Rambling Thoughts from a Wandering Mind


Category: Food & Drink

I quit drinking for a year

Somewhere near the end of 2019, I decided that I would participate in Dry January. I didn’t anticipate that I would end up abstaining from alcohol for a full year. 2020 was my dry year. Despite all the jokes about needing a multitude of stiff drinks to get through this past year, 2020 was probably a good year to experiment with going dry. It’d have been far too easy to drink far too excessively given the year we’ve all had and that is not a road I want to go down, especially with a new baby in the house.

Technically, I can’t say I didn’t have any alcohol. I had a sip or two of a friend’s homemade wine (but literally just a sip or two, from my wife’s glass – no having a glass of my own and calling it a “sip”). But other than that I went a full year without a drink.

This led me to explore the world of alcohol-free beer, wine and spirits. The wine is god awful and the spirits are lacking (more on this in a bit), but there is a lot of fantastic alcohol-free beer on the market these days. It’s not just O’Douls anymore! Going forward, I will continue to drink primarily non-alcoholic beer. It’s so good and I don’t miss the alcohol at all. I will have the occasional full-strength beer, but that will likely be rare.

What I do miss is a good whisky or other spirit. It turns out, when you remove 40 per cent or more of the thing that makes a spirit a spirit, you fundamentally change it’s character. Most non-alcoholic spirits are like the homeopathic version of the thing they’re meant to replace. Beer doesn’t suffer from removing the alcohol because it’s a relatively low portion of the overall beverage. Spirits, alas, aren’t even remotely the same without the alcohol. So I will continue to have the occasional glass of whisky but, again, this will be rarer than in the past – likely just for special occasions.

On the whole, I don’t miss alcohol and generally prefer not drinking it. I’ve really rethought my relationship with alcohol, which I don’t think was ever unhealthy, but was still worthy of rethinking. So even though I’ll be drinking again in 2021, it’ll be much less than ever before. Beer will be mostly non-alcoholic, but spirits are something that can’t be properly had without alcohol (in my opinion). Maybe, one day, when my liquor cabinet goes dry, I won’t bother to restock it. But, for now, this is the “happy medium” I’ve decided upon.

Update – Jan. 01, 2021: I neglected to mention in the original version of this post that I will continue to take regular breaks from alcohol, such as Sober October and future years of Dry January (just not this January).

Count me among the “sober curious”

This year, I decided to participate in Dry January. For those unfamiliar, this means abstaining from alcohol for the month of January.

People do this for a lot of reasons: to get “back on track” in terms of health and wellness after the holiday season’s excesses, to re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol, or even just for the sake of a personal challenge.

When I decided to do it, I figured it would be good for my health after the heavier-than-normal drinking that came with the Christmas holidays. But I was also starting to think about my relationship with alcohol in light of the death of my son.

I don’t think I had a drinking problem in any traditional sense, but I was drinking more than usual. I think it was becoming a coping mechanism and that didn’t feel good, so I decided to go dry for a month.

There might have been a few moments near the beginning of the month when it was hard, because pouring a drink after a long day had become sort of a ritual. But it was ultimately pretty easy (which is definitely a privilege that people who struggle with alcohol addiction don’t have; “sober curious” and “sober out of necessity” are very different things).

I haven’t really missed alcohol. In fact, I feel great without it. I sleep better. I’ve lost weight. My mental health has greatly improved. And I think my family dynamic has benefited quite a bit, as well.

What I do miss, is the flavour. There are some great alcohol-free drinks available that aren’t sugar-laden soda and juice. There are non-alcoholic spirits, and both craft and big brand brewers have started to embrace non-alcoholic beer, so “near beer” is no longer the foul-tasting stuff of old. But the availability of these drinks in Canada is still somewhat limited.

We have Seedlip, but not the aperitifs of their sister brand Æcorn (though I’m told they’re coming). Many of the best non-alcoholic beers are only available in Europe or the United Kingdom and, to a lesser degree, the United States. Hopefully, that will soon change. But right now, getting the particular flavours that come with alcoholic beverages in an alcohol-free format can be tough — there’s no replacement for whiskey, for example, although I’m sure someone is working on it.

In light of the unexpected benefits I’ve received from not drinking for a month (the improved mental health being the most notable), I’ve been thinking about becoming a teetotaler — though not a joyless one, I hope. But, for now, I won’t go so far as to say that I’m giving up alcohol. I’m not giving away all the bottles in my liquor cabinet or dumping the contents of my beer fridge down the sink. But I’ll be drinking booze far less often. And when I do partake, it will probably be in smaller amounts and I’ll be much more conscious about when and why I’m making the decision to drink alcohol.

I will be drinking non-alcoholic beer more often than the standard variety. And I’ll reach for Seedlip or Sobrii before I reach for hard liquor. Alcohol will probably continue to be a part of my life. But the role it plays will be much smaller.

