Shift to less boozy beverages already underway, industry voices say

A bartender mixes a non-alcoholic cocktail. Several people who work in Ottawa's alcohol industry say drinking attitudes were already changing well before new guidelines around alcohol consumption came out this week. (Heather Gillis/CBC - image credit)
A bartender mixes a non-alcoholic cocktail. Several people who work in Ottawa's alcohol industry say drinking attitudes were already changing well before new guidelines around alcohol consumption came out this week. (Heather Gillis/CBC - image credit)

As new recommendations come out suggesting Canadians should dramatically reduce the amount of alcohol they drink, several people in Ottawa's alcohol industry say they've already been seeing a palpable shift toward lower or non-alcoholic beverages.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) released new guidelines earlier this week suggesting that consuming even a small amount of alcohol — more than two drinks a week — can put people at an increased risk for certain types of cancer.

More than seven drinks a week can also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, the CCSA said. The updated guidelines are a big change from previous recommendations that women and men have no more than 10 or 15 drinks per week, respectively.

"Most times it's a life choice, People want to better themselves, and that's what we're seeing a lot of," said Jesse Baillie, a bartender at both Union Local 613 and Jabberwocky Supper Club.

"You're still having people come to these spaces ...  and drinking non-alcoholic [beverages] just to enjoy themselves."

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Baillie was one of a trio of industry folks who spoke with CBC Radio's All In A Day Friday about the CCSA's new report, which also recommends adding warning labels to alcoholic drinks.

Steve Morrier said he started to see a shift a few years ago, enough so that he began to rebrand his Split Tree Cocktail Company products so customers would know they could add his mixes straight to soda water, no spirits required.

"A lot of times, people are just looking for something a little more sophisticated," said Morrier, the company's chief alchemist. "They want something with some flavour that they can sit and enjoy — and not, you know, feel like they're loading up on sugar."

Even if someone isn't completely cutting out alcohol, they might be seeking products that are both higher-end, with less alcohol content, said Andrew Rasta, co-owner of the ByWard Wine Market.

"The interest for wine consumption is still there," he told All In A Day. "But the 'how' is shifting a little bit."

Other options? 

Producers are beginning to step up efforts to produce non-alcoholic alternatives that are similar in taste to their alcoholic counterparts.

While they can be on the pricier end, Baillie said there are non-alcoholic spirits out there that can be "a bartender's dream tool" for crafting a booze-free drink that's virtually identical to the original.

"These are going to be things that allow us to make mocktails," he said.

"It's going to allow you to have non-alcoholic martinis at home that have all this robust flavour and quality that we're not necessarily seeing in the mass produced non-alcoholic spirits."