In January, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction (CCSA) released Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health and set the world of beverage alcohol abuzz. The new guidance is the culmination of a big project funded by Health Canada and takes an abstinence-first approach to alcohol consumption, indicating that zero drinks per week is the safest option. Two drinks per week is defined as a low-risk consumption level — a staggering decline from the 10 drinks per week for women and 15 for men in the previous CCSA guidance released in 2011.
The new report and the science backing it is not without its critics. Are Canadians going to put down the Pinot or pop another bottle?
An Abacus Data survey of 1,500 Canadians fielded in mid-January found that 16 per cent of Canadians intend to drink less because of the new guidance. Over the past few years, you may have seen more mocktails popping up on menus across the city. They can be found labelled “zero-proof” and “driving cocktails”, or even “temperance cocktails”.
At Atelier, they’re called “placebos”. For the 44-course tasting menu at the fine dining establishment on Rochester Street, guests have the option of pairing their meal with wine, cocktails, or placebos. In-house sommelier Bernard Joseph Lemoyne says the restaurant first introduced its non-alcoholic program two years ago. He says the non-alcoholic preserves the same high standard they’ve established with their carefully curated wine pairing.
“We submitted tasting notes to our bar manager Ramon Renderos Soto and tasted the wines alongside him to get an idea of the flavour profiles, the structures of the wines, the acidity, tannin, and how that would affect the courses that are being paired. He took those general parameters and built cocktails and placebos to try and mimic that.”
I asked Lemoyne how interest in the placebo pairing has evolved over time. “Not only with Dry January but also Health Canada coming out [with the new guidance], as well as a general growing interest in mixed beverages, both cocktails and mocktails, we’ve definitely seen an uptick,” says Lemoyne. “Add to that, everyone feeling a financial pinch with interest rates being as high as they are … it provides a more affordable option where you don’t feel like you’re compromising on having a good time out.”
Placebos are priced at $20 apiece, a savings of $10 per drink compared to the in-house signature full-proof cocktails. If you’re experiencing sticker shock at the cost of a placebo cocktail, you shouldn’t be. Benson Mutalemwa, owner of Knyota Non-Alcoholic Drinks, Ottawa’s first zero-proof bottle shop, explains: “the simple fact is that there’s more work that’s get done on these products than a typical beverage with alcohol.
“You have to dealcoholize the wine, and then build back the character of the wine into something that comes close to resembling a wine,” says Mutalemwa. “And the technology to dealcoholize is not cheap.”
While he says the feedback on price does come up quite often, Mutalemwa notes his store is seeing more new customers since the new CCSA guidance was released.
“Dry January was already underway, and the new guidelines came out midJanuary … and then there were a lot more customers saying, ‘I’m trying to figure out ways to reduce my overall consumption’ instead of customers just saying, ‘I’m taking a break.’”
Whether you’re looking to cut out, cut back, or just curious, here is a zero-proof cocktail recipe to get you started.
First, make thyme syrup by combining ½ cup sugar, ½ cup water, and ½ tbsp dried thyme in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, stirring often, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve lined with a coffee filter into a sealable container. Set aside.
• 1 oz fresh cucumber juice
• 1 oz Seedlip Spice 94
• ¾ oz lemon juice
• ¾ oz thyme syrup
• Club soda, to top
• Garnish: cucumber ribbon and lemon peel
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until well-chilled.
Strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with club soda.
Garnish with a cucumber ribbon rolled into a rose and skewered on a cocktail pick and a swath of lemon peel.