SIAL Canada 2023 – Wine and Spirits?

Because SIAL is about food innovation, I wasn’t sure if there’d be any wineries or distilleries there. But beverages are important to restaurants and the hospitality industry, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw a booth for Benjamin Bridge, a Nova Scotia winery. (They have a few products at the LCBO, but I’ve never seen them at a wine show in Ontario, for example.) They were at SIAL promoting Piquette – a zero alcohol product they describe as a “wine-style beverage”.

Piquette is a light, refreshing carbonated drink with lovely citrus notes. It is packaged in attractively decorated, black slim cans (250 ml). I think it’d be great to take along on a picnic. It’s vegan-friendly and gluten-free, which I know matters to some folks.

The sales rep at the booth when I first tried it explained that to make Piquette they use the skins from grapes after they are crushed for their wines. So, like many resourceful wineries, they’re creatively making use of their inputs and expanding into other market segments.

Today, when I went back to the booth to take a picture, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers (JB), the winemaker at Benjamin Bridge, was chatting with a few people about Piquette. He said that part of the reason they decided to make a non-alcoholic line is because they see the writing on the wall: alcoholic beverage consumption is dropping and they expect it to continue to decline.

JeanBenoit Deslauriers

JB said that they made a conscious decision to not make a zero-alcohol wine. He explained that while there are plenty of tasty zero-alcohol beers, he thinks taking the alcohol out of a product that is only 5%-6% alcohol is pretty easy. But the higher alcohol content of wine means that to get it to zero-alcohol you have to processes it so much you aren’t left with much taste. So instead of starting with wine and taking the alcohol out, they set out to build a beverage from the bottom up – focusing on making something that’s tasty and refreshing.

Though he’s proud of Piquette – JB is careful to point out that it’s not a zero-alcohol WINE.

Here’s a short video of JB sheepishly admitting that Piquette doesn’t “do a very good job of emulating wine.” (You may need to turn up the volume to hear JB as there’s a fair bit of background noise.) I found his confession amusing and as he was describing what Piquette isn’t, my thought was “so what that it’s not wine – it is delicious!” And of course, in the end, JB and the folks at Benjamin Bridge clearly realized they have a winner – even if it’s not wine!

The only hard liquor I saw at SIAL was Copper Rose Vodka, a brand new entry on the Canadian spirits market. The Windsor-based distillery launched earlier this year and they decided to promote their rye-based premium vodka at SIAL Canada. Dan Maddox, one of the founders, explained that the product is distilled 12 times. By comparison, Belvedere – another premium rye-based vodka – is distilled four times.

I like vodka in a cocktail, but it’s not something I’ve ever enjoyed straight up. Indeed, as I was chatting with Dan, I was trying to think of a polite way to decline trying it, as I was worried my face might reflexively contort in some odd way if I didn’t like it. But Dan and Melissa Roberts, the other co-founder, were so enthusiastic, I couldn’t say no.

Melissa Roberts and Dan Maddox of Copper Rose Distillery

I have to say, the Copper Rose Vodka went down very easily – it is excellent. I can only imagine what it would be like in a cocktail! And I’m happy to report that its price point is equally impressive. Dan explained a bit about their business model and how they sell the by-product from the distillation process for bitters. Because of this, the retail price is really reasonable: $39.00. (It is not yet available in the LCBO but it is available for purchase on-line.)

Trends in non-alcoholic beverages was a hot topic at SIAL and I’ll write more about it in a coming blog, so stay tuned.

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