Review: Alcohol-free and low alcohol beer

Andrew Misell | March 2018 | 9 minutes

Alcohol-free and low alcohol drinking used to have a (deservedly) bad reputation. But all that is changing.

Far from a token alternative to the ‘real’ version, newer products are increasingly viewed as great drinks in their own right. A stout by the low alcohol brewer Big Drop even won Silver in the World Beer Awards against full strength challengers.

So if you fancy a great beer without the booze, here are five of our favourite options.

Pistonhead Flat Tyre

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per can: 66 (20 per 100ml)

Score: 4 out of 5

Pistonhead

The alcohol-free section in Tesco just grows and grows, and one beer that’s reached the shelves is this one from Sweden.

Brutal Brewing was set up just a few years ago, and this 0.5% lager is a bold move by a new and innovative brewer. They’ve been selling Flat Tyre for a while at 4.5% and are now aiming to give us something with all the same flavour but a lot less alcohol.

With its Mexican-looking flaming skull motif, this has to be the most hipster 0.5% beer around.

It pours well, with a head that hangs around. It’s a little bit cloudy with a nice golden hue. As for the taste, you’d be hard-pushed to know this is a low alcohol beer. The bitterness of hops is what comes through most of all. So it won’t be to everyone’s liking, but if you’ve enjoyed Innis & None or Nanny State you should probably give this one a go too.

Leeds Brewery OPA

ABV: 0.0%

Calories per bottle: 66 (20 per 100ml)

Score: 5 out of 5

Leedsopa

The Leeds Brewery are relative newcomers to the world of beer, having set up shop in 2007, but that doesn't seem to be holding them back. This new OPA is one of nearly twenty beers they produce, and it's one of the best alcohol-free beers we've had.

Two years in the making, this traditional English pale ale is just delicious. It's a bit hoppy and pretty malty, but not too much of either. And it looks great too, with a lovely caramel colour. The whole brand and bottle design has obviously been well thought out. Like all Leeds Brewery beers, it has its own unique imagery - in this case an art deco sunrise over the sea. You're not going to feel embarrassed standing in the pub with one these in your hand.

OPA is available in the Leeds Brewery's six pubs, and hopefully in lots of other pubs and shops soon!

Big Drop Chocolate Milk Stout

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per bottle: 155 (47 per 100ml)

Score: 5 out of 5

Bigdrop

Picking a beer is a matter of taste, and we don’t all agree on what’s tasty. For some, stout is nasty stuff, like burnt toast in a glass. For others, it’s a taste-bud adventure on a highway of delicious roastiness. Since sales of dark beers are on the up these days, it seems that more of us are leaning towards the second of these two positions…which is good news for Rob Fink.

Back in 2015, Rob decided to give up alcohol, and went on a scout for decent alcohol-free beers. Like most of us, he didn’t have much luck. So he decided to make his own. Working in partnership with Johnny Clayton, formerly of Wild Beers in Somerset, the first fruit of their labours, this chocolate milk stout, was launched in 2016.

“Sorry?” we hear you say, “A beer made from chocolate milk?” Not quite. It turns out that milk stout is called milk stout because it’s made with lactose, the sugar you get in milk. As for the chocolate, that’s a type of dark roasted malt; although this beer also does have coacoa nibs (crushed coacoa beans) in it, to make it extra chocolaty.

Of all the alcohol-free and low alcohol beers we’ve tasted, this the one mostly likely to leave you wondering whether you’ve just knocked back a regular beer by mistake. Whatever depth of flavour beers normally get from alcohol, this one gets from somewhere else. Maybe it’s the coacoa nibs. Maybe it’s the fact that it hasn’t been brewed and de-alcoholised; it’s been made just like an ordinary beer but has only got to 0.5% ABV. However they do it, it’s a triumph.

The only draw-back with this beer is the price, at £26.99 for 12 bottles from Dry Drinker. As sales go up, hopefully the price will come down.

Heineken 0.0

ABV: 0.0%

Calories per bottle: 69 (21 per 100ml)

Score: 4 out of 5

Heineken

When Heineken launched their first ever alcohol-free beer in March 2017, with a £2.5 million marketing campaign, it was a sure sign that the 'dry' drinks market is one the big players are taking seriously. Heineken are making a big push to get their new beer out to pubs and bars. Like Carlsberg 0.0 it comes in a smart bottle that cries out, "Drink me while you're watching the footy on the big screen!". It's also one of a selection of beers that have made the cut in the excellent new alcohol-free section in major Tesco supermarkets.

Like Erdinger and FitBeer, Heineken are also hoping to attract health-conscious young consumers who are drinking less or abstaining all together, and the bottle has some very comprehensive nutrition information on the back.

Gerard Heineken and his descendants have been brewing beer in Amsterdam since 1864, so we'd like to think they know what they're doing by now. This new beer suggests that they certainly do. The company says that the initial response to Heineken 0.0 has been "overwhelmingly positive" with a "strong preference" for their beer over other zero-alcohol brews. It's not hard to see why. It looks, smells and tastes like a great lager. It pours well, with a nice colour and a decent head, and it has none of the unpleasant aftertaste that mars so many other zero-alcohol beers. At least 4 out of 5, we say.

Innis & None

ABV: 0.0%

Calories per can: 62 (19 per100ml)

Score: 4 out of 5

Innis

Founded in 2003, Edinburgh brewers Innis & Gunn are famous for little bottles of strong beer, up to 7.4% ABV. So we had to take note when they launched a 0.0% pale ale for the 2017 Dry January market.

Given the range of flavours Innis & Gunn have introduced to beer drinkers – rum, whisky, toasted oak – this one was bound to have something unusual about it. It’s hoppy, that’s for sure, but there’s more to it than that – a nice citrus bite, a lemony flavour that’s nothing like the shandiness of, say, Becks Blue Lemon. It’s got a depth of flavour you’ll struggle to find in most alcohol-free beers, and is a worthy competitor to its fellow-Scot, BrewDog’s Nanny State.

Like Bavaria 0.0% and Cobra Zero, this beer never had any alcohol in it, and can justly claim to be totally alcohol-free. It’s also a source Vitamin C, but we wouldn’t rely on it in preference to, say, fresh fruit and veg.

Innis & Gunn are currently marketing it as a “limited edition”, with no firm plans to make it a permanent part of their range. That may change, of course, if it’s a big seller. If you want to grab a can or two before it gets to be a rarity, it’s one of a selection of beers that have made the cut in the alcohol-free section in major Tesco supermarkets.