Low-alcohol beers show their true calibre

Forget the watered-down stuff of the Eighties, today's 'small' brews taste as good as the real thing

Low-alcohol beer – long shunned for tasting worse than slops, and with no pleasurable after-effects – is becoming increasingly popular with the health conscious.

Sales are up more than 40 per cent nationwide over the last year and supermarkets are rushing to stock more varieties, encouraged by tax breaks on beers containing 2.8 per cent alcohol or less. What's more, new low-booze beer tastes just as good as some beers with more alcohol, according to recent tests by the Campaign for Real Ale.

Neil Williams, spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association, said brewers hope these beers will attract female drinkers and appeal to the health conscious: "Lower-alcohol beers appeal to those concerned about calorie intake, as half a pint of lower-strength beer will contain approximately 60 calories." By comparison, a standard strength lager has more than 100 calories. Beer also contains silicon, which protects against the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, he added.

Brewers have been encouraged to launch low-alcohol beers since the introduction last October of a tax break of 50 per cent on beer containing 2.8 per cent alcohol or less – a tax saving of 35 pence a pint compared with 4.2 per cent beer. Carlsberg's Skol has dropped from 3 per cent to 2.8 per cent, to take advantage of the tax break, while Carling Zest, also at 2.8 per cent, hit supermarket shelves a fortnight ago. Guinness Mid, Tolly English Ale, Heracles, Sweet Sussex Stout and Marston's Pale Ale have all been launched since the autumn.

Liz Wright, spokesperson for Hop Back Brewery, which makes Heracles beer, said: "It is doing exceptionally well, and we have introduced it in more than 100 pubs since October."

Tesco, which sold 15 million bottles of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beer last year, and is predicting a 15 per cent rise this year, has added 11 beers of 2.8 per cent or lower strength to their range.

The company's beer buyer, Chiara Nesbitt, said: "More and more drinkers are prepared to buy lower-alcohol beers as long as the quality is good. The growth, particularly for non-alcohol beers, is remarkable, as they were previously frowned upon by drinkers who considered them thin and tasteless compared to the real thing."

Sainsbury's beer buyer, Nicky Millington, said: "If sales continue to increase, we'll be on the lookout for more lower-alcohol beers to satisfy customer demand."

Rupert Ponsonby, founder of the Beer Academy, said: "This category appeals to everyone, men and women, people who do not drink at lunchtime but would like to, and those who have cut back on their drinking." He predicts that Britain will soon catch up with countries such as Australia, where 10 per cent of the market is for beer at two per cent alcohol or below.

But Melissa Cole, author of Let Me Tell You About Beer, said: "You are always going to get more flavour from higher-alcohol beers, because you have to put more raw ingredients in to get more alcohol out, and malt provides a lot of that flavour. There's also a viscosity to alcohol, so the mouth-feel is different. But some brewers are making extremely refreshing lower-alcohol beers."

How small beers grew up

For those who crave a beer, but don't want the alcohol, low-booze versions used to be a bitter disappointment.

"Small" beers – low and no-alcohol brews – were often watered-down full-strength varieties, or had the alcohol extracted from them ... along with the taste. Who can forget Kaliber, launched in 1986, with its trademark stale taste, dismissed by Which? as "bitter and unrefreshing".

Follow-ups included Hemeling, advertised by the late English football captain Emlyn Hughes, with the tag line – answered only in the negative – "Wouldn't you rather be Hemeling?". As the low-alcohol beer market contracted by a third in the 1990s, to £38m, it seemed the brews had no future.

But new brewing methods mean no more dilution or alcohol extraction: the beers are brewed like any others, but with less malt, leading to less sugar and thus less alcohol.

Suggested Topics
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?