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Whistler Village’s La Bocca launches spirit-free cocktail menu

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La Bocca’s new alcohol-free cocktail menu represents an ever-growing trend towards no- or low-alcohol options.

Little in life tastes better than the first sip of a cold, flavourful cocktail, preferably enjoyed on a sunny patio after a summer afternoon spent adventuring.

But what if you’re craving that experience minus the buzz? Or what if you just want to be able to drive your car home afterwards?

Elaine Meally, assistant general manager of O&R Restaurants’ La Bocca, La Brasserie, Hot Buns Bakery and the Amsterdam Café Pub, understands what it’s like to head into the village to catch up with friends and have to settle for a Shirley Temple or soda water. 

“I’ve always loved going to bars—like the Raven Room, for instance, where they offer a proper de-alcoholized cocktail,” said Meally, who has herself been sober for the last three years. 

Meally no longer has to walk down the Village Stroll for an after-work drink since La Bocca launched its new spirit-free cocktail menu last month. 

The idea for a full-blown, no- or low-alcoholic menu was further sparked by a trip home to Europe over the winter holidays, Meally added, where she witnessed the widespread availability of non-alcoholic options on supermarket shelves, from cider to gin, and by an increase in guests asking for more creative, non-alcoholic beverage options. 

“People don’t necessarily want to go out and slam like, three or four Negronis,” she said. “Even having the option for one of the components of that drink to be de-alcoholized, it still makes it taste great, but it brings the [alcohol] volume down, and that’s awesome.”

The concept was solidified after Meally connected with Cristina Bardorf, Canadian regional manager for U.K.-based no- and low-alcohol craft spirit brand Lyre’s. Established in 2019, the brand offers 15 non-alcoholic versions of beloved spirits like whiskey, tequila, vermouth and rum. 

While some non-alcoholic spirits are distilled before being stripped of the alcohol, “the trade-off is when you remove the alcohol, you take a lot of the flavour, aroma and body out with it,” Bardorf told Pique. “Lyre’s decided to instead build non-alcoholic spirits from the ground up so that flavour, aroma, and body are at the heart of the spirit, and thus your cocktail.”

(La Bocca isn’t the only place in Whistler to offer Lyre’s, with the Raven Room serving up its products in no- or low-ABV versions of the innovative creations on their cocktail menu.)

Meally handed off a sampling of Lyre’s spirits to La Bocca bartender Garrett Wilkinson earlier this spring. “I told him, ‘Look, just mess around with this for the next couple of weeks and see what you come up with,’” she recalled. 

The result is a menu filled with summery 0 ABV (alcohol by volume) takes on classic cocktails, like the Sicilian Spritz (Lyre’s Italian orange, Lyre’s aperitif rosso, grapefruit and soda), the Cos-no-politan (Lyre’s white cane spirit, Lyre’s Italian orange, lime, cranberry and sugar), and an Amaretti Sour (Lyre’s amaretti, lemon, egg white and sugar). There’s even a twist on the Espresso Martini, made with Lyre’s coffee, espresso, chocolate honey and cinnamon. 

Though the Sicilian Spritz is probably the most popular offering—“it comes in a wine glass, still has all the ice and has a gorgeous garnish,” explained Meally—the Amaretti Sour and Cos-no-politan rank high among her personal favourites. “I’m not super into really sweet drinks,” she said, “which was something we were keeping in mind when making this cocktail list, is to make sure that … there was good variation for every type of drink. We wanted it to be super inclusive.”

Meally said restaurant staff plan to rework the menu once colder weather hits.

Anecdotal evidence Meally’s heard from La Bocca guests isn’t the only indication of more people embracing “sober curiosity,” a term coined by author Ruby Warrington and explored by Pique contributor Cathy Goddard in her 2019 cover story “Being Sober-curious.”

A 2021 survey from Statistics Canada found that although alcohol consumption increased among many Canadians since the onset of the pandemic, 22 per cent—more than one in five people—reported a decrease in their consumption during the same period. 

This trend was even more prominent among young people, according to the study, with 33 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 29 who had consumed alcohol in the previous month claiming they had decreased their consumption during the pandemic. 

Even in “high drinking” European countries like Ireland, Spain, and Germany, the fast-growing non-alcoholic category already comprises at least 10 per cent of the total alcohol market, noted Bardorf. 

“The social stigma around not drinking is dissolving quite quickly,” she explained. “Moderation can take many different shapes: whether it’s not drinking alcohol on weekdays, watching your caloric intake, or swapping to a non-alcoholic version of your drink at the start of the third period.”