Speaking to The Morning Advertiser, Chris Hannaway, of Infinite Session, described current UK legislation as “functionally inappropriate”, and lashed out at the “fear mongering” surrounding the sale of 0.5% ABV beers.
Under current UK rules, only beers of 0.05% ABV can be labelled as ‘alcohol free’, while products with 0.5% ABV and less should be called ‘de-alcoholised’, despite the fact that many of these products have been formulated to that strength and do not have anything removed from them.
“We don't remove anything from our beer, we use what is called a restricted fermentation, and a combination of other methods to ensure that no more than 0.5% ABV is ever produced,” explained Hannaway. “Hence the de-alcoholised line is functionally inappropriate for us and a few of the others such as Big Drop and Nirvana, and obviously it isn't the most attractive line to consumers anyway.”
Drinks up to 0.5% ABV produced in Europe are allowed to be labelled and sold in the UK as alcohol free, something Hannaway believes is putting UK producers at a disadvantage.
Bar staff confusion
“In the EU and the US the descriptor for the 0.5% drinks is alcohol-free or non-alcoholic,” he says. “Products such as Erdinger can be labelled as alkohol-frei and sold over here under that tag, which puts us at a bit of a disadvantage.
“When we are speaking to bar staff it is clear that they are confused too, especially when they see something like an Erdinger that is labelled as alcohol-free. It is hard for them to know what they can and can't say about our product. What we're hoping to do is to get the Government to move things in line with producers in other nations.”
A consultation on low-alcohol descriptors has been launched by the Government to try to end confusion for producers and consumers, and Hannaway believes that moving legislation in line with Europe is the only acceptable conclusion.
“I can't see how, if they actually looked into it, they could come to a conclusion that is any different to ours,” he said. “Just look at the facts. If you look at the university research it is completely safe, and the only rational thing to do would be for us to align ourselves with the rest of the world.
“In Germany they have done a lot of extensive research for the likes of pregnant people and designated drivers and they have approved it as safe in both scenarios. A strength of 0.5% will not impact on your blood alcohol level in any significant way; it's negligible.”
Other brewers 'misleading the public'
Hannaway also hit out at other low- and no-alcohol drinks producers for resisting legislative change, suggesting that the likes of St Peter’s Brewery in Suffolk were misleading the public in an attempt to protect its own market share.
“Some of the other UK manufacturers like St Peter's don't want this to go through because they want to protect their own back yard,” he said. “In the case of St Peter's they have stooped quite low and used metaphors that are completely inappropriate.
“You can get alcohol in trace form in loads of everyday foods, from bananas to bread and yoghurt. They are purely looking to ringfence the market and stop the innovation that is happening in the category at the moment.”
Responding to Hannaway’s comments, St Peter’s Brewery CEO Steve Magnall described labelling a 0.5% ABV beer as alcohol free as “incorrect, misleading and, frankly, downright dangerous”.
“I've worked with alcohol awareness charities in the past and seen the damage alcohol can do,” he said. “For those who can't drink for personal reasons, or indeed health reasons, the possibility of consuming a drink that falsely claims it contains zero alcohol could have terrible implications for those who are vulnerable. For a recovering alcoholic, or those who can't drink for health reasons, even a tiny amount of alcohol can have immense repercussions.
“If labelling is being changed we need clarity, not false statement. Its common sense; the public should be given all the information to make an informed choice whether it be for health, medical or addiction reason.”