BE FREE OF ALCOHOL
BUT NOT FREE OF FLAVOUR
rather suave-looking man walks into a pub with a friend and asks for a non-alcoholic beer. The friend is a touch portly, with ruddy cheeks and says, ‘No go on, have a proper drink!’ After the handsome gent replies in the negative, our boozehound replies. ‘Have something else!’ to which a pack of peanuts are ordered.
This was a TV ad back in the day when low-alcohol beers were just in their infancy and we have come a long way in flavour, social acceptance and branding. The choices now are myriad and advertisers no longer have to persuade drinkers that they won’t be jeopardising their pub cred just because they’re not on the sauce!
We have a more ‘mature market’ (as marketing agencies might call it) where giving up alcohol for a bit is the new norm. Whether you have completed ‘Dry January’ (well done by the way!) or just want something that tastes like a ‘proper’ drink and don’t want the alcohol, then the beer world has got you covered. The total unacceptability of drink-driving has also been a game-changer over the last decade. There is a classic 1970s ad campaign that advised drinkers who were driving to think twice before having that 5th pint!! Thank the beer Gods that doesn’t happen anymore!
A bottle of Budvar Nealko is a welcome sight in the fridge behind the bar for those of us who have to get behind the wheel.
Low and no
here and now
ow and no alcohol drinks have been on the rise in recent years. Millennials drink far less than their predecessors and are far more inclined to avoid alcohol than any other age group. 61% of UK consumers want better choices when it comes to non-alcoholic drinks and 59% order non-alcoholic drinks on a night out when they are consuming alcohol.1 This all adds up to one thing: a pub or bar needs some decent choices to keep their customers happy. The reasons for buying alcohol free really matter anymore. The important thing for brewers is that when they make the booze-free selection, the drink of choice can, and should, be beer.
“Grown-up” soft drinks have been leading the charge over the last ten years; alcohol-free wine is still in the starting gates in terms of public acceptance and quality is a bit mixed at best. Spirits such as Seedlip are currently in growth and are looking to appeal to a ‘sophisticated’ market. There is plenty of room for quality, flavourful and balanced beers to find a home in the healthy hearts of those that find a need for a beer sans alcohol.
Where is the flavour?
here have been a few mainstream low or no alcohol beers, mostly lagers, around for a good few years but I, for one, got bored of a rather generic, watery taste that did little to inspire me to stick to my ABV-free guns.
Recently on the back of the craft beer movement have come a number of specialty ‘low and no’ alcohol brewers who have taken the time to develop beers with substance. Innovative brewers have tried to add flavour, body and depth to their beers, rather than simply taking the alcohol away regardless of the impact. Some notable successes have come from brewers like Infinite Sessions as well as Big Drop Brewing. Both of these brewers focus mainly, but not exclusively, on ales that have the natural allies of punchy American hop varieties for pale ales and IPAs as well as roast and cara-malts for other, maltier styles. These beers are balanced, flavoursome, alcohol free and have found their way into many fridges as a regular option.
I have found an alcohol-free pale, crisp lager a little harder to find over the years. The mainstream brands are often all too watery and insipid. When you take the alcohol away from a rather light intensity beer, what does it leave? On many occasions the answer is not very much!
Budvar Nealko may have been available closer to its home for a while but it’s been a bit under the radar here in the UK. To brew a great Czech lager without the 5% ABV of its classic sibling is no easy task. Budvar Original is the epitome of a well-made, balanced and flavoursome classic golden lager. Budvar Nealko can be no pale reflection. This booze-free beer shows the same classic Saaz character from whole-cone hops , Moravian barley, artesian well water and importantly for me, it doesn’t lack in the body department! At 0.5% ABV, in many countries around the world it would be considered alcohol-free, but in the UK beers don’t get that label unless they are 0.05% ABV or below, which is funny because many fruit juices we drink every morning actually naturally have around 0.5% alcohol in them and I bet you never even knew!
Known-brand alcohol-free beers get judged on one criterion. Does it taste like its full-strength version? If the flavour impact doesn’t add up to a mound of malt, then it’s a failure. Simple as that. Budvar Nealko is made with the same attention to detail as any other beer that finds its way out of the brewery in České Budějovice (That’s Budweis by the way!) into our pubs and bars and can hold its crown-capped head up high.
If you need a taste of the real deal but need to keep a level head (maybe you’re operating heavy machinery or have an exam in the morning – who knows?) you don’t need to settle for a pale imitation of your favourite brew. Oh, and by the way, no one is giving you a funny look anymore!
1.CGA – Non-Alcoholic Drinks Report, May 2019