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PHOTO OF VODKOW COURTESY OF DAIRY DISTILLERS

That old saying “May you live in interesting times” is especially apt when applied to the world of drinks, where there’s never been as much innovation on tap as there is today. Drinks infused with local flavours celebrate their origins like never before, often reflecting broader societal trends such as healthier, zero-waste lifestyles and the wider use of cannabis. Here are a few of the drink trends worth watching, and tasting, this summer.

Waste not

The movement toward creating less waste has caused a wave of innovation in the drinks industry, as producers look for ways to repurpose food waste in all its forms. Grocery stores are starting to sell substandard fruits and vegetables at a discount under the Naturally Imperfect banner. Brewers are starting to think about repurposing surplus food much like Second Harvest has done with its awareness-raising Been a Slice beer brewed from stale bread by the Common Good Beer Co.

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Christine Sismondo, drinks expert and co-author of the forthcoming book Canadian Spirits: The Essential Cross-Country Guide to Distilleries, Their Spirits, and Where to Imbibe Them, has seen the movement at work behind the bar.

“Bartenders are boiling up leftover lime husks to make housemade lime cordials. And I’ve tasted some pretty extraordinary faux amaro made in house by Robin Goodfellow at [Toronto cocktail bar] Pretty Ugly.”

‘Turning trash into cash’

Another zero-waste effort is at work in Ontario’s dairy industry, where Omid McDonald and his partners at Dairy Distillers have developed a vodka from cow’s milk. McDonald worked with the University of Ottawa to develop the distilling process that takes milk permeate and turns it into a very drinkable spirit named Vodkow. Milk permeate is the liquid waste that’s left behind from milk after the fats and proteins are removed to make cheese, ice cream and butter. For farmers, this process relieves them from having to manage the waste while generating a beneficial revenue stream, especially valuable in these times of tariff-driven trade wars.

“It’s a way of turning trash into cash,” Sismondo says, “but it’s also solving a big waste problem, which used to be disposed of on the land or poured into local streams, harming fish life.”

Best of all, it’s delicious. “People find it incredibly smooth to drink straight up, on its own,” McDonald says. Vodkow will be available in LCBO outlets this summer, or head to Almonte near Ottawa to taste it at the source.

Private labelling

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“Custom everything” is a thing in the bar world, Sismondo says, with hotels ordering custom gins for their bars and restaurants ordering custom labels from Ontario wineries. Now Niagara Parks has gotten into the act, with its own specially commissioned session ales. Niagara Parks’ longstanding partnership with the culinary program at Niagara College made a similar venture with the college’s teaching brewery an easy decision, according to Ryan Moran, Niagara Parks’ director of marketing,

“Each year since 2016, we’ve worked with them to produce a private label session ale that ties into something that is going on that year. In 2016, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the cable car across the Gorge, and, in 2017, it was Voyageur Ale to honour the original, pre-European explorers of Canada. This year, we’ve created something called Table Rock 1885 Ale to mark the redevelopment of the Table Rock building at the brink of the Falls. There’s been a restaurant at Table Rock since the 1920s, so we’re trying to recall that history as well as referencing the year that Niagara Parks was created.”

Low-octane

Zero-alcohol drinks are on the rise; just don’t call them mocktails, which in the bartending world signifies wholly uncreative drinks like the cranberry soda. Until recently, zero-proof cocktails had been an afterthought on most bar and restaurant menus. Today, the hippest bars and bartenders are employing the same ingenuity and techniques to developing the low-and no-alcohol sides of the menu. “Everyone is tired of having just one drink when there’s so much to try, so some people will have one strong drink and then a low or non-alcoholic drink after, to balance it out,” says Sismondo.

So, the days of virgin Caesars are over, and the new world of placebo, low-octane, sessionable, Temperance, suppresser, Prohibition – or whatever you choose to call them – drinks, is in vogue.

A great place to try one is at Project Giggle Water, a cocktail bar on Dundas Street West in Toronto, where you can sample from its list of ‘PG cocktails’, each one as complex and interesting as the high-octane variety, Sismondo says.

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“And this is right in the heart of hipster territory where there used to be bourbon bars, and now you have a really nice cocktail bar with four non-alcoholic drinks right off the bat. That’s a huge change.”

Sours and ferments

After decades of quaffing sugary soft drinks, Canadians are developing a taste for sour, from fermented kombucha tea and sour and salty wheat beers called gose, to the ubiquitous pickleback, which is a bar shot of whiskey chased with a shot of pickle juice. A search for sour beer on the LCBO site brings up 50, confirming a shift to the sour side has already begun.

Other sour drinks gaining traction are shrubs, switchels and ciders. Popular in Victorian times, switchels and shrubs are a refreshing mix of vinegar and fruit or botanicals. A visit to some of Toronto’s historic museums this summer could include a taste of shrub using fruit picked from their own gardens, topped with sparkling water.

CBD-infused beverages

If Colorado’s recent history with cannabis product development is any guide, Canadians will experience a flood of new beverages featuring the non-psychotropic compound CBD (cannabidiol) in the next few years.

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In October, marijuana edibles (and drinkables) will be legal across the country, and CBD will make its way into cold-brew coffees, teas, lemonades and beer. As consumers grow used to the idea of drinking their cannabis, we can also expect to see it showing up in wines, colas, coconut water and sparkling tonics as well.

For now, CBD-infused drinks are being tested out at private events, but product development is well under way, and the race is on to develop the first big CBD drink brand. A nice cold Canna-Cola, anyone?


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