Have you been hearing the terms ‘alcohol-free’, ‘non-alcoholic’ and ‘low alcohol’ a lot more recently? That probably has something to do with the fact that the alcohol-free drinks scene is on the rise. Not so long ago, alcohol-free options weren’t so easy to get a hold of, especially when out at your local bar. But in recent years the sector has really taken off. Want to learn more about the no, low and alcohol-free drinks scene? Here’s why you should be taking notice of the sector.
What are alcohol-free drinks?
Let’s start by debunking some of the terms associated with alcohol-free drinks, shall we? There’s more to the no and low alcohol drinks scene than just ‘alcohol-free’. In fact, there are three different terms you should know about. To start, let’s explore the term ‘alcohol-free’. It sounds pretty self-explanatory. Surely ‘alcohol-free’ means containing no alcohol, right? Well, yes that is the case sometimes, but there are specific exceptions to the rules.
In the UK, an alcohol-free drink means that it has to have an ABV (which means alcohol by volume) of 0.05% or lower. To put that into context, that means that an alcohol-free beer that’s 330ml could have anything up to 0.165ml of alcohol in it and still be classed as alcohol-free in the UK. Whereas, in the EU, the term alcohol-free can mean anything up to 0.5% ABV. This would mean that an alcohol-free beer that’s 330ml could contain up to 1.65ml of alcohol and still be classed as alcohol-free.
Low Alcohol Drinks
Another term that you might have heard of is ‘low alcohol’. And there’s a very clear difference between low alcohol and alcohol-free drinks. To be classed as being ‘low alcohol’, a drink has to have an ABV between 0.5% and 1.2%. To put this into context, this would mean that a 330ml can of low alcohol beer could have anywhere between 1.65ml and 3.96ml of alcohol in it to be classed as low alcohol. Anything higher than 1.2% ABV cannot be marketed as being low alcohol.
But what about the bit in-between?
Okay, so we’ve covered that alcohol-free is less than 0.05% and low alcohol is between 0.5% and 1.2% ABV. But what about the bit in-between the two? What do we call drinks that have more than 0.05% but less than 0.5% ABV? They’re called de-alcoholised drinks. And to be classed as this they need to have an ABV between 0.05% and 0.5%. So to put that back into the same context as the other drinks. A 330ml can of de-alcoholised beer can have anywhere between 0.165ml and 1.65ml of alcohol in it.
How Alcohol-Free Drinks Have Changed & Developed
Alright, so I’m not going to do a full deep-dive into the history of no, low and alcohol-free drinks, because nobody has time to read all of that. Plus…there actually isn’t really much of one! Instead, I wanted to highlight some of the most popular drinks and moments within the alcohol-free drinks scene from the last 100 years. Starting with this…
I know what you’re thinking…’TOMATO JUICE?! What is she on about??’. But hear me out, would ya? So, tomato juice was first served as a drink in 1917 as an alternative to orange juice. It was actually used simply because Louis Perrin, who worked at the French Lick Springs Hotel in Southern Indiana, ran out of orange juice for a drink he was making. He made it with tomato juice instead and the rest is history. Tomato juice went on to become really popular in the mid-1930s as a standalone drink, but I’m sure that most of us will know it for its use in a Bloody Mary cocktail (which is mostly made up of vodka and tomato juice along with a mix of herbs and spices).
The Bloody Mary is still a very popular classic cocktail to this day – but drinking tomato juice by itself… not so much! That being said, tomato juice is actually strangely popular on planes…which sounds absolutely bizarre, I know. But there’s a reason for it. So there have been a few studies into why tomato juice is so popular on planes and it turns out that basically exposure to loud noises, so for example jet engines, actually dulls our sensitivity to sweet flavours. However, it intensifies the umami taste that is present in tomato juice. So people say that tomato juice tastes better on flights!
