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
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
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
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

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis