Profile series: Innovators in low/no alcohol

My Drynuary: ‘January presents the perfect opportunity for sober-curious consumers to explore the fantastic array of non-alc products out there’

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

From alcohol to alcohol-free: Mackenzie Aird, associate brand manager non alc; brewmaster Todd Fowler, and Max Truxa, associate brand manager, alc.
From alcohol to alcohol-free: Mackenzie Aird, associate brand manager non alc; brewmaster Todd Fowler, and Max Truxa, associate brand manager, alc.

Related tags Beer My Drynuary Brewing Brewery Craft beer NABLAB alcohol-free non-alcoholic Canada

In 2021, Canadian craft brewery Philips Brewing & Malting Co. made the move into the non-alcoholic category with the launch of iOTA. It sees January as the perfect month to help consumers explore the growing choice in the category.

The brewery offers consumers four alcohol-free brews: iOTA Hazy IPA, iOTA Pilsner, iOTA Pale Ale and Blackberry Lemon Ale.

While the brewery was founded in 2001 as a craft brewer (it's one of a few craft brewers in Canada to malt its own barley), iOTA joins a portfolio of alcohol-free options that the brewery has already created – including craft sodas, flavored sparkling waters, gourmet tonics and mocktails.

In this month's series profiling innovators in the low/no alcohol category, Mackenzie Aird, Associate Brand Manager, Non-Alcoholic Portfolio; and Todd Fowler, the brewery’s Brewmaster; tell us about the brewery’s foray into alcohol-free.

Tell us how iOTA came about...

Launched in late 2021, by Phillips Brewing & Malting Co., in Victoria, BC, iOTA is brewed for craft beer fans that are experimental, flavour focused, confident, and self-aware. Our brewmaster, Todd Fowler, created all four of our iOTA beers and is the architect behind these amazing non-alcoholic beers.

Currently, non-alcoholic beer has a reputation of lacking flavour, often with uninspiring packaging, and being behind the times of 21st century craft beer. 

iOTA non-alcoholic craft beer is packed with flavour from an award-winning independent, Canadian craft brewery who is ingredient focused while staying on top of the evolving palette of craft beer drinkers. 

For too long, consumers have had to hide their choice to drink a non-alcoholic beer. Pouring it into solo cups, holding it “just” right at a party, being ready to defend it at a moment’s notice - but hide no more we say. iOTA is here to be proudly held up at parties, to be drank on both a Friday night and a Saturday morning.  

We believe that the magic of craft beer is not defined by its alcohol content but rather the community it builds.  And as our tagline reads, we celebrate all​ the times.

iota mixed pack

Where does the name iOTA come from?

The name iOTA comes from the Greek letter iota, meaning an extremely small amount. For us, this was a reflection of our belief that the magic of craft beer is not defined by its alcohol content, but rather the community it builds.

Even though there’s only that minute amount of alcohol (less than 0.5% ABV), iOTA is still authentically craft brewed, every step of the process.

Where can we find your products?

iOTA is found extensively throughout Western Canada in traditional alcohol focused retail stores, grocery, some convenience and many on-premises outlets.  It is available on draft in many hospitality outlets in British Columbia and Alberta as well. 

We are extending our reach into Ontario, Atlantic Canada and eventually Quebec with an emphasis on expansion in 2024.

As an (alcohol) craft brewer, you’ve moved into alcohol-free with iOTA. How does that fit in?

Making iOTA fits very nicely into our brewery model. It starts its life as a well-made beer; just like everything we make at Phillips. Once matured, it gets de-alcoholized through a unique process to ensure we are hitting the 0.5% abv (or less) target, and to retain the maximum flavour possible.

What can we expect from the taste and drinking experience of iOTA?

From our Pale Ale that strikes a harmony between drinkability and flavour - to our Hazy IPA where our house malted barley lends a hand in creating a smooth sip, and helps carry a tropical hazy hop profile - when you sip an iOTA you can expect a beer that’s authentically brewed and true to style.

Tell us about the alcohol-free craft beer market in Canada

The market is growing quickly as consumers embrace the options available to them with non -alcoholic beer.  The market is still tiny compared to traditional beer (less than 3% the size in Canada, today) but is expected to be a fast-growing space for years to come. 

Retailers in many sectors have discovered the opportunity and consumer interest in non-alcoholic beer and are dedicating space to them and expanding their assortments to make room for more variety and embracing what craft brewers are bringing in terms of style creativity vs the older, lager-based brand sets of previous years.

What does January look like for iOTA?  

January is a very strong month as so many consumers are exploring ways to introduce non-alcoholic beer into their drinking repertoire.  Whether it’s break from holiday indulgence or just a way to kick start their New Year in healthier ways, we are seeing strong interest in and more growth each year for iOTA throughout January and into February. 

But let’s not forget about the rest of the year as these are enjoyed year-round! The summer months have also shown strong growth where non-alcoholic beer mirror the seasonality of traditional craft beer during the nice weather months of the year.

Are there any activities this month you'd like to highlight?

January is an exciting month for us, with growing number of people who are sobercurious, Dry January presents a perfect opportunity for them to explore the fantastic array of non-alc products out there. For us, this means ramping up our marketing activities, primarily on through digital advertising.

Aside from the standard marketing and advertising activities, this Dry January we have quite a bit going on to help folks continue to celebrate 'all the times'. One way we’re doing this is by partnering with Just For Laughs Vancouver (a local comedy festival) and local grocery stores for some incredible in store giveaways.

What’s on your radar for 2024?

2024 is shaping up to be a big year: this is a category where we’ve already seen a lot of growth, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be slowing down anytime soon.

To keep the ball rolling, our focus is going to be on amplifying our presence across Canada.

To accomplish this, the focus is on growing our marketing initiatives, which for us means increasing our efforts in everything from events to digital campaigns to retail POS.

To help give a bit of a snapshot of what events will look like, we’ve always been closely tied with the arts, so you can expect to see us at a wide array of places this year supporting local talent.

We’ll even be hosting a music festival right in our own backyard at the brewery (we might even break out the Non-Alc Craft Beer Fountain we had last year).

What inspires you on your journey into the alcohol-free category?

Phillips has embraced the low/no category for many years now.  We believe in its vibrancy and the role it plays in people’s lives.  We know our consumers are looking for different things for different occasions in their life. 

We try to offer well-made products for as many of those moments as we can so we can be there for them along their journey, in our own refreshing way. 

As such, we also make gourmet craft sodas (Phillips Sodaworks), and flavoured sparkling waters, gourmet tonics and mocktails under our sister brand; Sparkmouth as well.

partake

Fellow Canadian alcohol-free beer innovator Partake has been in the game since 2017.

Evan Cohen, president and chief commercial officer, tells us about the alcohol-free market in Canada and the US​ - and the overarching consumer trends Partake is tapping into in North America.

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