Now for something that we would normally think of when we think of alcohol-free drinks options: Mocktails. In the 1980s, cocktails started to become more and more popular, and that has been something that has continued through to the 2000s and is still very much the case today. However, cocktails, obviously being alcoholic, isolated anyone who didn’t necessarily drink for whatever reason and left non-drinkers in a situation where there wasn’t much to drink. This resulted in the creation of mocktails – which is simply just an abbreviation for mock cocktails.
Mocktails are non-alcoholic drinks that are usually made up of a mix of fruit juices, syrups, herbs and spices. They were basically designed in response to the lack of visually and aesthetically pleasing alcohol-free drinks options. As soft drinks just don’t really have the same sort of appeal do they? They’re often thought of as a special occasion treat drink, in the same way that a cocktail is, but without the alcohol. So they can be enjoyed by all ages and all people. Now, you’ll see mocktails on pretty much every drinks menu that you come across in bars and restaurants.
One of the biggest events that links to the no, low and alcohol-free drinks scene is definitely Dry January. It’s an event that everyone is so familiar with now, but do you know when the first Dry January was introduced? In 2013. Not that long ago right? Set up by Alcohol Change UK, Dry January was created to encourage people to decrease their alcohol intake following the festive season. It started out with 4000 people taking the plunge to go alcohol-free in January 2013. In 2020, 100,000 people signed up to the Dry January app and 4 million people took part in Dry January. This year, 6 million people took part – so it’s only growing year on year. Is it something that you’ve taken part in before?
After Dry January raised awareness around alcohol-free drinks, more alcohol-free options started to pop up on the market. With a whole new popularity and appreciation for the alcohol-free drinks scene having appeared, it was only natural that the next step would be to start introducing the first alcohol-free only bars. These are often called temperance bars.
There are only a few alcohol-free bars that have opened in the UK, so there’s still a lot more that can be done. However, I thought it was worth highlighting some of the venues that exist/existed. The first was BrewDog AF in Old Street, London. It started off as a completely alcohol-free bar that served exclusively alcohol-free beers on draft. A great step towards putting AF options at the front of your venues, rather than just being tucked away in bottles at the back. But from what I can see, it now also has some classic beers on draft as well. So, it’s no longer an entirely alcohol-free bar.
Next up is Square Root Soda Bar which is in Seven Dialls Market, London. Their drinks are technically classed as soft drinks rather than alcohol-free but they make such a big point out of advertising their drinks as “made with as much effort as quality alcoholic drinks” that I thought they were worth a mention! Another venue worth mention is, again in London, Redemption. It’s a sort of vegan, health-focused, alcohol-free venue. Like BrewDog AF they started as a ‘no alcohol’ only venue but now have alcoholic options on their menu as well. Despite a few of them not maintaining their ‘alcohol-free only’ status, I do think each of these are all great examples of venues that are pioneers for the AF drinks scene. They’re offering some really brilliant alternatives to alcoholic drinks as well.
Lockdown Consumption of Alcohol-Free Drinks
As well as the development of mocktails and alcohol-free bars, I also wanted to highlight a more recent event that has impacted the no, low and alcohol-free drinks market. Yeah, you guessed it, lockdown. Whilst there is a lot of data that supports an increase in consumption of alcohol for those that usually drink during the pandemic, I wanted to focus on the impact that lockdown has had exclusively on the no, low and alcohol-free market.
Dry January was more popular than ever in 2021, with over 6 million people taking part in it. This is a 50% increase on last years stat of 4 million people taking part. Another key point to take notice of is that right before lockdown in March 2020, no, low and alcohol-free drinks sales increased by 32.5% as shoppers were stockpiling drinks for lockdown (toilet roll and alcohol-free beverages were obviously all the rage back then!). Since then, retail sales of no, low and alcohol-free drinks have increased by 30%. This is down to people focusing on improving their health and wellbeing in lockdown.
What no, low and alcohol-free drinks are out there?
