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Edmonton’s 1st alcohol-free cocktail bar opening downtown

Click to play video: 'Sober-curious trend extends to Edmonton bar scene'
Sober-curious trend extends to Edmonton bar scene
SPILT is a creative and trendy booze-free cocktail bar but it’s more than that. As Jaclyn Kucey reports, the downtown spot will offer retail bottles, mocktail lessons and catering for private events – May 9, 2024

As interest in non-alcoholic drinks and mocktails continues to rise, Edmonton will soon welcome its first craft alcohol-free cocktail bar.

SPILT Zero Proof is opening in the next few weeks at 11909 Jasper Ave. — right in the heart of Edmonton’s hospitality, social and entertainment district.

“We’re the first one in Alberta, as far as I know,” said co-founder JoAnne Pearce. “The way we’ve developed our business model is that we’re a retail store, we’ll be a bottle shop, we’ll also be doing by the glass, we’ll also be teaching classes, we’ll be doing tasting events, private events … people are so excited. There’s so much interest in this.”

SPILT is also offering catering and they’re booked into October 2025, Pearce said.

“The alcohol-free scene has been growing like crazy and we’re taking things to the next level,” she said. “We’re offering the grown-up atmosphere of the coolest bar in town with the aim of showing folks that a mocktail can be so much more than a virgin mojito.

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“We strive to cater to sober folks who have been under-served by the industry so far, but also to provide a unique experience for all Edmontonians, regardless of whether they drink alcohol.”\

Click to play video: 'A Surge in the ‘Sober-Curious’'
A Surge in the ‘Sober-Curious’

Pearce said their classes seem to be the most popular so far.

“What we do that’s different is try to really surprise people, we try to be playful. We have a more culinary approach. It’s really about the flavours first. We’re not trying to recapture cocktail culture here. We’re not only going to be making no-gronis and alcohol-free gin and tonics.

“I hope that we also have drinkers coming in and learning something new and learning how to layer flavour without just relying on booze to be the backbone of adult beverage,” she added.

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SPILT’s brick-and-mortar ’80s party-vibe location is next to award-winning cocktail bar Clementine.

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“This neighbourhood, just these two blocks, is poised to be really exciting right now… West Jasper Avenue is about to have this sort of energy infusion that’s going to be really cool.”

Spilt alcohol-free bar at 11909 Jasper Avenue in Edmonton, May 9, 2024. Jaclyn Kucey/Global News

Alcohol-free options are part of a growing trend that includes consumers interested in drinking less or not at all.

Surveys in the U.S. and Canada show consumers, especially younger generations, are increasingly cutting back on alcohol consumption. With demand on the rise, the market is expected to keep growing.

“Everybody is talking about how Gen Z is drinking less, and that’s absolutely true,” Pearce said, “but I find our demographic super diverse.”

Click to play video: 'Sober trend and brew houses'
Sober trend and brew houses

While Mintel research shows around 15 per cent of Canadians 20 and older don’t drink at all, there’s another, likely much larger group of consumers that aren’t cutting out alcohol entirely, but cutting back — known as the “sober curious,” said Joel Gregoire, associate director for food and drink at market research company Mintel.

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Companies large and small are seizing on that opportunity. When Sarah Kate founded Some Good Clean Fun, a website covering and promoting non-alcoholic drinks and alcohol-free lifestyle content in April 2021, she said there were very few products on the market for her to drink, let alone write about.

“Since then, it’s just exploded,” she said.

Some big brands have offered non-alcoholic drinks for a long time, but they weren’t considered a selling feature, said Kate — it was a single non-alcoholic beer to capture a small part of the market that didn’t have other options. But now they need to do more.

“In the past two or three years, most of the innovation coming into the market in the non-alcoholic drink space has come from small brands,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Latest AGLC campaign encouraging Albertans to choose alcohol-free alternatives'
Latest AGLC campaign encouraging Albertans to choose alcohol-free alternatives

In 2021, a Statistics Canada survey found that one in five Canadians were drinking less than they did pre-pandemic, with younger Canadians more likely to be cutting back.

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“The trend seems to be going more towards that way,” said Mitch McCaskill, dining room manager at NAIT Earnest’s. “Cocktails and non-alcoholic beer, potentially non-alcoholic wine. Making it still taste good but without that alcohol effect, the buzz that you get in the head and the brain.”

McCaskill stopped drinking alcohol a year ago.

“It’s been great. The non-alcoholic beers taste just as on par. They taste really good.”

NAIT is also embracing the alcohol-free and sober curious trend.

“We’ve worked in partnership with our innovation centre and we’ve made non-alcoholic spirits, like a zero-proof Old Fashioned, and we can’t keep it on the shelf. So, I have no doubt with this business (SPILT), that it’ll be steady business for them.”

Click to play video: 'MOCK-UPS MOCKTAILS features locally-made alcohol free products'
MOCK-UPS MOCKTAILS features locally-made alcohol free products

— with files from Rosa Saba, The Canadian Press

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