Finally, we’re out – how it all happened

A journey from idea to product

Welcome. If you’re reading this, you either…

  1. purchased one of our drinks (thank you, thank you, thank you – please let us know how you like it, it means the world to us) or
  2. didn’t purchase anything but signed up for updates anyway which probably means we’re interested in the same things – better drinks with no alcohol or sugar that are full of good stuff instead.
  3. Got badgered by me to take a look. Thanks for indulging me.

My friends, it has been quite a journey. Here’s how it all started:

Two years ago I first started looking for alcohol-free drinks for adults that didn’t:

  • taste like pop/crap
  • didn’t contain an absolute boatload of sugar
  • harm the body and/or spirit with weird or artificial ingredients that I couldn’t even begin to pronounce

Why was I looking for drinks like that? Because I had just stopped consuming alcohol.

Hold on, stop drinking alcohol? Why? What gives?

Because it stopped making me feel good. I noticed that even small amounts of it, like two beers the night before, were making me grumpy and exhausted the day after (and the day after that). I noticed that alcohol was interrupting my sleep – I used to wake up at 3:00 in the morning and lie awake for hours – and that it was causing me anxiety for days. Sounds familiar?

Most people I asked, when they thought about it, at least partially agreed.

Something had to give.

I decided to take a 30 day no alcohol challenge. The first week was weird – the muscle memory to just open a beer at the end of the day was strong. That in itself made me start to rethink my relationship with alcohol. How much of it was a choice, how much was simply a habit?

And if it had become habitual, was it still healthy?

I started reading Sober Curious, written by Ruby Warrington. If you’re interested in what booze does to the body and spirit, go and grab a copy. It’s an eye-opening book that explores the nature of habit and addiction and how alcohol exploits our human desire for the quick dopamine fix, I really recommend it.

Anyway, what happened?

Better sleep happened. No immediately, but about a week in. Deep, blissful, uninterrupted, restorative, waking up in the morning full of energy sleep. Like, holy crap, this feels amazing sleep.

More energy happened, more patience with my kids – don’t get me wrong they still drive me up the wall when they fight for what feels like three hours straight, but it doesn’t make me feel like a pressure cooker anymore.

Better mood and less anxiety. Simple as that, I feel all-round better. I have the energy to get up at 5:30 in the morning to write this letter to you, for example. Two years ago, that would have been a stretch.

This was a big surprise: removing alcohol from my life didn’t end up feeling like the sacrifice I thought it would be.

Instead, it felt like freeing myself from a bad influence, a false friend, a broken promise. It was a total, and welcome, relief.

So what to drink, when you’re not drinking anymore?

My friends reacted with a mixture of support – “hey, I’ve been thinking about cutting back/stopping myself” was a common reaction when I told them – and, at the same time, worry. What are we going to offer you to drink when you come round for drinks/dinner/hanging out was the unspoken question?

Remember these things? We used to do them before 2020 hit the fan.

Looking for a solution

Quite unrelated – although I am beginning to think that there really is no such thing – I had started reading about medicinal mushrooms. Chaga, reishi, lions mane, cordyceps and others.

These are medicinal, not psychoactive mushrooms

Meaning, they won’t get you high, but they do have medicinal benefits that have been helpful to humans for thousands of years. But until recently, at least in what we call Western society, they had been forgotten about and ignored.

Sounds interesting? Read this book.

The Fungal Pharmacy written by Robert Rogers is an eye-opener. Simple enough for beginners to understand yet enough data to support the science behind the benefits of mushrooms, anybody interested in actually living their #bestlife should read this book.

Reading big books not your thing? Watch Paul Stamet at TedMed instead. I’ll wait.

11 minutes of your life well spent, right?

Lightbulb moment #1: Why not see if I can create a great tasting drink for adults who don’t consume alcohol from medicinal mushrooms?

So, to solve my own problem, what to drink now that I was not drinking alcohol, I started researching what was available.

The results weren’t pretty. Almost all alcohol-free drinks on the market were either full of sugar or didn’t have a flavour profile I’d consider adult. Too sweet, too insipid, too boring.