I’m not “sober,” but I am “sober adjacent.” I hope you’ll raise a glass to that, regardless of what you decide to fill it with.

Sobrii 0-Gin (non-alcoholic gin) Review

A 750 mL bottle of Sobrii 0-Gin

I’ve been becoming more and more “sober curious” over the course of Dry January, so I’ve started following a lot of alcohol-free accounts on Instagram. At first, this was mostly limited to beer accounts (it turns out, there is a lot of really great non-alcoholic beer being produced; unfortunately, most of it is in Europe or the USA, but I’ve had some good luck with some Canadian craft options – notably Partake Brewing (Calgary, by way of Toronto) and One for the Road Brewing (Calgary) – and a few European imports).

After a while, I started wondering about non-alcoholic spirits. Right now, the main player in this market is Seedlip out of the UK. They’re the market leader simply because they were among the first and the market is very much in its infancy right now. I enjoy all of Seedlip’s offerings, but they’re all very unique and don’t seek to replicate existing alcoholic beverages.

This is probably a wise move on their part, because it means customers don’t have a point of comparison and can’t say, “This tastes like watered down gin/whiskey/rum.”

Some brands, however, have attempted to replicate existing alcoholic spirits. I’ve read about two products: Ginish and Rumish. I think you can guess what each is trying to do. Currently, neither is available in Alberta.

What is available is Sobrii, a non-alcoholic gin from DistillX Beverages in Toronto. Late last week, it became available nationwide through Well.ca. Impulsively, I almost immediately ordered a bottle. It arrived this afternoon and I opened it shortly after getting home from work.

I believe Sobrii is primarily intended to be used in cocktails and highballs, but I wanted to see what it tastes like neat. The answer is: disappointing. It tastes reasonably similar to gin, with a lot of botanicals and a little pepperiness that hit you right away. Unfortunately, the lack of alcohol means it doesn’t quite land. Removing the booze really alters the flavour profile when you’re drinking it straight up.

I’m happy to report that it’s much better in a gin and tonic. It’s still not quite the same as gin with alcohol, but I think replacing that warming sensation of alcohol is hard to do (Ginish, mentioned earlier, apparently does it by adding capsaicin, the chemical that gives chili peppers their heat).

Overall, Sobrii makes a passable gin and tonic. I’m currently mixing it with a pretty cheap, store-brand diet tonic water. I’ll try it again later with something a bit nicer, like Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water, and see if that makes a difference. I imagine quality tonic makes a bigger difference when alcohol is taken out of the equation. I’ll update this post after I’ve tried Sobrii with a better quality tonic water.

I bought a 750 mL bottle, rather than the smaller size that was also available, so it’ll likely last me several months. By that time, who knows what other options might be available. The market for alcohol-free spirits is new but seems to be growing rapidly. Only time will tell if Sobrii becomes a stable in my liquor cabinet.

Update (Jan. 31, 2020): I still haven’t tried mixing Sobrii with a higher quality tonic, but I made a highball with this last night, that was quite good. The recipe follows:

  • 2 oz. (60 mL) Sobrii 0-Gin
  • 4 oz. (120 mL) ginger beer (I used Zevia Ginger Beer Mixer)
  • Squeeze of lime juice (fresh and garnished with a lime wedge would be best, but I used ReaLime since it’s what I had on hand)

Note: An earlier version of this post identified Partake Brewing as being based in Toronto. In fact, the brewery is located in Calgary but the company originated in Toronto and has offices in both cities.

There’s no magic bullet diet

Even the much touted keto doesn’t work for everyone. As Neil Swidey writes in the Boston Globe:

In the low-carb group, some participants lost 40 to 60 pounds while others gained 10 to 20. And in the low-fat group? Just about the same wide variation. Neither diet was better, and researchers had no success in predicting who would do better on one versus the other.

All of this suggests that your co-worker who won’t stop yapping about how keto will change your life might be completely right. Or he could be entirely wrong.

This much we know: No diet will work for everyone.

Diet advice changes by the minute. How are we supposed to figure out what to eat? – Neil Swidey, Boston Globe Magazine

The few things that do seem to work for everyone are to reduce or eliminate added sugar, reduce processed and refined carbs, and eat healthy fats. Everything else seems to be a toss up and depends on personal metabolic traits.

Trial and error will probably be necessary, but by avoiding processed foods (itself a vague term — do bread or pasta count, if we’re being careful to make sure they’re made from whole grains?) you’ll probably be off to a decent start.

Link roundup: socialism, nutrition and social ecology

I used to post interesting links to Facebook. And I’d add some commentary when sharing them. But I try not to use Facebook anymore, except for some groups I’m in, so I’m likely going to start posting semi-regular link roundups on this site, as a way of sharing those links and commentary.

I may even post links to this blog on Facebook, once in a while, just until people get in the habit of visiting this site to see my random commentary (which, apparently, at least a couple of people found interesting and worth reading).

