No-al­co­hol beer – all the flavour with­out the booze

The Guardian - Feast - - News - Fiona Beck­ett

If you had told me two years ago that I’d be drink­ing a no-al­co­hol beer with as much plea­sure as a full-strength one, I’d have said you were bonkers, but the qual­ity has im­proved to such an ex­tent that some are now al­most in­dis­tin­guish­able from their full­strength equiv­a­lents. The rate of growth is such that brew­eries such as Big Drop, Small Beer Brew Co and In­fi­nite Ses­sion have been able to set up solely on the ba­sis of sell­ing al­co­hol-free and very low-al­co­hol beers. It’s no sur­prise, then, that some of the UK’s best-known brew­eries are get­ting in on the act.

I guess it shouldn’t be that un­ex­pected. Un­like wine, beer is well-suited to be­ing de­liv­ered with lower lev­els of al­co­hol – in fact, his­tor­i­cally, when beer was safer to drink than wa­ter, “small beer” was the norm. Take the al­co­hol out of wine, and you’re left more or less with sugar, but do the same to beer, and its main flavour­ing in­gre­di­ents – hops and malt – are still present.

That said, mak­ing a palat­able no- or low-al­co­hol (“nolo”) beer to the stan­dard of to­day’s best brews is no easy mat­ter. “The ver­sion of Big Easy we’re sell­ing now is batch num­ber five,” says Si­mon Web­ster, CEO of Thorn­bridge brew­ery. “In the de­vel­op­ment, we ditched four en­tire brews, which was like pour­ing 60,000 bot­tles down the drain.” Thorn­bridge’s so­lu­tion, in ad­di­tion to us­ing some first-class hops (amar­illo and cas­cade), was to build body by play­ing around with spe­cific malts (maris ot­ter, mu­nich and crys­tal).

Such in­gre­di­ents can make nolo beers much the same price as a full-strength craft beer, de­spite the fact that beers with an abv be­low 1.2% are ex­empt from duty and that those un­der 2.8% at­tract a lower rate. I’m sure some read­ers will balk at the price of the Mikkeller in to­day’s rec­om­men­da­tions, but it’s so good, I sim­ply couldn’t leave it out. (If you’re look­ing for a bar­gain, Lidl does a de­cent 2.6% abv French lager un­der the Ar­gus la­bel at £1.99 for a pack of eight.)

The good news is that, with the grow­ing in­ter­est in al­co­hol­free drinks, the mar­ket is bound to ex­pand. When you think this means you can have a drink at 10am should the mood take you, go for a beer at lunchtime even when you’re at work and have a pint be­fore you drive home, de­mand can only grow, par­tic­u­larly when the pre­sen­ta­tion and pack­ag­ing of many of these are as slick as they cur­rently are. Now we just need pubs and restau­rants to give us a bet­ter choice when we drink out. The in­fu­sion takes three days, but is well worth the wait: the sugar snaps im­part a pale green colour and a gor­geous, fresh flavour to the gin, and com­ple­ment the botan­i­cals in the al­co­hol. Half a bot­tle of in­fused gin will make enough for about eight serv­ings, but it keeps well.

To make the gin in­fu­sion, crack the sugar snaps in half, put them in a Kil­ner jar and pour in the gin. Leave to steep for three days, then strain back into the bot­tle.

To build the drink, take a tall glass, wet the rim with lime juice, then dip into the smoked pa­prika salt to coat (I usu­ally ap­ply it to only half the rim, so cus­tomers can make up their own minds whether to drink with or with­out). Put all the liq­uids bar the pros­ecco in a shaker, shake, then strain into the glass over ice. Top with pros­ecco, gar­nish with pea shoots and serve.

Julien Bil­let, bar man­ager,

The Salt Room, Brighton

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