Back in March of this year, on the heels of the updated alcohol consumption guidelines from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction, I had an informal discussion with two prominent Geriatricians in Nova Scotia who remarked on the incredible offerings of the PEI based non-alcoholic beer brand Libra. With NSLC sales decreasing recently, an increase in non-alcoholic options may be a welcome addition for consumers in the Third!
The updated guidelines, which were met with mixed reviews, may be welcome news for our struggling provincial healthcare system. – especially in the context of my March conversation – Higher alcohol consumption plays a significant role in risk of cognitive decline, including dementia.
But the trend in reduced consumption goes beyond just promoting healthy aging. Dr. Berit Dool, MD working at the Care Access clinic in Health Park and with vulnerable populations in northern Ontario, offered a medical perspective on choosing alcohol free alternatives as part of a lifestyle shift to improve overall health.
“Health promotion, including lifestyle counselling, is arguably one of the most important and empowering roles as a family physician,” said Dr. Dool. “A common concern of my patients with these new guidelines is that they are drastic and overwhelming. Part of my job is to help explain them on a continuum, versus an all or nothing approach.”
Dr. Dool has acknowledged that some of his patients are taking advantage of the new alcohol-free options available.
“I have seen a shift lately with many patients expanding their palate to non-alcoholic drinks, he said. “For me, personally understanding the cost of manufacturing alcohol-free drinks by talking to companies has helped rationalize and transition to healthier options for my patients and myself. It’s impossible to avoid all risks, but understanding how to minimize risks not only helps improve overall health. It can also be very empowering!”
What is clear is that alcohol-free alternatives are getting picked up more often from people across all life stages. Libra, a non-alcoholic line of products developed from PEI based Upstreet Craft Brewing, have seen demand for alcohol free beer surge in both their tap room, and in shipping their products across the Maritimes and beyond.
Liz Jamieson, Brand Manager with Libra, said “people in general are drinking less than they used to as they become more health conscious and have more information to inform their decisions,” Jamieson said. “We see it in a lot of younger people who are leading healthy, balanced lifestyles and not really drinking very much in the first place... but also in older folks who are cutting down for health and longevity reasons.”
Echoing what Dr. Dool shared, she added “It's also not just about abstinence -- it's more about tailoring experiences to suit different lifestyles.”
There is a growing body of scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of choosing alcohol-free alternatives to your favourite tipple more frequently. In addition to helping reduce risk of long-term diseases like cancer, heart disease, and dementia; people imbibing less frequently may notice more immediate improvements, including better sleep, reduced blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and improved skin appearance, and cutting two drinks per week removes about a pounds-worth of calories every two months – or six pounds a year!
Alcohol-free alternatives also add options for people who may be impacted from health conditions exacerbated by alcohol. A popular craft NA beer brand, Partake, was started when the owner was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a disease characterized by inflammation in the intestines, which alcohol can worsen. Expecting moms can enjoy an evening with friends or a date night at their favourite pub, with an increasing selection of high quality alcohol free alternatives. And people suffering from anxiety can enjoy the social aspects of a drink with family and friends, without the risk of alcohol increasing their anxiety. Across many chronic and acute illnesses, and all walks of life, there are increasing options available at more places for people looking for alcohol free alternatives.
If you are curious about what alcohol-free options may be available on the market today, you’ll be pleasantly surprised heading down the ‘near beer’ aisle of your local grocery store. While the Superstore in Glace Bay offers one of the best varieties of alcohol-free drinks locally, most local grocers have a growing selection.
Gone are the limited items made in the traditional way – taking beer and boiling off the alcohol – that tasted… well, like boiled beer. New techniques, such as vacuum chambers, help remove alcohol while preserving popular features of craft beers, such as hop flavours. Even the most critical craft beer connoisseurs can find a good alcohol-free IPA to scratch the itch in a search for unique and bitter flavors. And these alternatives are offering seasonal options to match the expectations of the craft beer consuming market. Libra excitedly confirmed their Pumpkin Spice Ale is making a comeback this fall, already on their website, and hitting shelves in Sobeys next month.
Beer isn’t the only alternative you’ll find! A quick call to the largest cider producer in the Maritimes, Bulwark Cider, confirmed they are now producing three types of alcohol-free ciders, and demand is increasing. Their taproom specialist said, “Oh yes, we’ve been shipping more and more alcohol free ciders out the door! Demand is really taking off!”
And while I strive to buy as local as possible, there’s an increasing list of alcohol-free drinks from manufacturers across Canada, including alternatives to the increasingly popular seltzer style drinks from producers like Clever Premium Mocktails.
While I like to keep a few alcohol-free drinks cold in the fridge to enjoy at home, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the increasing variety of options available at some of my favourite local venues. Makin’ Waves this year introduced the Sober Garden, a 19+ area offering alcohol-free drinks, during their Thursday programming.
Whatever your motivation, what is increasingly clear is that alcohol-free alternatives are increasing in popularity and selection, and there are alternatives for every palate and lifestyle to enjoy at home or a night out on the town!