two brews, Lunchbox Lagered Ale and JackPine Pale Ale are so yummy you won’t even miss the alcohol.
Sobrii is an Ontario-based distillery that came into being in 2017 with the creation of a small batch gin that has no artificial flavours, sugars, sweeteners or calories. Recently it launched a tequila that includes agave, jalapeño and coriander among its ingredients.
Born of the pandemic, Soberlicious is a Canadian-based online AF store that offers a global selection of wine, spirits and beer, with an ever-growing assortment of brands. For sober-curious gift-giving ideas, check out its six-packs of sparkling wines.
Created by two Ottawa entrepreneurs, Silver Swallow is the first non-alcoholic champagne-inspired kombucha on the market in Canada. Now available in most areas of Ontario and Quebec, their luxury kombucha is carefully brewed in Canada using a rare organic white tea, silver swallow, which is hand-picked in Yunnan, China.
Already established in the U.S., Better Rhodes has launched in Canada just in time for the new year. This site features curated collections of AF beers, wine and spirits, making it easy to try new bevvies. We love their Cleverly Sober Sample Kit, which gives you a chance to try a range of products.
Acid League is U.S. based company that now ships to Canada. Its libations are made to be paired with food and are created using blends of juices, teas, spices and bitters.