No & Low Alcohol: it's all about choice

Image: Everleaf Drinks
When I first wrote about alcohol-free drinking in 2018, the range of drinks available was very limited. I updated that post a year later with some additional suggestions. The range of drinks now available is enormous, but you wouldn't know it from the bar of your local Punchspoons Pub Co., or in the aisles of  Waitbury's and Aldl. The most recent accurate figures for UK (ONS 2018) show that around 20% of adults do not drink alcohol at all. The figure is higher for the under-25s - 23%. You'd think, then, that one beer in every five would be an alcohol-free one, that pubs would carry more than one alcohol-free wine and that you could choose from several 'spirit' drinks.

Smaller, craft breweries seem to be leading the way in the field of low-alcohol beer. Perhaps this is the reason you don't see many in the big chains. The breweries seem to be waking up to this challenge, and we have seen big companies like Guinness and Heineken launch 0% brews this year. Heineken has even announced that pubs not serving their 0% lager on draught by 2024 will lose the right to serve draught Heineken at all.

Image: Alcohol Free Drinks Co
Most of the drinks distributers are part- or wholly-owned by the brewing companies, so the appearance on the market of a specialist distributer of alcohol-free drinks is a significant move. I met with the owner, Andy Mee to find out more about his range of drinks and his philosophy. He carries a Kaliber beer mat from the 1980s in his pocket, to remind him of what life was like when there was only one beer available to non-drinkers. It was sweet and insipid, and not something to encourage you to have a second glass. Andy says that his main aim is to give consumers choice. "I don't care if you're not drinking because your driving, pregnant or just not in the mood. Everyone has their own reasons for wanting a non-alcoholic drink. I don't drink at all, but I'm not here just for the teetotallers: I want to offer something to the occasional and the semi-regular abstainer, too. We shouldn't see drinking something without alcohol as an unusual choice." 

Image: Alcohol Free Drinks Co
That last sentence really resonated with me. We seem to live in an all-or-nothing culture: if we deplore Dali's support of Franco, we're expected to deplore his art; if we admire Churchill's leadership in the War, we're expected to ignore his views on race; if we enjoy alcohol, we're made to feel we should dislike all alcohol-free. Life simply isn't like that, and it was refreshing to hear a staunchly pro-alcohol-free supplier embracing all shades of choice about drinking and socialising. Dry January has its merits, and total abstinence is a lifesaver for many, but we'd all be better off making regular alcohol-free choices throughout the year, and that can only happen if those drinks are there to choose; there in our homes, our favourite bars and the restaurants we patronise. Nobody will ever convince me lemonade goes well with a prawn Jalfrezi, but I'd happy have an alcohol-free IPA if one were available.

I tried some of the products Andy sells, with the Beloved, who is keeping a dry January this year. The Beloved was a fan of the Bavarian Helles Lager from Nirvana brewery. It's clean and crisp and contains  less than 0.3% alcohol. I found it tasted slightly like goji berries. That's not unpleasant, just not what I expect of a lager. I much preferred the extra-hoppy UNLTD IPA. This one has a good, citrus tang from American hops on a malty foundation. The bitterness is just what I want from a refreshing beer. It contains less than 0.5% alcohol (about the same as a ripe banana) and is also low-calorie and gluten-free. We also tried a bottle of Smashed Cider from Drynks Unlimited. This was the best of the three. It has all the flavour of a good English cider, but less than 0.05% alcohol. You'd have to drink over 2,000 litres to consume just one unit of alcohol!

Image: Teetotaller Wines

Andy is the sole UK importer of Teetotaller Wines. These are Spanish table wines that have been de-alcoholised. There are flavouring compounds in wine that can only be created through fermentation, and alcohol-free wines have always been a bit of a disappointment to me. However, these are real, fermented wines with the alcohol (but not the volatile, aromatic compounds) removed. The red is something you'd happily drink at a barbecue with grilled meats.

Since I last wrote about alcohol-free drinking, there have been developments for some of the other drinks I've championed. Crodino aperitivo is now available in UK wholesalers, making it much easier to buy. You will see it in many Italian restaurants, in bars and on Amazon. Everleaf non-alcoholic aperitif drink is now three drinks. Building on the success of their first drink, they have rebranded that one Everleaf Forest and launched two more: the citrus-sharp and savoury Everleaf Marine and the wonderfully aromatic Everleaf Mountain. All have won awards at the most recent International Wines and Spirits Challenge. They are now available in M&S stores, direct from the makers and in many bars up and down the country.

The Alcohol Free Drinks Company:

You can hear me talking to Paul Matthew, the creator of Everleaf drinks in my podcast:

Image: Everleaf Drinks


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