Weak beer has historically not fared well with the traditional British drinker. For some, it is not flavoursome enough. For others, it simply does not contain enough booze. But that may be about to change when, from October, low-alcohol beer gets quite a bit cheaper.
When in March the Chancellor announced a 50 per cent duty reduction on beers of 2.8 per cent alcohol by volume or less, many breweries began experimenting with weaker beers in anticipation of a price-driven surge in popularity. The tax cut could make weaker beers 50p a pint cheaper than their higher-strength counterparts.
Making flavoursome beer with low alcohol content is a difficult task, but the results of a blind taste survey conducted at the Campaign for Real Ale's Great British Beer Festival in London this week are encouraging. A panel of eight experienced beer tasters, buyers and brewers were asked to rank six beers, ranging in strength from 2 to 3.5 per cent, in order from highest to weakest.
The collated results placed Brodie's Stout as the second strongest. In fact it was the weakest, at 2 per cent.
Camra's survey also concluded that 52 per cent of drinkers would consume a lower-strength beer if it were available in their local. Among the tasting panel, all said they would drink a low-alcohol beer if it were 50p cheaper.
Micro brewers such as Brodie's in London's East End will not benefit from the tax cut, as their small size already qualifies them for 50 per cent relief. But the country's biggest breweries are exploring the marketplace.
Fuller's, the London brewery which produces London Pride and also runs 361 pubs across the UK, has been developing a 2.8 per cent beer and is close to a breakthrough.
"It's certainly a challenge," said John Keeling, Fuller's head brewer. "Alcohol content comes from the malt. The more malt you use, the more alcohol content you have, and malt gives flavour. If you want to brew a weak beer, you can't use lots of malt." Fuller's is holding another tasting trial next week for its 2.8 per cent beer. According to Mr Keeling, the growing market for weaker beer is not just because it is cheaper."People want to drink different strength drinks at different times of day. With lunchtime drinking increasingly frowned upon, drinkers want a weaker beer with their lunch than they would after work or at home."
Lower-strength beers are less calorific, and better for one's health. But they are not entirely risk free. "It's a great idea to reduce tax on 2.8 per cent beers, but there's a danger there too," said Derek Moore, brewer at Glasgow's Kelburn brewery. "There's a big difference between low-alcohol and no-alcohol beers. You can't drink six pints of 2 per cent beer and drive home."