Fea­ture: Low/no al­co­hol beers

Sales of low and non-al­co­holic beer are sky­rock­et­ing, writes Andy Hoskins, but will the trend take-off on­board?

Onboard Hospitality - - Contents -

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

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