There were no drinks on the market that were:

  • ready to drink
  • tasted amazing
  • were created with clean and natural ingredients and no sugar
  • included medicinal mushrooms for flavour and functional benefits

Lightbulb moment #2: medicinal mushrooms don’t taste like mushrooms

Mushrooms are polarizing. Mention them to 100 people and 50 people will claim to hate the taste and/or texture.

But medicinal mushrooms, like chaga or reishi, don’t taste of what we think of as a traditional mushroom flavour. Examples:

  • Chaga tastes of wood and smoke and coffee – like the forest it grows in. In Finland, chaga tea is often enjoyed instead of coffee.
  • Reishi tastes slightly bitter, not unlike hops.
  • Conclusion: There’s untapped flavour potential here, matched by “good for you” potential.

The data is clear – more and more adults are reducing their alcohol consumption and more and more adults care about their health – both physical and mental.

I started experimenting in my own kitchen – I even purchased a copper still to start making my own extracts.

But it was clear that, despite my own culinary experience, I was running rapidly out of knowledge. So, I asked for help and had lunch with my friend Mike, who’s been in food/drink production for over 10 years – and, importantly, had also been diving deep into the benefits of medicinal mushrooms.

Over that lunch, Boreal Brewing was born

We talked all afternoon about what we’d consider the perfect drink for ourselves. It had to taste great, it had to be made from the best natural ingredients sourced from the boreal forest and it had to be sustainable and responsible. No greenwashing, no spurious claims.

We went home, having decided on the flavours for our first drink:

  • chaga for smokiness and wood
  • spruce for the lemony freshness of the forest
  • blueberry for a hint of fruit

Mike started formulating and I started creating concepts for our website, packaging, brand, you name it.

Fast forward two years

So, the above happened. Blind alleys, some excellent, some good, some (very) bad advice, endless searches for the right ingredients, endless tasting and re-tasting, searching for the right production partners, and then, to top it all off – COVID.

But in the end, we had our first product. Brewed from organic chaga, organic spruce and blueberry – just like we dreamt up in that first conversation – had come together in a delicious and refreshing drink with no alcohol, no sugar and nothing that didn’t need to be there.

Chaga botanical tonic 6 pack

Which brings us here. Thanks for being interested in the journey. In our next newsletters, we’ll explore the benefits of medicinal mushrooms in some more, but not too much, detail.

Any questions, let me know. I’d be more than happy to share resources. Oh, and pick up a couple of cans from our website. People are loving them.

Three drinks to enhance your life

The energetic​ one

What's in it?

Sustainably foraged adaptogenic and energizing chaga from Northern Canada, distilled spruce tips and blueberries.  

What does it taste like?

Refreshingly herbaceous, hints of fruit and gently carbonated. If you like coffee spritzers or Italian bitters you’ll love this drink. 

When to drink it?

Anytime you need to energize but don’t want jitters. For brunch, it makes a sensational coffee spritzer, on its own with a dash of lemon it makes for a fantastic alternative to artificial energy drinks. 

The focused one

What's in it?

We brew this tonic with real nootropic focusing lion’s mane, confident juniper berries and and vibrant Canadian sumac. 

What does it taste like?

This is Mike’s favourite, citrus-forward, confidently herbal and resolutely upbeat. If you like a G&T, you’ll be a fan.

When to drink it?

In the days when we could still meet friends in bars, (they will return) this was our go-to after midnight drink, on the rocks or as a mixer. Now we use it to help us keep focused in Zoom meetings. 

The relaxed one

What's in it?

The perfect partner for unwinding and relaxing, brewed with adaptogenic reishi, elderberries and gentle birch. 

What does it taste like?

We call this our summer romance, complex and balanced, with subtle berry flavours. A dry rose on a sunny dock,  with bubbles. 

When to drink it?

From movie nights at home to relaxing on a dock on Lake Muskoka on a hot summer’s day, this gorgeously rose botanical tonic delivers all the chill that only reishi and elderberry can bring to the party. 

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