Feature: Low/no alcohol beers
Sales of low and non-alcoholic beer are skyrocketing, writes Andy Hoskins, but will the trend take-off onboard?
Idistinctly recall the pub landlord's comment: "The trouble with these non-alcoholic beers is they taste terrible,” he said as he sloshed my beverage from bottle to glass. I was the designated driver that night, of course, why else would I be asking for non-alcoholic beer? I wasn’t pregnant, for sure, nor am I a recovering alcoholic!
Ten years ago, that was about as far as a conversation about low and non-alcoholic beers – the ‘low/no’ or ‘near-beer’ market – would extend. And that particular landlord’s evaluation was shared by many.
Taste, or lack of it, has been something of a stumbling block for this niche market until relatively recently. Non-alcoholic beers were largely bland, gassy and insipid – and many still are.
At the turn of the millennium, the UK market was dominated by Kaliber – from the mighty Guinness company – which in 2001 had a reported 68% share of the low/no market (beers of 0.5% ABV or lower).
How times have changed. Today, every major global beer brand has its low/no offshoot: there’s Beck’s
Taste, or lack of it, has been a serious stumbling block for this niche market until recently
Blue, Budweiser Prohibition Brew, Carlsberg Zero and Heineken 0.0, for example, while Guinness has recently launched Open Gate Pure Brew after two years of trials. It's a ‘full-flavoured’ lager with ‘fruity aromas, a hint of citrus flavour and a smooth, malty finish’.
Smaller German and Czech breweries have been doing it well for a while, and the craft beer movement is also tapping into the trend. Nanny State, first brewed in 2009, is Brewdog’s evidence that ‘alcoholfree doesn’t have to mean taste-free’. It has ‘huge hoppy aromas and flavours… and almost no alcohol to speak of’, says the Scottish brewery. It is its fourth highest-selling beer with 2017 sales at £3.3million – a 134% increase from 2016.
Big Drop Brewing Co., meanwhile, is among a handful of breweries focused just on alcohol-free beers. Co-founder Rob Fink, formerly a city lawyer, says: “I realised there was a serious shortage of alcohol-free
Pictured: Mikkeller's Mikkel Borg Bjergso