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Low & No Alcohol

Discover everything on the growing phenomenon that is low and no alcohol, from types of low and no beverages to key serves.

Estimated reading time: minutes

In recent years as socialising occasions continue to evolve, and people choose to be more mindful about what and how they drink, what was once seen as a trend toward low and no alcohol cocktails is now undoubtedly here to stay. Consumers are seeking alternatives that provide the pleasure of a drink without the effects of traditional alcoholic serves. This shift has sparked a wave of innovation in the drinks industry, leading to the creation of a diverse range of enticing options that cater to different tastes and occasions.

Rise of a New Lifestyle Choice

According to a study by GlobalData, the global market for low and no alcohol beverages is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 8% from 2020 to 2025.  With such compelling statistics and a plethora of innovative examples entering the market; it's evident that this category is more than just a passing phase but a reflection of evolving consumer preferences. 

Manufacturers have stepped up to the challenge by crafting innovative options that go beyond merely replicating the flavours of traditional alcoholic beverages. Low and no alcohol drinks now encompass a wide array of options, including alcohol-free beers, alcohol-free wines, ready-to-drink cocktails, botanical-infused low alcohol spirits, and even alcohol-free spirits. These alternatives offer a new realm of taste experiences while ensuring individuals can enjoy the camaraderie of sharing drinks with friends and family.

Types of Low & No Alcohol Beverages

In the UK, a no alcohol (alcohol-free) drink is a beverage containing less than 0.05% ABV while across Europe and in the USA, alcohol-free means anything under 0.5% ABV.  It is important to be clear that the term is not used to describe soft drinks or fruit juices (known as non-alcoholic drinks) but instead to products that sit in the realm of alcoholic beverages. Broadly, there are three types of Low/No drinks but worth checking the legislation in your market to ensure you have the correct information.

1. Alcohol Free (Zero Alcohol) 

There is market difference but brands that are labelled with 0.0% would have alcohol content at less than 0.05% ABV. Examples include Gordon’s 0.0% and Tanqueray 0.0%. Many modern non-alcoholic beers would fall into this category including Guinness 0.0 %.

2. Low Alcohol 

According to Drinkaware UK, drinks that are between 0.5% to 1.2% ABV are considered low alcohol.  

3. Mid-Proof 

Not a legal definition but mid-proof drinks range from 10 to 30% ABV. A popular choice with those trying to strike a balance between enjoying the moment in a social setting and monitoring their alcohol intake. Smirnoff Infusions (23% ABV) and Ketel One Botanical (30% ABV) are examples and good alternatives to their full-strength counterparts. 

How Are They Made?

Although alcohol-free beers (and wines) have been around for quite some time, the science behind creating the necessary flavour, texture and body with the alcohol is still a work in progress, but a nascent industry that is seeing a rapid technological leap due to growing demand for alcohol-free drinks.  However, any technical advancement at the moment would most likely be kept as a trade secret. 

There are various degrees of challenges (e.g., taste of final product, costs) in the production of low and no alcohol beverages.  While is relatively easier to make mid-proof spirits, alcohol-free or low alcohol beers and ‘spirits’ is another matter altogether.

Alcohol-free Beers

There are two overarching methods for making alcohol-free beers: 

1. Prevent formation of alcohol during fermentation 

  • By withholding yeast and hence not fermenting the brew.
  • Limited or arrested fermentation (by adjusting the amount of sugar, lowering temperature).
  • Using special yeast that produces no or low alcohol.  

2. Remove alcohol from full brewed, alcoholic beer (De-alcoholisation) 

  • Distillation (boiling off alcohol).
  • Vacuum distillation (happens at lower temperatures, and affects taste less).
  • Membrane filtration (to filter alcohol).
  • Reserve Osmosis (a more complex method of filtration requiring investments in equipment but offers better results).

Low Alcohol / Alcohol-free ‘Spirits’

Making a low alcohol or alcoholic-free ‘spirit’ proves difficult because Alcohol (specifically ethanol) is a powerful solvent, capable of absorbing, hold and preserve the delicate oils and volatile molecules from herbs, spices, and fruits far more efficiently than water.  

According to our friends at Seedlip, each botanical is individually macerated and mixed with grain alcohol, which extracts the flavourful compounds in the plants. Next, a portion of the alcohol is distilled off with the flavour molecules in tow. This distillate is distilled again, at precisely the right temperatures to pull away the alcohol, while leaving much of the flavour intact. The flavourful compounds are then filtered and mixed with water. 

The process may sound simple enough, but it calls for specialised equipment and distillation (such as Vacuum distillation), higher quantities of botanical where water extraction is utilised and generally more time and effort to produce.  Hence, low alcohol and alcohol-free ‘spirits’ tend to command a price that is close to (or sometimes exceeding) full-strength spirits. 

The Future

As the low and no alcohol movement continues to grow, it's clear that it's more than just a passing fad. Consumers are embracing these beverages not only for personal well-being but also for the freedom to enjoy a night out or a relaxing evening at home without the impact of alcohol. As the industry continues to evolve, it's clear that the future is vibrant for those seeking a balance between enjoyment and well-being.