Reporter Charlie Bullough looks at how a once reviled part of the beer market is on the up.
Not so long ago alcohol free beers were derided by drinkers. Go back a few years and the choice was thin and - some would say - so was the taste.
But now a new generation of hoppy and flavoursome alcohol free ales are on the market and demand is growing.
Brewing giant AB In Bev aims to make a fifth of its sales from low or no-alcohol beer by 2025. British brewers like Adnams have also seen a surge in sales of its alcohol free Ghost Ship. While a trip to your local supermarket also reveals a plethora of choice of ‘low or no’ alcohol beer.
Fergus Fitzgerald, head brewer at Adnams, thinks there are number of factors driving the boom.
He said: “Younger people are not drinking as much alcohol. They are more health conscious. Even people who do, drink less. The general view was if you were not drinking alcohol and were on a night out, the choices were pretty uninspiring and pretty sweet. If you were looking for a substitute for beer then the choice wasn’t great and, historically, the flavour wasn’t.
But now you can produce pretty good beers in ‘low or no’.”
Adnams launched its 0.5 per cent version of Ghost Ship earlier this year and demand has been high. Mr Fitzgerald said: “I get more emails about Ghost Ship alcohol free than about anything else. I think people are relieved to find an
alcohol free beer which tastes of beer.”
He uses a process called “reverse osmosis” - a series of filters done at a cold temperature - which takes all the alcohol out and keeps the flavour in.
Award-winning travel and beer writer Adrian TierneyJones has also witnessed the alcohol free beer sector grow.
He said: “I think it is going to be an important part of the beer industry in the coming years. Younger people are drinking less and there is more of a sense of mindful drinking - people thinking ‘I don’t want to go out and get lathered’.”
The journalist has written about the trend for drinks industry magazine Imbibe.com in which he quotes success stories like St Peter’s Without, Big Drop’s Sour and Nirvana Brewery’s Cosmic Stout.
He said: “The alcohol free beers are definitely becoming more tasty, partly due to the technology.”
The beer writer also pointed to developments overseas, adding: “German breweries are making some fabulous low alcohol beers.
They do sell them as isotonic drinks to have after sport.”
Mr Tierney-Jones pointed to German footballers celebrating with an alcohol free beer after a title win and reports of German chancellor Angela Merkel supping such beers. He added: “It’s quite a strong part of the market there and they are selling as isotonic drinks to replenish the body after exercise.”
Low alcohol beer also has the backing from the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).The beer organisation had a low alcohol beer its Great British Beer Festival 2018 for the first time in the event’s 41-year history.
Braxzz’s alcohol free porter went down a storm at the event in London in August and drew positive reviews from festivalgoers. CAMRA’s communications
chief Tom Stainer said: “People were really surprised about the amounts of flavour you got in a low alcohol beer.”
He thinks the burgeoning alcohol free beer market will to help create a wider choice for drinkers, adding: “I’ve seen an increase in pubs offering one or two low alcohol beer in bottles. It’s all part of the great range of choice
consumers have in the beer market. The market has excellent beer and brewers have responded to consumers.
I think it’s a good time to be enjoying good beer.”