Summer is the perfect time to relax on a terrace, in a garden or by the pool with a refreshing drink. And while an ice-cold beer, a fun cooler or a glass of white/sparkling/rosé can really hit the mark on a warm day, there are times when you might not want the buzz that comes with them – or maybe be, for whatever reason, you have chosen not to drink alcohol.
Fortunately, the non-alcoholic beverage selection (beyond soda) continues to grow and, in many categories, improve. Here’s a roundup of a few alcohol-free and low-alcohol drinks I’ve tried recently, many of which are worthwhile even if you drink them regularly.
The selection varies, so where these drinks were picked up is included, although many may be available beyond the stores listed. (In addition to liquor stores, beer vendors, and private wine stores, non-alcoholic beverages may be sold in grocery stores and elsewhere.)
And because some choose soft drinks because they have fewer calories, this information also follows when available.
On the beer side, the Big Drop Brewing Co. Paradiso IPA (Vancouver—$5/355ml can, De Luca Fine Wines) claims it contains “never more than” 0.4% alcohol. Medium straw in color and slightly cloudy, it is made with Chinook, Cascade, Simcoe, Citra and Columbus hops. It smells like an IPA should – tons of pine, grapefruit and resin notes. On the palate, dry and light (almost too light), the bitter hop notes come through quite well, and it’s crisp and refreshing, with underlying malty notes. Well done; 72 calories per box. 3/5
The Athletic Brewing Co. Run Wild IPA (Vancouver – $3.75/355ml can, City Park Runners) notes that it contains “less than 0.5” percent alcohol and is “brewed with a blend of five northern hops.” west,” according to their website. It is medium copper in color and mostly light, bringing modest resinous and pine notes to the nose. It is slightly heavier and more robust than the Big Drop, with deeper malt notes to complement the bitterness of the hops. Good flavor intensity and 70 calories per can. 3.5/5
The Participate Blonde (Toronto – $199/355ml can, Liquor Marts) has only 15 calories per can. It is light pale gold in color with a decent malty note on the nose along with hints of apple and wheat. It’s dry and fairly light, with malty notes front and center – none of the hops of the IPAs reviewed above – and clean, crisp finishes. Although a little watery, this is a solid, low-alcohol beer (0.3% alcohol) to enjoy after mowing the lawn. Also available in four packs at grocery stores. 2.5/5
The Non-alcoholic Farmery Premium beer (Neepawa – $3.59/473ml can, Brewery, Safeway) is pale straw and hazy in appearance, with malt and floral notes on the nose reminiscent of regular Farmery offerings. It’s light and full-bodied and off-dry, with flavors of malt and barley in the foreground (it contains “barley and hops grown on a family farm,” says Farmery’s website) , low bitterness and a generally clean finish. The can says it contains 0.5% alcohol – no calorie information to be found. 2.5/5
As for non-alcoholic/low-alcohol wines, Benjamin Bridge NV Piquette Zero (Nova Scotia—$4.50 per 250ml can, Kenaston Wine Market) is a non-alcoholic version of piquette from one of Nova Scotia’s top wineries. It is pale straw in color and offers fresh aromatic notes of lemon-lime, green apple and grapefruit. It’s light and dry, bringing flavors of fresh citrus and green apple with a slight chalkiness that comes with modest acidity and a fun, not too intense fizz. Very good material; 50 calories per box. 4/5
The President’s Choice NV Rosé (Belgium – $7.49/750ml bottle, Superstore) is made from Syrah grapes apparently grown in Belgium and certainly looks like a rosé in the glass. Aromatically, it’s not exactly a knockout, with hints of baked and slightly dusty cherry. It’s medium-sweet and slightly more than light, with a short cherry candy flavor that becomes almost medicinal before an oddly tart finish. Too sweet and cloying, even very fresh. Clocks at 90 calories per 375 ml. 1.5/5
On the sparkling facade, the Oddbird NV Blanc de Blancs (Languedoc-Roussillon, France – around $20/750ml bottle, private wine merchants) is made from Chardonnay grapes grown in the south of France, then aged for 12 months before being “gently released from the alcohol”. It offers a big fizz when poured, with pale straw colors that pop and chalky, flinty notes on the nose that work well with the red apple skin and floral aromas. It’s light, with vibrant bubbles and a hint of sweetness that enhances the red apple and lemon candy flavors, and works well with medium to 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 average. The Carlos Pepito Sangria (Laval, QC — $3.29/473ml can, liquor stores and beyond) falls into the latter category. Deep cherry red in color, this non-alcoholic sangria has dealcoholized wine and some (mostly artificial) flavors added to the mix. It certainly smells pretty sangria-like, with plenty of red fruit and orange peel aromas for everyone. It’s light, bubbly and medium-sweet, with raspberry and cherry candy flavors front and center, lively bubbles and a short finish. Toss in some fruit and serve on the rocks; all right, it’s a bit short. Weighs 150 calories per box. 2/5
From the same company comes the Casal Domingo Cabernet Sauvignon Spritzer Blackcurrant (Laval, QC — $3.29/355ml can, liquor stores and beyond). It is slightly darker purple in color than the Carlos Pepito, with a hint of black currant candy on the nose and hints of wild raspberries. It’s semi-sweet and brings a lighter spritz, with black currant candy flavors that are pleasant but not overwhelming. Clocks at 90 calories per box; serve over ice. 2.5/5
Literary editor, beverage author
Ben Sigurdson edits the books section of Free Press and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.
Read the full biography