Without further ado, here are some things I’ve read online lately that I found interesting or noteworthy.

The nomination of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the Democratic candidate for New York’s 14th congressional district has got a lot of people talking about democratic socialism (even though she seems to be more of a Bernie Sanders-style social democrat). Hilariously, the right-wing media’s attempts to slander her end up promoting the ways in which average people stand to benefit from democratic socialism.

Maybe everyone should follow Nathan J Robinson’s advice to just stop worrying and embrace the left.

Moving on to a different type of politics, who really decides what goes into Canada’s food guide?

Continuing on the topic of nutrition, here’s more research showing that fat isn’t bad for us and it’s actually excessive carbohydrates causing heart disease.

This piece from David Suzuki on the Future of Nature doesn’t really say anything he and others haven’t said in the past, but I rather like this line:

Ecology is the study of the rules of sustainability, while economics is the management of our domain. Economics, therefore, should be applied under the laws of ecology.

That’s social ecology in a nutshell.

Suggesting that energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining might be the next big boom for Alberta, on the other hand, is a good example of putting economics before ecology.

Where are Canada’s indigenous restaurants?

“Storytelling is a huge aspect of Aboriginal culture, and food is no exception. It has to have a sense of community and direction.”

To tell that story, he suggests searing the caribou meat, wrapping it in caribou moss (which grows on the tundra) before tossing it onto the fire, and serving it with cloudberries. “That tundra is basically the caribou’s diet. So there’s that sense of community in what you’re serving. I love fire and hate modernist cuisine.”

But he can’t do any of that. Not legally, at least, in a restaurant in any large Canadian city outside of St. John’s, Newfoundland, the only province where licenses can be issued to serve hunted meat outside of a special event. That’s just one of the reasons why the the Indigenous cuisines of Canada are all but absent from our burgeoning restaurant scene.

For the full story, check out the article on BuzzFeed News.

Embracing winter through the Danish concept of hygge

Cozy tea and slipper socks
A woman gets into the spirit of hygge

Recently, I came across an article from the Guardian called “The Hygge Consipiracy,” that looks at the sudden trendiness of the Danish concept of hygge. The author concludes that the version of hygge being sold to the English-speaking world is really a British invention that’s more about selling you crap you don’t need than it is about the true Danish concept of hygge. It also delves into the dark side of hygge.

It’s a long read, but very interesting if you have some free time to devote to it, especially if you’ve managed to avoid the recent deluge of think-pieces about hygge.

I shared the article on Twitter and Facebook, and got some interesting responses. Despite having shared this somewhat cynical article with my social networks, I actually like the general concept of hygge. I’m not going to read a ton of books about it or buy a bunch of hand-knitted socks, but I like the simple idea of coziness and enjoying the warmth of friendship as a way of getting through our long, dark winters. Living in Edmonton means you have three options: you go south for the winter, you bitch and moan about the cold, or you accept our climate and learn to embrace winter.

Not everyone has the money to flee for warmer climes and complaining rarely achieves much of anything. So, for most of us, we’re left with embracing winter. Adopting the concept of hygge makes it easier to embrace the cold and the darkness.

And so I’m working to bring a little more hygge into my life. The last few nights, we’ve been keeping the lights low and listening to chill music. On Sunday, we had friends over for braised beef ribs, which somehow seem like a perfect meal for this time of year, when the holidays have passed but the end of the cold darkness of winter is still beyond the horizon.

It’s with this spirit in mind that I’m hoping to host more casual get-togethers and dinner parties over the course of this winter. I’m also toying with the idea of hosting at least one outdoor party this winter. I talked about it a bit last year, but never got around to doing it. I think the layout of our new backyard will make it easier to create some windbreaks and keep everyone warm. I’m even thinking about going down to Canadian Tire or Home Depot to pick up one of those movable fire pits so we can be toasty warm even when it’s cold outside.

For friends, family and neighbours who are likely to be invited to this hypothetical outdoor winter party, what would it take to get you to come to a backyard party in the middle of an Edmonton winter? Is there a particular hot beverage you’d like? Is fire vital? Let me know in the comments!

Doritos-flavoured Mountain Dew is apparently a thing

According to the Huffington Post, PepsiCo has confirmed it’s testing a Doritos-flavoured version of Mountain Dew on college campuses.

The soda and snack giant said it tested the new flavor, dubbed “Dewitos,” on college students. The company did not reveal which colleges participated in the test, but at least one Reddit user, who goes by the username joes_nipples, posted a photo of the taste test on Friday, saying the soda did, in fact, taste like Doritos.

The only thing I can think of that would be more disgusting than this might be a pizza-flavoured drink, which is something one of my younger brothers thought up when he was about 7 years old.

While I admit to enjoying Doritos on occasion, and drinking Mountain Dew from time to time, the combination of the two flavours sounds horrid.