If you’ve been following along with F O, then you’ll know that over the past year or so I’ve been getting really into the no, low and alcohol-free drinks scene. As you know, I’m someone who loves experimenting with cocktails and trying out new recipes. In recent years, I started to see that the non-alcoholic drinks market was really picking up, and starting to become more of a subject of interest amongst people who were into exploring drinks – and I wanted to find out more about it! I started trying out different brands and experimenting with mocktail recipes and comparing them back to their alcoholic counterparts. So, I thought I’d share a few of the drinks that I’ve come across and talk about what they’re actually like.
The first spirit that I wanted to highlight was actually a product of lockdown: Mockingbird Spirit. It’s an alcohol-free tequila that was developed and launched during lockdown last year. The company came about after its founder, Fern, noticed that there was a complete lack of alcohol-free tequila alternatives on the market. She took it upon herself to make her own tequila that had all the flavour of her favourite drink but with none of the alcohol. Mockingbird Spirit’s mission is to create a drink for people that love a good time but, for one reason or another, can’t drink or choose not to drink alcohol on their journey through life. It’s a brilliant alcohol-free spirit for serving with tonic and can be mixed into alcohol-free margaritas too!
Three Spirit Drinks
Next up is Three Spirit, a UK-based spirits company that makes non-alcoholic, plant-based and vegan drinks. All of their drinks have less than 0.5% alcohol. A big part of their brand is that they believe in celebrating what is added to their drinks rather than what is taken away. Which in this case would be the alcohol. And they’re setting out to prove that alcohol-free drinks can be really delicious, full of flavour and in some cases pretty healthy too.
They’re super passionate about the quality of their drinks and are committed to prioritising environmentally friendly methods in their work. They use plastic-free, recyclable packaging and all of their drinks are 100% vegan and cruelty-free. Their mission is to show the world that alcohol-free doesn’t necessarily have to mean pleasure free.
Even the UK’s favourite gin brand has created its own alcohol-free drink option…
There are so many great new brands out there that specialise in producing no, low and alcohol-free drinks options. But, it isn’t just brands that solely produce alcohol-free drinks that are making them. Some of the biggest alcohol brands are dipping their toes into the no, low and alcohol-free drinks market as well. Including the UK’s favourite gin brand: Gordon’s.
Gordon’s 0.0% Gin
Gordon’s have introduced their latest addition to their brand, the 0.0% Gin. As the name suggests this is a completely alcohol-free spirit and is made in the same way as a classic Gordon’s London Dry. Only without the alcohol of course. It’s got the classic juniper-led flavours of your usual Gordon’s and really holds its own when it comes to its taste. Seeing such a big name brand in the alcohol scene produce brilliant alcohol-free options is great to see!
As well as Gordon’s, plenty of other big-name brands have been trying their hand at making alcohol-free spirits. Tanqueray introduced their own 0.0% version of their classic London Dry Gin, Freixenet has a few 0.0% prosecco’s as part of their range which is brilliant. Kopparberg and Thatchers are also offering alcohol-free alternatives to their classic ciders.
What do you think is next for the alcohol-free drinks market?
Statistics from the spirit business suggest that by 2024, the no, low and alcohol-free drinks market will grow by 22% in the UK and by 34% globally. I’d personally love to see more dedicated alcohol-free bars pop up around the UK. I think it would definitely appeal to anyone who’s curious about the world of no, low and alcohol-free drinks! I’d also like to see more alcohol-free drinks options on draft in bars. If you like to drink a pint of lager, then a bottle of alcohol-free beer from their fridge isn’t going to compare to a draft pint is it? If there were more AF options on draft then maybe more people would choose them instead of their regular draft beer. Who’s with me?
What do you think is next for the alcohol-free drinks market? Is there anything specific that you’d like to see happen? Let me know in the comments. Also, I’d love to know what you think about this long-form, more research-heavy content. Is it something you’d like to see more of in the future?
Liked this? Check out my review of CleanCo’s alcohol-free CleanGin.