10 best alcohol-free beers
Not drinking this January – or beyond? Don't miss out on that ice cold beer with this (virtually) booze-free selection
Lots of people are cutting their alcohol consumption, for dry January, sober October or simply by becoming “sober-curious” (those questioning their relationship with alcohol) as Britain moves away from a booze-based social culture.
And with that change, more and more brewers are rising to the challenge of creating alcohol-free beers that taste authentically, well, beery – Greene King’s Old Speckled Hen and Peroni’s Libera are two of the newest brews (unavailable for testing for this feature) and alcohol-free sales are on the up.
“Alcohol-free” or “low-alcohol” beer labelling is complicated. A recent UK review defines it as under 0.05% alcohol by volume (ABV), while in the rest of Europe it’s 0.5% ABV.
For this taste test, we’ve set the bar at 0.5% or lower. (Some fruit and juices can be 0.5%!) To hit the mark, brewers can prevent alcohol forming during brewing, or remove it afterwards by heat or filtration.
Our testers’ taste is varied, and so our favourites reflect a range of styles, assessed on aroma, taste and “near-beerness”.
And the beauty of alcohol-free beers, as our testers happily realised, is that you can swallow after you sip, and still read your tasting notes.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Thornbridge Big Easy, 0.5%, £16 for 12 x 330ml, Thornbridge
Launched last summer, this pale ale hails from the Peak District, and is the brewery’s first alcohol-free option. A golden glassful with a decent head, it gives off citrussy, melony, peachy scents, thanks to its American Amarillo and Cascade hops. On the palate, it feels authentically alcoholic and tastes dry and refreshing with a long-lasting, bitter-edged finish.
Big Drop Citra 4 Hop Special Edition Pale Ale, 0.5%, £11.35 for 6 x 330ml, Dry Drinker
Citra hops are known for conferring a citrussy, floral aroma, and lime is also listed in the ingredients, so hints of zesty lemon and elderflower here aren’t unexpected. As you’d expect from a brewery dedicated to making brews of 0.5% and under, it’s full-bodied with a very dry finish, this pale bears comparison with its boozy cousins, and one which we see as a real session ale.
BrewDog Raspberry Blitz, 0.5%, £1.85 for 1 x 330ml, BrewDog
Some sour ales can be as mouth-puckering as sucking on a lemon, but this is tongue-tinglingly tart, with a crisp fresh raspberry taste. Inspired by the brand’s Berliner Weisse, which uses the swift kettle-sour technique, it’s light, juicy and refreshing. Fans of fruit beer would find this easy to swallow.
Adnams Ghost Ship, 0.5%, £1 for 500ml bottle, Tesco (until 21/1/19, then £1.30)
This was so close to the 4.5% version that one of our testers had to check which was in the glass! As you drink this rich golden pale that’s fragrantly hoppy with a citrus tang, the foamy froth clings to the glass – this residue is known as ‘lacing’ – in a convincing fashion. Brewed in the usual way, the alcohol is then removed by reverse osmosis, as Fergus Fitzgerald, head brewer at Adnams, explains: ‘This removes most of the alcohol via a permeable membrane under pressure and a low temperature. It’s all very high tech magic.’
Mikkeller Racing Beer, 0.3%, £2.59 for 1 x 330ml, Wise Bartender
That’s not just a cute logo; Danish brewery Mikkeller runs a worldwide running club where participants rehydrate with a free beer. Racing Beer claims to be “hypotonic” – without getting too technical, that’s a fluid with a lower concentration than blood, the best way to replace fluid lost in sweat. Pale straw in colour, this well-balanced beer has a good head with tangy, tropical notes of passionfruit and pineapple. Mouthwateringly delicious – and well worth running a little bit further for.
St Peter’s Without Gold, 0.0%, £1.27 for 1 x 500ml, Morrisons
It may have “without” in its name – echoing the church-naming convention for a site outside, for example, city walls – but this beer lacks nothing. Presented in the brewery’s distinctive oval flask-shaped bottle, its bouquet is subtly spicy and toasty. Full-bodied, this clear, refreshing beer has notes of honey and malt, with a citrus-toned dry finish.
Big Drop Winter Ale, 0.5%, £9.79 for 6 x 330ml, Wise Bartender
Formerly known as Spiced Ale, this is a real winter warmer of a brew, perfect for sipping by the fire. Deep and dark in the glass, there’s a robust creamy head and a spicy mulled-wine bouquet, followed by elements of coffee, chocolate, and vanilla maltiness plus an evasive touch of what we finally nailed as smoky Coca-Cola.
Nirvana Kosmic Stout, 0.0%, £2.29 for 1 x 330ml, Eebria
Smells like… Ovaltine, and tastes a little like it too, with hints of malted chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon, in a dark, rich, smooth stout that’s milkily comforting. And it’s vegan and gluten-free. The brewery is London’s first to specialise in alcohol-free beers, creating hand-crafted beers in small batches and setting out to enlighten us – their other beers are called Karma, Sutra and Mantra.
Harvey’s Low Alcohol Old Ale, 0.5%, £27.12 for 24 x 275ml, Harvey's
A viable version of the full-strength classic, which won the Sussex brewery its first award in 1952; this iteration took silver at the International Beer Challenge 2018. It’s a chestnutty brown ale with a touch of toffee-apple and a whiff of roasted, toasted smoke that leaves a satisfying lingering aftertaste. It’s produced identically to its parent product (with the alcohol removed prior to bottling).
FitBeer Lager, 0.3%, £4.99 for 2 x 330ml, FitBeer
Brewed according to German beer purity laws, with ingredients sourced within 20km of its 500-year-old Bavarian brewery, it’s a light golden lager that’s smoothly drinkable, with a full toasty and wheaty flavour. Possibly the perfect post-workout drink, as it’s isotonic, high in vitamin B12 and folic acid, and weighing in at only 66 calories per bottle.
The verdict: Alcohol-free beers
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