Pubpaper 774 – Low alcohol beers and no decent ale bars.

Posted: 3rd September 2014 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Alcohol free beer has been with us as a mainstream product in the UK since the early 1990’s from my memory, when the main choice was Kaliber from Guinness.  This frankly was a terrible “beer” in most ways, it tasted chemically, had no fizz, left a rather bad aftertaste and after one you never wanted to try it again.  These days the most common brand you will see in pubs is Becks Blue, from the makers of its namesake full strength brother and despite being a much improved beer over Kaliber, it still suffers from being bland and lacking the fizz you expect from a beer.

Non alcoholic beer is produced by taking the full strength beer just before carbonation and bottling then boiling it to 78.3 centigrade, the boiling point of alcohol enabling it to evaporate leaving you with 95-96% of the original volume virtually alcohol free (<0.05%).  Water is then added to make up the volume leaving the flavour unaffected.  This liquid is then bottled and carbonated as per a normal beer.

So why are we discussing this?  A few weeks ago a survey came out stating that almost half of British adults believe “alcohol-free beer is more socially acceptable than it was five years ago”.  When was it ever not socially acceptable, did people fear they would get ostracized from their social circles because they bought a 0.05% ABV beer instead of a coke.   A good alcohol free beer can be a decent alternative to soft drinks if you are driving, especially when the police are much keener on drink driving now.   Becks Blue is drinkable, but German products such as Erdinger Alcohol Frei are much more balanced flavour wise when it comes to mimicking full strength beer.

The survey doesn’t reveal how the question was phrased, but the fact that this was commissioned by the makers of aforementioned Becks Blue should give some indication that the wording leaned towards positive sentiments towards non alcoholic beer.  I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised when a survey comes out with the result the paying client wants, thats what survey / public opinion companies exist for.   The figures they produced didn’t surprise me, 43% of adults and 59% of men have tried one of these beers and the most common reasons for trying was that people were driving (59%) or were simply curious (39%).  In fact Yorkshire and the Humber had a higher than average 52% when it came to adults trying a non alcoholic beer.

However what it did reveal is that 1 in 4 people “would not feel comfortable ordering alcohol-free beer in front of their friends in a pub, bar or restaurant”.  You have to ask why not, either there is a glut of people who don’t have backbone enough to simply order what they want without the wrath of their peers or there are some very judgemental friends out there.  I can think of no other reasons for people not to order this if they want to.  It’s like being scared of ordering the jacket potato at dinner instead of chips for fear of being thought a wimp.  Utterly baffling.

Moving back to the full strength stuff now with more venues who can’t see past the core Carlsberg, Tetley and Somersby Cider (also masquerading as Fosters, John Smiths, Strongbow combo)  as their draught beer offering.  I went to Fake Fest music festival in Filey for my birthday on Saturday after an afternoon on the beach drinking nice Czech beers mixed with the occasional G+T and a pub visit on the way with family and friends.   With no choice of where you got your drink from (having been searched on entry), they could have got at least one keg ale on draught, even on a short run if they did not want to risk waste.  Over the afternoon I ended up drinking Somersby, the only one I can stomach, and watched a few good bands, but come the return visit to the pub later in the evening it was a relief to get a decent beer again.   One thing I did notice is that Filey seemed to lacking a decent seafront pub, a few hotel bars, a licensed restaurant, but no pub for its length, all of them being back up the hill in the town centre.  You’d have thought there would be a demand for it!


  1. Curmudgeon says:

    I think you underestimate the extent to which people – especially young men – are influenced by peer pressure in making purchasing decisions, in all kinds of spheres, not just beer.

    Also I’d say that what alcohol-free beer has to overcome is the social acceptability of choosing it instead of soft drinks. As an alternative to alcoholic beer, it’s always going to look like a distress purchase. But in the past fifteen years or so, the social acceptability of choosing soft drinks has greatly increased – in most settings, nobody raises an eyebrow if someone asks for a Coke. However, to my mind, asking for an alcohol-free beer might look a little odd.

    Cooking Lager has pointed out in the comments on my blog you will often see people in Germany going for alcohol-free beer where in this country they would be more likely to have a Coke.