Opinion: Low-to-no-alcohol beer comes of age

By Sophie Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

Now you see it, now you don't: Adnams has produced an alcohol-free version of its much-lauded Ghost Ship
Now you see it, now you don't: Adnams has produced an alcohol-free version of its much-lauded Ghost Ship
Our beer writer takes a born-again approach to a once-reviled beer sub-sector.

What could be better than going for a few midweek pints and being able to get up the next day as if you’d only had water? Perhaps for licensees it might be a huge group of customers who’ve spent all day on the beer (and plenty of money), but leave quietly and respectfully thanks to the drinks in question being incredibly low ABV. 

I never imagined I’d find something positive to say about low-to-no-alcohol beers. I once turned down a request to write a ‘10-best’ type article on such brews, mostly because I’d never had one. A few years later I thought maybe I should do a piece, because more brewers were making them. But the ones I sampled were so godawful I couldn’t think of anything useful to write, other than, “Tastes dreadful - do not buy.” 

Last month though, things changed. Low-to-no suddenly tasted like beer, rather than malty water or sweet black tea with hops in. Two beers in particular stood out, of which more shortly, but ahead of that I’ll tell you of the night of Redemption that began to alter my opinion about beer that doesn’t go to your head. 

No, I haven’t been saved from the ‘wicked sin’ of drinking! I’m talking about the brewery of that name which makes a 3% light ale called Trinity. It’s been around for many years but I rarely get the chance to have it. Happily, when I recently met up with a pal, in a side street boozer near King’s Cross, there it was. There were several other good cask and keg options. But it was a blisteringly hot afternoon and here was this well-kept and tasty beer so suited to the occasion that there was no reason not to have ‘the same again’ each time one of us went to the bar. 

We talk a lot, my friend and I, so I lost count after about three pints and a cheeseboard. Yet I went home clear-headed and woke up next day feeling as fresh as a daisy - but also fully satisfied that I’d been out for some beers. 

Anytime Pale Ale

Imagine if there was something that good but even lower in alcohol. I didn’t think it was possible until I tried Gadds’ Anytime Pale Ale – aimed at being a low alcohol brew for beer lovers and shortly to be officially launched in cans. Head Brewer, John Stringer, is the man behind the 1.2% brew. I hope he’s feeling proud. It tastes every bit as good as something much stronger. Sure, it’s lighter in body than something with a higher ABV, but it has that all important balance, of both texture and flavour, that makes a beer worthwhile. 

Prior to this, I’d also had the chance to sample Adnams alcohol-free version of Ghost Ship, which is also quite an achievement. Side-by-side, you can tell the difference between the two. The 4.5% ABV standard version is fuller in body and offers a slight malty sweetness that the alcohol free lacks, but they are very close. When I offered some to my stepdaughter, (who enjoys a pale ale) without telling her what it was, she had no idea it was alcohol-free. 

What’s the point of it?

Of the Gadds’ beer, and doubtless the Adnams too, some old wag, of course, made a predictable quip along the lines of what’s the point of low-or-no-alcohol beer? Previously that wag would have been me. I asked the question on social media once, though, and got all sorts of sensible reasons that I’d never thought of such, as ‘good when pregnant’. But now the age has dawned of much lower alcohol brews actually tasting like beer I have reason to drink them. I loathe being drunk. 

I’m OK with a bit merry, and on the whole knowing when to stop is my modus operandi. But I also loathe it when the good times have to end. So an enjoyable beer, that tastes properly beery but has less alcohol in it, is basically genius. It could even be the first death knell for Dry January and its evil twin Go Sober for October. For me, it’s about pacing rather than replacing, for others it might be that lunchtime drink during work hours or simply needing to keep a clear head. Whatever the reasons, the good news is, low-to-no-alcohol beer has finally come of age. Given that people really do seem to be cutting back on the booze, this must be good news for pubs.

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