Alcohol-free taste test: Which soft drinks will stand up to an evening of sober sipping?

Luke Blackall and his panel find out

Christmas and New Year cheer is often synonymous with drinking alcohol. But what about those who don't or can't? Be it for health, pregnancy, religious, driving, or age reasons – or simply that they don't like the taste – more and more of us are choosing to forego the booze completely.

NHS research earlier this year showed that 18 per cent of all women and 10 per cent of men in the UK don't drink. Those figures are likely increase in January as many now choose to have a "dry" month after weeks of festive excess.

But for both the non-drinker, and the host of the non-drinker, it can be hard to come up with something that can be sipped at social events, beyond water and the obvious juices.

The classic sweet soft drinks not only get consumed faster than alcoholic drinks, but they also often leave you with a post-sugar-rush hangover you hadn't bargained for.

We brought together a selection of the increasing number of the non-alcoholic drinks on the market for a taste test. On the panel of tasters, we had Lisa Markwell, executive editor of this paper and, for the last two years, a non-drinker, and Freya Gibbs, who at 17 is not yet (legally) old enough to drink and finally your writer, a semi-professional partygoer, who prefers his drinks with alcohol to without.

It's worth noting that if you're after complete abstinence, it's important to check the labelling, as in some cases it's not possible to completely remove the alcohol, meaning that some "alcohol-free" drinks actually have an alcohol content, albeit of less than one percent by volume.

Beers and ciders

Non-alcoholic beer has long been a staple offering to non-drinkers who don't wish to feel left out. And today there is a wide range to choose from. Bitburger Drive was "convincing and creamy", if a little too frothy and metallic. Erdinger, meanwhile, advertises (in German) that it is vitamin-filled, calorie-reduced and, like sports drinks, isotonic. In fact, in 2007, Spanish researchers reported that low-alcohol beer can be better at re-hydrating the body after hard exercise than water.

Despite the calorie-reduced credentials on its label, its bitter aroma gave way to a rather sweet finish.

Schneider Weisse was deemed "nicest of the beers" by Lisa, which was down to its smoothness and fine flavour. It was also judged to be a tipple that could last as long as its alcoholic counterpart. Dutch manufacturer Bavaria, meanwhile, produces three alcohol-free versions: a lager, a white beer and a shandy. It was the shandy that was a winner – extremely refreshing and moreish.

Also popular (with those of us old enough to drink) was Waitrose low-alcohol cider which, as it was just 1 per cent, was included in the test.

Lisa was struck by its "nice colour and aroma", and its authentically strong flavour meant that like the Schneider Weisse it was considered something that could be consumed at a steady pace over the evening.


It's very easy to dismiss alcohol-free wine as mere grape juice. But the first we tried, the Eisenberg Cabernet Sauvignon non-alcoholic red, from Waitrose, wasn't even as nice as grape juice. Its curious lack of aroma gave way to a weak, chemical flavour, and yet no aftertaste, and for a supposed "cabernet sauvignon", it lacked body, while Freya thought it "tasted like red wine vinegar". The store also sells a de-alcoholised Torres Natureo, which was on the other end of the spectrum in terms of quality. Drawing a full flavour from the muscat grapes, this was extremely appealing and felt much more like regular wine. Lisa suggested that you could serve this with desserts and people may not even notice they weren't drinking.


Feel Good drinks has a range of cocktail mixes made, say the bottles, from "fruit, water and no added sugar". And those who wish to switch from mocktail to cocktail can add a dash of the appropriate alcohol. The Mojito had an authentic lime flavour, but the mojito-ishness ends there. The panel also remarked on its rampant fizziness; it describes itself as "gently sparkling", though "ferociously bubbly" would perhaps be more appropriate.

The Buck's Fizz, meanwhile, was tangy at first sip, but there was little else to distinguish it, Freya said was like "orange juice mixed with fizzy water".

The others

Devon-based company Luscombe's produces several organic drinks, aimed to be a credible adult alternative to alcohol. And its Elderflower bubbly was just that. Everything from the colour to the taste to the level of carbonation was perfect. Fruity and yet not too sweet like some elderflower drinks, it was a hit with the whole panel.

Luscombe's Lime Crush, meanwhile, is suggested for cocktail drinkers as a sort of alternative to a margarita. Like a margarita, it packs a punch.

Unlike a margarita, however, it's not a punch you are necessarily looking for, that's if you can get past the cleaning-fluid aromas.

The East India Company produces a range of cordials aimed at grown-up non-drinkers, and which, according to manufacturers, are popular with Muslim drinkers. The attractive bottles resemble bath oil, and so do the flavours – Lavender, Hibiscus, Jasmine, Poppy, Violet and Rose. It took a while to mix the hibiscus syrup properly with water, and when we did it was a very sweet affair. "It's like flavoured water," said Freya, while Lisa pointed out that it would work well as a crème de cassis-style mixer for champagne.

The Jasmine, while similarly sweet, fared better, though Freya said that it tasted "a bit like Haribo".

After 20 years in the bar industry and some time as an alcoholic, Peter Spanton decided to create a range of tipples for the discerning adult drinker. All three we tried were remarkable drinks and unlike almost anything else. Mint and bitters, everyone agrees "smells like after dinner chocolates". Lisa adds "It tastes more like something you would eat than drink." The very fizzy cardamom has a tonic-water quality and a hint, says Freya, "of swimming pool chlorine".

The Lemongrass had a sour, food quality to it, and smells like smart hotels in the Far East.

Last up was Clayton's kola tonic, in its original incarnation, as a drink brewed from African kola nuts in London in the 1880s and used as a mixer for gin. Production and the name then moved to Australia, before the company was revived again recently in Barbados. Medicinal in both colour and aroma (Freya likens it to Calpol), it's a daunting prospect in the glass. Lisa said it's "quite fresh, and not over sweet", and it gets better with each sip.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

    ‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

    Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

    ... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
    12 best olive oils

    Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

    Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back