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Your 2024 guide to the best cocktails, wines and beer, plus the greatest non-alcoholic options out there.
Something I always like to keep in mind as we dash into this season of holiday cheer is a little something my wife likes to call “smart partying.”
It’s not exactly a groundbreaking concept—it’s simply interspersing boozy libations you’re enjoying at social gatherings with non-alcoholic options. The advantages of doing so are many, from staying hydrated and avoiding hangovers to not being the subject of hilarious anecdotes about “that time at the office party when you were positive you could still do a good cartwheel.”
Sure, there are plenty of delicious wine, beer and cocktail possibilities around us, but with zero-proof options surging in quality and popularity, we can always find similar tipples that’ll keep us on the straight and narrow.
Here are a quartet of favourite refreshments available around the city, with just-as-enjoyable non-alcoholic options that’ll keep your partying smart.
A little bottled cocktail to start things off? The NiceLife Cocktail Co. Gin & Grapefruit, comin’ at us straight outta Port Coquitlam, is chock-full of good stuff—far better than most of the mass-produced canned or bottled beverages on the market. The full ingredient list? Carbonated water, premium gin, grapefruit juice, sugar, grapefruit peel, orange peel, citric acid, a pinch of salt and a little sodium benzoate to preserve all of the goodness. With all the juniper and gin botanicals, it’s charismatic, zippy and will certainly add some colour to the season.
Local veteran barman Nick Devine has been crushing the non-alc cocktail category over the last couple years, and cracking a can of Edna’s Non-Alcoholic Cocktail Company Paloma—a juicy wonder of tequila extract, grapefruit and lime—will show you why. When behind the stick, he’s always used premium ingredients, so his line of canned cocktails (which also includes a mojito, mule and a Collins) was never going to be any different. Here we have filtered water, tequila extract, sugars, apple cider vinegar, pink grapefruit concentrate, lime juice concentrate, salt and natural flavours. It’s remarkably crushable when poured over ice and, frankly, it also works great as a mixer with your favourite gin, tequila, or vodka.
Vancouver craft beer enthusiasts are generally adventurous and always up for the next big thing, so any ale with staying power year in, year out is testament to its outright deliciousness. Many of us have kept a couple cans of StrangeFellows Brewing Talisman within arm’s reach during the good times over the last few years for good reason. The sessionable West Coast pale ale from their East Van digs strikes a good balance of tropical and citrus notes with perfectly punctuated hops. It clocks in at a mighty-civilised 4% ABV, so even after a few, you can still look forward to a spring in your step the next day.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear the folks at StrangeFellows just took their Talisman and slapped on a fresh label, dubbing it Nevertheless Non-Alcholic Pale Ale. Let me just do a a little copy and paste, and share that it strikes a good balance of tropical and citrus notes with perfectly punctuated hops. They’ve taken a slew of Citra and Mosaic hops and have built what is quite possibly the best non-alcoholic craft beer in town.
One of the most consistently beloved white wines coming out of the Okanagan, Tantalus Vineyards Riesling’s 2022 edition perfectly walks that tightrope between soaring acidity and a cheeky off-dry nature, making it a perfect pairing for spicy cuisine or any salty snacks you’re dishing out. Tart apples, fresh lime and kiwi notes are all bright and electric, with grins guaranteed after every sip.
Leitz Eins-Zwei-Zero Riesling out of Germany is so damn close to the real thing that I’ve actually duped more than a couple sommelier pals when switching it into the mix on various occasions. Muddled lemon mingles with peaches and a little fresh tarragon, with good acidity and the smallest kiss of sweetness on the finish. For me, it’s a no-brainer with sushi and seafood-centric dishes, but it’s equally at home on the couch with a bag of chips.
It’s the season when we’re more likely to pop the cork from something fizzy, and I always like to go the less-expected route and paint the town red. Soliera Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC is available in the Italian section in various locations of BC Liquor Stores, and with a good chill on it, it’s ready to accompany your cheese and charcuterie platter with zesty red fruit, cloves and peppery finish. It’s a fun, offbeat pairing for your turkey dinner, and can ride all the way through to chocolatey desserts.
Booze-free red wine has always been the toughest nut to crack, so I am delighted to share that not only have I found a good one, but it’s an incredibly tasty bottling from right here in B.C. Local winemaker Tyler Harlton stepped away from his critically-acclaimed TH Wines brand a few years back to save us all from the piles of putrid alcohol-free red wines that have unfortunately been the norm until now. ONES+ 2021 Sparkling Red is made from premium Okanagan Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec grapes, and it isn’t loaded with sugar (which is often the way non-alc red wines are made so they can at be remotely palatable). In fact, there’s no sugar and no carbs here, just 18 calories per glass worth of effervescent currants, blackberries and hibiscus tea, finishing nice and dry. Shockingly good, and worthy of a holiday toast.