The Restaurant Show was a real highlight of the culinary year for me.
The session that I attended about low and no alcohol beer was particularly good, and very topical. Sales of low and no- alcohol beer have now overtaken craft beer in the UK according to a report by the Society of Independent Brewers. Sales of no and low alcohol beer are up 30% since 2016.
No one could have been better qualified to run this session than beer writer turned non-drinker, Richard Fox. And he got it off to a cracking pace by giving his audience some astounding statistics regarding what is one of the fastest growing sectors of the hospitality industry.
“Demand is way ahead of supply,” he told us. “We now have nearly a third of all young people – 16 – 24 year olds – in the UK who are teetotal*. This year, one in ten adults signed up to Dry January.”
No and low alcohol legal definitions
He went on to outline the different definitions for low and no alcohol, with the UK (as with eggs, see Eggs, How To Store Them) specifying more stringent regulations than the EU. In Europe alcohol free is defined as a drink with 0.5% or less alcohol. In the UK it’s specified as less than 0.05% – less than a ripe banana, as Fox points out.
Throughout the EU and the UK low alcohol is specified as 1.2% and below.
The low to no alcohol beer line up
Big Drop was founded by an ex City lawyer who gave up drinking when his wife became pregnant, Fox tells us. Together with a like-minded mate, appropriately named James Kindred, he conceived of the Big Drop range which eschews the need to remove alcohol artificially (and with it a lot of the flavour). Big Drop uses different types of rye, wheat and oats, as well as barley to make its beers.
No1 Big Drop Citra IPA
Big Drop’s Citra IPA has won a barrowful of awards. This year alone it won UK Bronze for full-strength Session IPA in the World Beer Awards. It won Silver in the non-alcoholic IPA category in the US Open Beer Championship. It won the overall Champion’s trophy for the No and Low Alcohol Beer category in the International Brewing and Cider Awards. And it was crowned ‘King of Craft’ at the show, at the Casual Dining Show, which was dominated by full-strength beers.
The Citra weighs in at 0.5% ABV and is gluten-free. Fox describes it as being “hoppy, with tropical fruit aromas.” “Serve it cold, in a wine glass,” he recommends, “for a quality food and drink experience”.
I’m not really a fan of IPA – I would much rather down a full-alcohol Brand Saison for example – so I have to admit not to being much taken by this.
No 2 Big Drop Stout
Big Drop’s stout has also won a plethora of awards this year. It won gold in the non-alcoholic Stout category of the US Open Beer Championship. It won bronze in the No/Lo category of The International Beer Challenge. And it won silver in the No and Low Alcohol category of the International Brewing and Cider Awards. In 2017 it won UK Silver for flavoured stout when judged against full-strength stouts and porters in the World Beer Awards.
It is gluten free, 0.5% ABV, with added cocoa nibs.
I’m quite a fan of Guinness, so when Fox told us, “Guinness is dull in comparison,” I had to admit that I had my doubts. But I absolutely loved this – a really rich and decadent taste. The makers advise keeping it chilled, but taking it out of the fridge about an hour before serving. “We pour it fast into a tulip glass so the gorgeous coffee aromas can stretch their legs,” they add. Fox comments that it has “a lovely mouth-feel and a great head”.
Like any stout it pairs well with oysters. Fox says it also goes well with fish and chips. And with desserts. “Try it with crème brûlée, or Christmas pudding” he suggests, and the makers also suggest it pairs well with a chocolate fondant.
Andrew Keresey, a founder and director of Nirvana Brewery was in the audience and gave some background. “Becky Kean and I founded the brewery in 2017” he tells us. “Becky’s dad (my father-in-law) was a recovering alcoholic. Becky wanted to ensure that he would carry on feeling included socially; and she wanted to see his face light up again when handed a bottle.”
No 3 Nirvana Twisted Buchabeer
“The batches vary on this,” Keresey tells us, “it’s not so much the standard beer ingredients which are hard to control, it’s the kambucha element.” Fox comments, “it reminds me a bit of Belgian Lambic beer. It’s sour… in a good way”. It’s 0.5% ABV.
No 4 Nirvana Sutra IPA
Fox explains that most UK craft IPA was originally made from Cascade hops. “Then the Americans got keen of craft beer, and started using it too. It’s now come back to the UK and it’s ubiquitous… it’s gone mainstream.” Keresy is understandably coy about the hops used in his Sutra IPA, all he will say is that “they’re not seen anywhere else.”
Did I say I wasn’t a fan of IPA? This beer has changed my mind! It’s 0.5% ABV.
Lucky Saint Lager
Sales Manager of Lucky Saint, Jimmy Adams, gave a resumé of the story of Lucky Saint brewery. “It was founded by Luke Boase, He wanted to produce a lager with a superb taste. He made several attempts with producers in the UK, and finally gave up his job and headed to Germany. Purity laws in Germany are stringent, and of course, there are a lot of people in Germany who know a lot about lager!”
“Adams finally found a brewer in Germany who shared his vision – which was fairly honed by this stage after a year of hard research drinking alcohol-free beer.”
One method they used to preserve the flavour was to heat the liquid in a vacuum so that the temperature required (normally 80°) was only 40°. Another method was to leave out the filtering process. This retains the flavour, aroma and body.
Fox comments that 80% of beer drunk in the UK is lager. “It’s very popular, and this lager would pair well with a variety of food…curry, fish and chips, steak…. Thai flavours.
What’s behind drinking alcohol-free beers?
Fox summarised the session by explaining that offering alcohol-free beer had benefits for both restaurateur and customer. “It’s all about improving the experience for the consumer,” he explains, “it’s about engaging them more. And the restaurateur on the other hand makes more money than he would do selling water. The trick is not to just stock one beer, but instead a variety of different styles, and then your waiting staff have more of a story to tell.”
“In the UK,” he finishes, “0.5% of all beer sold is alcohol-free. We’re way behind the whole of the rest of the world. There are social and cultural reasons for this. But we need to change attitudes. Moderation isn’t the dirty word it once was. You just have to look at the names of some of the new low alcohol brands – Lucky Saint, or Nanny State.
*results from a survey published in BMC Public Health .
- the IPA and the lager from Hop And Hemp
- Beck’s Blue
- Vandestreek Playground IPA
- Adnam’s Ghost Ship Citrus pale ale – came first in a Daily Telegraph tasting
- Infinite Session IPA
- The Original Small Beer Dark Lager
- Erdinger Alkoholfrei
- Brewdog Nanny State
- Bitburger Drive
- Drop Bear Bonfire Stout