An alcoholic beverage is seen in a drinking establishment in Halifax on Augist 1, 2018. Nova Scotia's police chiefs are shining a spotlight on drink tampering, after several high-profile cases of suspected druggings in downtown Halifax. At a meeting this fall, members of the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association agreed to make the issue a priority, focusing on community education and prevention. They are also calling on people who believe they have been victimized to report it. CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Editorial: Cheers to new alcohol guidelines

Six o’clock is our usual cocktail hour. As usual, the wife and I would have a glass or two of wine while watching the evening news. This drinking session, adopted several years ago, was suddenly interrupted when breaking news splashed on the TV screen announcing new guidelines for alcohol consumption urging Canadians to stick to two drinks per week.

A report published recently by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and addiction (CCSA) concluded that alcohol even in small quantiles can be harmful while acknowledging that 40 per cent of people living in Canada aged 15 and older consume more than six standard drinks per week. However, the report warns that no amount of alcohol is safe to consume.

The report recommends authorities place labels of tobacco-like warnings on alcohol bottles, informing consumers health risks involved in alcohol consumption and how many standard drinks are contained in each bottle. The fact that no amount of alcohol is safe for the public accustomed to alcohol as a prerequisite for socializing was sobering news. A barbeque or a wedding and sporting events without alcohol is unheard of among many social drinkers, especially for those who are in the habit of stopping by at their favourite pub for a drink after work with colleagues before heading home.

Every summer, I enjoy participating in a gathering of like-minded neighbours on our driveway – labelled as the Wine O’clock session. The same neighbourly group doesn’t need an excuse to celebrate, be it Calgary Stampede or Canada Day. The practice became more pervasive for some during the pandemic when we were imprisoned in our holes in fear of death and a glass of wine provided comfort and solace. As COVID surged, everyone turned to the bottle. Admittedly, some individuals drank more than their usual quota, misjudging it as a recipe for relieving boredom and stress.

The current minimum legal drinking age in most Canadian provinces and territories is 19, except for Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec, where the minimum legal drinking age is 18. The CCSA’s new guidance does not include a recommendation to change the minimum legal drinking age in Canada.

The new guideline obviously provides a bonanza for the non-alcoholic drink industry, signalling a time to switch to non-alcoholic drinks. Some beer brewers saw the trend towards non-alcoholic drinks long before 2023 guidelines were announced. In late 2021, Calgary’s Wild Folk introduced the first ready-to-drink cocktail line on the Prairies, with two flavours: Vermouth Spritz and Sparkling Negroni, made with a mix of herbs, producing about 4,000 cans per month.

Another Calgary-based brewery – One for the Road – specializes in non-alcoholic craft beer, proudly boasting to produce beer “for those that want non-alcoholic beer without giving up the craft beer variety, taste, and experience.” They claim that their unique brewing process means they don’t stop fermentation, providing beer drinkers with “a refreshing beer.”

British Columbia produces Nonny Beer – a crisp Czech Pilsner – a refreshing pale lager, which they claim, “pours golden in colour with a thick foamy head that lasts longer than most non-alcoholic beers” while New Brunswick-based Upstreet Craft Brewing launched its non-alcoholic beer, Libra, in 2020 which generated significant interest across the country, creating a “really strong demand” in the Maritimes. Many restaurants are adapting to the trend with healthier items on the menus with non-acholic drink options.

The Newfoundland Liquor Corporation, which imports and distributes booze throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, said in a statement that it has started to stock products with lower or no alcohol, noting millennials and Generation Z have different perceptions of drinking than older generations.

At least six provinces told CBC News they’ve seen an increase in demand for non-alcoholic drinks — and have responded with more products and several industry-watchers say they’re tasting better, too. A Napa Valley winery has already started advertising for their newest product, an amazing non-alcoholic red wine ready to celebrate and have candlelight dinner during the any family occasion or festival.

The Canadian culture and habits of alcohol consumption is certainly going to change drastically following the new guidelines, resulting in intensified health awareness campaigns and an increase in demand for non-alcoholic options. The craft breweries and wineries have taken notice of the changing drinking patterns and a time is not far when we’ll see alcohol-free beverages dominating prime shelf space at grocery stores and in our neighbourhood convenience stores.

In Alberta and British Columbia, the liquor control boards define “liquor” as anything for human consumption with more than one percent ABV, meaning anything with less than one percent alcohol by volume can technically be considered “non-alcoholic” in those regions.

The new mantra now is mindful drinking by developing a moderation mindset. Our booze-soaked society will have to change their relationship with alcohol, be it for a week or a lifetime. Gradually reducing consumption of alcohol from every day to even a day of sobriety would go a long way. It’s a great shame that those who stocked their bars with fancy alcohol bottles during Christmas and New Year will have to find innovative ways to quickly reduce their prized collection. I have already stocked my bar with non-alcoholic drinks in the hope of toasting the next birthday and other special family occasions with alcohol-free punch. Cheers to that!

Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist and author of three nonfiction books: Off the Cuff, Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West and A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.

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